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UFC 94 Musings

Michael DiSanto, UFC - Georges St-Pierre attracts hyperbole like few others in the UFC. Just some of the lines thrown out are:

GSP is the greatest athlete in UFC history. GSP is the best wrestler in MMA. GSP is a future Hall of Famer. GSP is the best fighter in the world, pound for pound.
By Michael DiSanto

GSP ERASES ANY DOUBTS

Georges St-Pierre attracts hyperbole like few others in the UFC. Just some of the lines thrown out are:

GSP is the greatest athlete in UFC history. GSP is the best wrestler in MMA. GSP is a future Hall of Famer. GSP is the best fighter in the world, pound for pound.

Can one really claim that GSP is the greatest athlete in UFC history? Is he really a better athlete than current heavyweight ruler Brock Lesnar? The 265-lb behemoth is a two-time Division I All-American wrestler and the 2000 National Champion. Several years after graduating from college and almost a decade since playing his last snap of high school football, Lesnar almost survived training camp as a defensive lineman with the Minnesota Vikings and received an invitation to represent the Vikings in NFL Europe, a developmental league that since went bust.

Kevin Randleman is another name that immediately comes to mind as an elite athlete. The two-time Division I National Champion and inductee in the Ohio State Hall of Fame brought a blend of strength, explosiveness and balance into the Octagon that was second to none. Of course, there are others, depending on one’s definition of an athlete, but it is safe to say that while GSP is an excellent athlete, he is not the greatest to grace the Octagon.

What about wrestling in MMA? GSP’s takedowns are excellent, but they do not rise to the level of the former Team Quest trio of Randy Couture, Dan Henderson and Matt Lindland? What about Matt Hughes in his prime?

Whether he is a future UFC Hall of Fame inductee remains to be seen, but his career accomplishments have not yet justified such an accolade, though he is on a very good path to this point. And whether he is a pound-for-pound great, particularly when he does not fight across divisions and is considered to be extremely large for his weight class is open for debate.

Saturday night did, however, prove one thing beyond a shadow of a doubt: GSP is the best 170-lb mixed martial artist in the world. Prior to UFC 94, his UFC resume included dominant, one-sided wins over Matt Hughes, Josh Koscheck, Jon Fitch, Sean Sherk, Frank Trigg and Matt Serra, each of whom was either a champion or a top contender at the time of the fight. Toss in a unanimous decision win over perennial contender Karo Parisyan in his UFC debut, and GSP could proclaim that he holds a clear win over every man that he has ever faced inside the Octagon (yes, he lost to Hughes and Serra, but he avenged those losses in dominant fashion), except for one: BJ Penn.

When GSP and Penn first squared off at UFC 58, Penn was the linear 170-lb champion, since he had never actually lost the title he snatched from Hughes title inside the cage. GSP was on the winning side of a disputed judges’ decision that night, but many believed that Penn deserved the win – I sit firmly within that group. That was the only question mark on GSP’s UFC career.

On Saturday night, GSP erased that lone question mark on his career with an emphatic thrashing of Penn, forcing the 155-lb champion’s corner to throw in the towel after 20 minutes of ruthless bludgeoning. Not only did GSP take Penn down repeatedly and pass his guard at will, he completely dominated the standup exchanges, something that he struggled with in their first fight.

GSP seemingly improves each and every time he steps into the Octagon, and that might be the scariest part about a guy who has yet to enter his MMA prime. If his career trajectory continues on its current hockey stick climb, the 2008 Canadian Athlete of the Year may live up to every one of Goldie’s praises.

If he wants to be considered the greatest 170-lb champion to date, he needs to top Hughes’ record championship reign. GSP needs to win his next four title defenses to do just that—no easy feat in a sport where upsets seem like the norm. And his next defense, which will ostensibly come against Thiago Alves, might be the toughest of his career from a ‘styles make fights’ perspective.

In the interim, he stands as the unquestioned ruler of the 170-lb division.

