PHILADELPHIA – An octagon's worth of storylines and observations coming out of Saturday's UFC 101 at the Wachovia Center:
1. Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports broke the news that Anderson Silva is offering to relinquish his UFC middleweight title and move up to light heavyweight after vanquishing former 205-pound champ Forrest Griffin on Saturday night. And while the notion is appealing, it is only going to work if Silva is amenable to an eventual fight with champion and teammate Lyoto Machida. If not, then last night's clinic shows that Silva would serve as a spoiler at 205, where potential Machida challengers are ruthlessly dispatched. That might be more rewarding for Silva than continuing in a middleweight division he's already run through but wouldn't help build sellable light heavyweight contenders.
2. B.J. Penn seems to perform his best when he's about to be counted out. Several voters in the Y! pound-for-pound Top 10 poll expressed to me that they were considering dropping Penn out of the Top 10 if he didn't put in a solid showing against Kenny Florian, on the heels of Penn's one-sided loss to Georges St. Pierre in January. But the Hilo native came through with a performance that made him once again look like a man among boys in the lightweight division. Penn was patient, smart, conditioned, and rarely threatened before putting Florian away with a fourth-round ground clinic. As long as Penn focuses on being the best 155-pounder on the planet and doesn't get distracted, it seems he'll hold the title as long as he wants.
3. It's hard to figure what Griffin was trying to accomplish against Silva. Silva's rare moments of danger during his record 10-fight UFC win streak have mainly happened on the ground, where he lost rounds to Travis Lutter and Dan Henderson. But Griffin never attempted a single takedown in the fight, and ended up looking like he didn't belong in the same cage as Silva before Silva knocked him out less than four minutes in. Giffin's career has been a roller coaster, and he's bounced back from tough losses like his first-round loss to Keith Jardine. It will be interesting to see if he's able to shake this one off.
4. Florian looked to take a page out of Georges St. Pierre's book while trying to outmuscle Penn in the clinch, even working with St. Pierre and his crew to prepare for the fight. But a couple things got in the way. First, Florian lacks GSP's frame and wrestling skills, and so he was never able to physically impose his will. Second, Penn was able to maintain enough distance to keep Florian from establishing his kicks, effectively sealing off Plan B. It's tough to tell where Florian goes from here. While he has shown vast improvement over the past three years, he has gotten two shots at the lightweight title and has looked out of his league in both matches, so any thought of a third title shot is a long way off at best.
5. The Thales Leites-Alessio Sakara match was a minor disaster from the outset. First, the UFC got each fighter's entrance music wrong. Then the Philadelphia crowd let Leites know they had not forgotten his weak performance against Anderson Silva at UFC 97. Then both fighters put on a stinker of a match, in which Leites initiated most of the rare attempts at action, and the oft-knocked out Sakara responded by doing his best Kalib Starnes impersonation. Then the garnish for this turd sandwich was supplied when two judges, Doc Hamilton and Marc Goddard, apparently decided to reward Sakara for his running skills and gave him the split decision. Leites got the bulk of the heat for the match, but in this case, Sakara was the one who wouldn't engage.
6. Johny Hendricks is turning into your classic former college wrestler who goes into MMA and forgets his wrestling. Granted, that overlooks the fact Hendricks ran his pro record to 6-0 (five finishes) with a stoppage (and a too-fast one, courtesy referee Dan Miragliota) of Amir Sadollah. At some point, though, Hendricks isn't going to be able to simply run over his opponents, especially since he has jumped from lightweight to welterweight, where guys such as St. Pierre, Josh Koscheck and Jon Fitch abound.
7. Philly faithful: There was real concern backstage before the card about how Philadelphia's notorious crowd would respond to the evening's festivities. And the concern seemed warranted when scattered boos rained down just eight seconds into the opener between Jesse Lennox and Danilo Villefort. But by and large, the Philly faithful proved a knowledgeable crowd, reacting to submission escapes and positional shifts on the ground and mostly staying patient through a 12-match show that featured several matches that went to the scorecards. The show didn't quite feature the electricity of the company's legendary debut cards in Columbus and Montreal, but the Philly fans more than held their end of the bargain.
8. UFC president Dana White talked during the postfight press conference about promoting a card at Boston's Fenway Park. While the ambition is admirable, the UFC's record crowd is barely more than 20,000, and Fenway, assuming there is on-field seating, would seat more than 40,000. And that's not taking Boston's unpredictable weather into account. Perhaps the UFC should focus on simply getting legalized in Massachusetts first before dreaming up such a scheme.
- Anderson Silva
- Kenny Florian
- Forrest Griffin