LAS VEGAS – One of the greats of the Ultimate Fighting Championship had yet another superb night Saturday at UFC 108 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
He was on top of his game, though the critics were out in full force beforehand, predicting his decline.
He came up with a superstar performance on a night when many were expecting little more than yawns.
Joe Silva, the UFC's frequently badgered matchmaker, proved Saturday that he's one of the company's most valuable assets by putting together a sensational card of fights that frequently left the crowd of 13,255 delirious with excitement.
UFC 108 was decimated by nearly a dozen fighter injuries and illnesses, forcing Silva to rework the card multiple times. Enough guys dropped off the card to field a football team, there were replacements for the replacements and many critics were howling, predicting a disastrous card and calling for a cut in the pay-per-view price.
The critics would have been correct if the card ended after the first fight, a lightweight match between Rafaello Oliveira and John Gunderson that was a dull, desultory affair that Oliveira won by decision.
After the opener, though, fight after fight was a jaw-dropper, making it clear that Silva is still pretty good at what he does.
The main event, in which Rashad Evans defeated Thiago Silva on a unanimous decision, was a quality fight but seemed like a letdown after the series of other A-quality bouts.
"The show speaks for itself," said Sam Stout, whose lightweight war with Joe Lauzon will be among the contenders for 2010 Fight of the Year some 363 days after it occurred. "Everyone who fought put on an impressive performance."
Prior to the card, UFC president Dana White vigorously defended the quality of the show and went on the offensive against those who were critical of the matches.
Much is made on Internet bulletin boards of a perceived lack of respect that White shows fighters, but White got the last laugh Saturday. He wound up turning the critics' words against them.
"All these guys (on the Internet) are always talking about respecting fighters," White said. "But more disrespect was thrown at the fighters than ever. Listen, I think they were trying to take shots at the UFC, but what they're doing is taking shots at the fighters.
"I go out and we put together the best fights we can and we go promote it. Saying that this card sucked, or that it was lackluster, or that it didn't live up to being a New Year's Eve card, well, I said it at the (pre-fight) press conference: These guys always deliver."
Well, not always, but Silva comes through more often than not. On Saturday, there were at least a half-dozen mind-blowing moments.
The submission that Cole Miller slipped on Dan Lauzon in their lightweight fight was so incredible and came from out of nowhere that the UFC ought to consider adding it to the highlight reel they play in arenas before each show.
Stout and Joe Lauzon put on a battle for the ages, highlighted by a sequence in the first round in which they rolled across the cage as Stout attempted to work his way out of a kimura attempt by Lauzon.
Jim Miller also pulled off a brilliant submission, but he did so after playing Duane Ludwig's game. He knocked down Ludwig, who seemed to have a striking advantage, with a clean shot and then immediately went about pulling off his submission.
Paul Daley bragged for weeks that he would knock out Dustin Hazelett, then he went out and did just that.
Heavyweight Junior dos Santos continued his ascent toward stardom, blowing away Gilbert Yvel.
There were many such moments throughout the night.
One of the reasons that cards that are panned turn out to be good is that the ones that are being ripped are generally the ones without the biggest stars.
When the big names fight, the matchups usually dictate themselves. In that instance, Silva doesn't have the ability to influence the card.
But on cards like Saturday's, where there are more mid-tier fighters, Silva can play with the matchups and arrange the bouts so the styles produce the most fireworks.
"He's the best in the business," White said of Silva. "… Joe Silva is awesome and he does a fantastic job. He's the best."
Jim Miller said he wasn't surprised the card turned out the way it did. He was irked, as were many of the fighters on the show, by the constant flood of Internet whining about the quality of the show.
He had two other opponents who fell out before Ludwig took the bout. He said he was geared for a prime performance, believing an impressive win could vault him into the top 10.
"Everybody stepped up and it was a great night of fights," he said. "People don't understand that injuries happen in this sport. If they don't believe it, they ought to get on the mat and train. We train harder than any other athletes on the planet. Guys are going to get hurt."
And yet, there is always something going on. On Saturday, former heavyweight boxing champion James Toney was hanging around the press room, begging White for a fight, which White said he'd consider.
There were smiles all around, as White obviously was pleased by what he'd seen after what he'd heard for months.
"At the end of the day, if you're a fight fan, you put your money down because you want to see great fights," he said. "Sometimes, we have a card filled with our big names, like UFC 100, and they put on a show. And sometimes, we have guys who get hurt or have something go on in their lives and they can't make it. But we are fight promoters and this is what we do. This is why we have so many guys under contract. We're in the fight business and at the end of the day, if you come to one of our shows, you're going to get a kick-ass night of fights."