PENN SHOULD FOCUS ON 155 LBS

Penn’s unquenchable hunger for greatness has taken him on an amazing mixed martial arts journey over the last eight years. He is the only man in the sport that can boast fights in four different divisions, including wins in three of them. He is only the second fighter in UFC history to win titles in two separate divisions. And he was far more competitive in his unanimous decision loss to Lyoto Machida than either Tito Ortiz or Thiago Silva.

But Penn is looking in the wrong place if he wants to immortalize himself as one of the sport’s greatest champions. He should forget the 170-lb division, where he has suffered back-to-back technical knockout losses, and focus on running up an unmatchable string of successful 155-lb title defenses. That is how Anderson Silva, Matt Hughes and Tito Ortiz immortalized themselves in their respective divisions. Penn can do the same thing.

He is one fight away from tying Jens Pulver’s record for most consecutive successful lightweight title defenses (it’s difficult to believe that the record sits at two, but that is the reality of the situation). So, instead of setting his sights on different divisions, Penn would be better served putting his focus into not only breaking Pulver’s 155-lb championship record, but obliterating it. He should focus on setting the overall record for most successful defenses, across all divisions. That will make him a living legend. Losing against bigger guys will not.

Besides, there are plenty of interesting fights for him at lightweight. Kenny Florian certainly deserves a shot at UFC gold after racking up six straight wins. Diego Sanchez will undoubtedly jump to the top of the title challenger heap if he is able to score a definitive win against an ultra-tough Joe Stevenson. A rematch with Sean Sherk holds very real intrigue because he has the style that should give Penn problems—on paper, at least.

It may make perfect sense for Penn to focus on defending his 155-lb title, but it is impossible to predict what the enigma known as ‘The Prodigy’ will do next. He may do the logical thing and return to lightweight. He may toss caution to the win and pick on a middleweight. He might even walk away from the sport to spend more time with his infant daughter. Even Penn probably doesn’t know the answer to that question right about now.

MACHIDA MAKES HIS CASE

Is Lyoto Machida the best UFC fighter yet to fight for a title?

He sure looked like it with his vicious first-round knockout victory over formerly unbeaten contender Thiago Silva. Machida is now 14-0, including six wins inside the Octagon. No other top 205-lb contender holds an unbeaten record, and he is one of a select group of UFC competitors with over ten fights who remain undefeated.

Of that group, only UFC light heavyweight champ Rashad Evans has more bouts in the UFC than Machida—nine versus six.

What makes Machida’s perfect record particularly impressive is that he has faced and beaten an elite roster of opponents during his 14-fight career, including a pair of then-unbeaten top contenders in Silva and Rich Franklin (Machida knocked out both of them), top contender Rameau Sokoudjou and a former champion in Tito Ortiz. Machida undressed each of them.

With his most recent win over Silva, Machida has his sights firmly set on a title shot against Evans. That is the only fight that makes sense for him at this point in his UFC career, though he may be forced to fight one or two more bouts before taking his turn at finding gold. A fight with Evans is particularly interesting because both men are undefeated, so someone’s zero will have to go. Both prefer to counter, so one of them will be forced to step outside of his comfort zone in an attempt to win the fight. And both prefer to stand and strike, so it is likely that the bout will end in a knockout.

ANATOMY OF A DECISION

I’ve watched Nate Diaz versus Clay Guida eight times in the past 24 hours desperately trying to justify a split-decision win for Guida. But I just can’t do it. In fact, I cannot justify a win for either man.

The first round was fairly uneventful in terms of damage inflicted by the combatants. Diaz spent the first two minutes of the opening round throwing slapping punches from the outside, though few landed and even fewer landed with bad intentions. Then, he made a terrible mistake.

At the 2:20 mark, Diaz inexplicably shot for a double-leg takedown. Guida seized on the opportunity to take his opponent to the ground and controlled him for the next minute, including a big slam with just under a minute remaining. Guida didn’t inflict any significant damage during that time, other than a series of three or four elbows from side control, but Octagon control and effective aggressiveness are two of the scoring categories, and he dominated Diaz for just over half of the round in those two categories.

