TORONTO – An octagon's worth of observations from an evening at the Rogers Centre that won't be forgotten any time soon:
1. Heart of a lion: Many reasons are often cited as to why the Ultimate Fighting Championship rose from near-dead to selling out stadiums in the span of a decade: Solid marketing, owners with maniacal passion for the business they run, and so on. But nothing exemplifies why mixed martial arts caught fire in North America quite like Mark Hominick's gutsy performance in the final rounds of his unsuccessful title quest against Jose Aldo on Saturday night.
After taking a beating for four rounds, with a grotesque hematoma over his right eye and his left eye nearly swollen shut, Hominick fought on. With 55,000 of his fellow Ontarians imploring him not to quit, the featherweight contender gave one of the world's best fighters a last-ditch run for his money that no one there will ever forget.
Time ran out on Hominick's rally, but not before the London, Ont., native forever cemented his legacy of heart and willpower. Never mind the business reasons why the UFC has succeeded. All the sizzle in the world won't sell the product if the steak isn't there. And as long as fighters with Mark Hominick's heart are around, MMA isn't going anywhere.
2. Turn up the heat: Aldo's UFC debut was a baptism by fire. The current UFC and final WEC featherweight champ rocketed up the pound-for-pound charts with his well-rounded skill set and penchant for explosive finishes. But other than Urijah Faber, few of his WEC foes were what one would consider the world's elite. The UFC's lightweight division is stacked, so more and more fighters who don't have a 155-pound title shot in their future are going to make the drop to 145. Kenny Florian and Tyson Griffin, to name two, have already made the jump. None of this is meant to disparage Aldo's accomplishments – he's 19-1 for a reason. But Hominick, another WEC transfer, was only the beginning, and the next year or two will show whether Aldo is simply the guy at the top of the heap when the WEC merged with the UFC or if he's a truly great champion.
3. By Georges: I'm not as down as most seem to be on Georges St. Pierre after his UFC 129 victory over Jake Shields. St. Pierre fought the final four rounds of the fight with blurred vision – he Tweeted several hours later that he still couldn't see out of his left eye after leaving the hospital – and still managed to handily defeat a top 10-ranked fighter who had not lost in more than six years. Granted, 25 minutes of jabs, spinning back kicks, and overhand rights aren't as exciting as Anderson Silva's highlight-reel finishes, but the fact remains St. Pierre is all but untouched since his upset loss to Matt Serra four years ago.
4 A puzzling approach: It takes two to tango, and at times it seemed like Jake Shields didn't want to dance during his fight with St. Pierre. Shields' best chance to defeat St. Pierre was to score a takedown and work for a submission. But when his first few attempts failed early on, Shields didn't seem to have a Plan B. His seeming lack of urgency in rounds four and five, when he had to know he was behind on the scorecards, was both odd coming from a guy who regularly trains with competitors as aggressive as the Diaz brothers and Gilbert Melendez, and perplexing given that fans in the upper deck could tell St. Pierre was having trouble with his left eye. Shields himself didn't have an answer at the post-fight news conference, acknowledging that he tried to trade with St. Pierre and couldn't figure out why. So if nothing else, it marks a learning experience for the talented fighter going forward.
5. Next at 170? Where does St. Pierre go from here? It's becoming apparent a potential superfight with middleweight champ Silva is problematic, in large part because of the size disparity between the two. The UFC's recent purchase of Strikeforce places an intriguing potential foe on GSP's radar in the rival company's 170-pound king, Nick Diaz. Diaz presents a puzzle different from the parade of Shields/Josh Koscheck/Jon Fitch types St. Pierre has faced: Diaz can bang with the best of them, presents reach problems, is cool under fire (during fights, at least; away from the cage is a different matter), and can pull a slick submission out of nowhere. UFC president Dana White says he wants to respect Strikeforce's deals, but, c'mon, Dana: We know you run the show and the UFC's fans know there's no one left at welterweight ready for a title shot at the moment. So find a way to make the match.
6. A fond farewell: This might seem an odd thing to say about someone who nearly got his head knocked off, but, well, Randy Couture earned the right to nearly get his head knocked off. The five-time former champion made a career out of beating the odds. He had won his three previous fights against Brandon Vera, Mark Coleman, and James Toney, none of whom are at the top of their game. So if the 47-year-old veteran wanted one last chance to see if he could hang with the elite of the light heavyweight division, well, who are we to say no? The result of the fight was similar to what nearly every fighter experiences on the downside of their career. But the emotional sendoff Couture received was the sort that anyone who has the courage to give it their all in a ring or cage deserves, but exceedingly few receive. For all Couture gave to the sport over the past 14 years, the final curtain call couldn't have happened to a more deserving fighter.
7. Smooth moves: Ben Henderson added to ex-WEC lightweights' growing credibility with his victory over Mark Bocek. "Smooth" had his doubters going into the fight, as the former WEC lightweight champ was coming off his infamous "Showtime Kick" loss to Anthony Pettis and had a brutal weight cut the day before the fight. But Henderson demonstrated on the big stage why he has the potential to be one of the sport's most exciting fighters. Henderson has an otherworldly ability to defend submission attempts. His confidence in those abilities enable him to take chances in a go-for-broke offensive assault that is often hard for a judge to score, but always leaves the fans with something to talk about after the show. Henderson is battle-tested and, while it's too soon to call him a top contender for Frank Edgar's belt, he's certainly earned a spot in the discussion.
Shining moments: UFC 129 was, for all intents and purposes, MMA's Super Bowl. And the fighters on the card treated it as such. From the opening bouts, it was clear that everyone brought their A-game and wanted to leave their mark on the biggest stage. Pablo Garza opened the night by finishing Yves Jabouin with a slick leg triangle. In the next fight, John Makdessi knocked Kyle Watson cold with a spinning back fist that will go straight into the UFC's all-time highlight reel. Those two fights set the tone and things only got more heated, from nasty KOs by Ivan Menjivar and Vladimir Matyushenko to Rory MacDonald's big slams of Nate Diaz to Machida's knockout kick of Couture and the emotional scene afterwards. While the St. Pierre-Shields main event left the crowd a little flat at the end, there's no doubt that from the bottom of the card on up, UFC 129 lived up to the hype.
- Sports & Recreation
- Martial Arts
- Jake Shields
- Mark Hominick
- Jose Aldo