The first round was a clear 10-9 edge for Guida. ‘The Carpenter’ controlled the pace of the round, scored a big slam, landed some good elbows from side control and worked past Diaz’s guard more than once, securing dominant positions on the ground.

The final round—I am intentionally skipping the second round for now—was all Diaz. He spent two minutes picking apart Guida with pinpoint jabs and good left crosses. He landed dozens of punches during that time. Again, none of them were big, knockout-style punches, but he was consistently touching his opponent with his fists. The first criterion for scoring a round is effective striking, so it is difficult to argue that Diaz didn’t win the round.

The next minute was spent in a complete stalemate with Guida, who held onto Diaz’s waist in an unsuccessful attempt to take the fight to the ground. Just after the three-minute mark, Diaz again executed a beautiful trip, but Guida instantly reversed the position and jumped on Diaz’s back as the former TUF winner rose to his feet. Guida remained in his barnacle-like position for the next minute, while Diaz held onto an early-stage kimura.

Guida scored a takedown with just over a minute remaining, but Diaz rose back to his feet in less than five seconds without taking a single strike. The rest of the round was spent with Guida in full barnacle mode. Then, at the final bell, Guida attempted to jump onto Diaz’s back, presumably to attempt a rear-naked choke. Diaz shucked him off and nailed him with a hammer fist to the face.

It was an easy 10-9 for Diaz.

The second round is the one that highlights a major problem with the scoring system. If that round wasn’t a draw, then I’m not sure if a round could ever be scored even.

Diaz spent the first 25 seconds throwing punches from the outside, though again, very few of them landed and even fewer inflicted any damage. Guida then spent the next 4:35 basically hugging Diaz. He scored a couple of brief takedowns, but each time Diaz instantly rose back to his feet. After one takedown, Diaz hit a great switch to secure the top position, but Guida reversed the position almost instantly. Diaz twice took down Guida with trips, but Guida remained locked on his back like a barnacle both times. The one time Guida was able to takedown Diaz and force him to his guard, Diaz quickly put him on the defensive by throwing up a quick triangle attempt.

At the end of the day, neither man ever landed any solid punches or kicks. Neither attempted any close submissions. Neither man really advanced their position with takedowns. And Guida should not score points with the judges for doing little more than hugging his opponent—no offense to Guida, he was trying hard to do something from the barnacle position, but Diaz defended expertly.

The second round was the quintessential stalemate round, one that absolutely should have been scored 10-10.

Non-title fights are only three rounds. That means that each round is precious if the fight goes to the cards. When a round is a true toss up, it is a travesty to score it in favor of either man because it gives that man a decided advantage on the cards. Judges shouldn’t guess when a round is even. They shouldn’t flip a coin. They should score it 10-10.

Diaz-Guida was a draw—period. A draw is an unsatisfying end to any fight, one that leaves fans with a sense of unfinished business. But that is why we have rematches.

RECORD-SETTING NIGHT?

Many fans traveled to the MGM Grand Garden Arena hoping to witness history. Had Penn defeated GSP, he would have become the first fighter to ever simultaneously hold belts in two UFC weight divisions. Of course, GSP spoiled Penn’s plans at opening the record books. Nevertheless, the thousands of fans in attendance and the millions watching at home were treated to another unofficial first, a new unofficial record that likely escaped notice from most.

Five UFC bouts ended in split decision—half of the card. That is a remarkable number of evenly matched fights. I’m not sure if that is a testament to Joe Silva’s matchmaking prowess or an issue with the judges not scoring consistently. After ripping the judges for the Guida-Diaz bout, I’m going to lean toward the former.

Whatever the case, I cannot recall the last time that a UFC card had so many split decisions, so I’m going to label it an unofficial record. I’m sure that if I’ve gotten that one wrong, my inbox will be flooded with corrections.

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