Tuesday, December 14, 2010

UFC 124 Review: Don't Mess With French Canadians

On Saturday night, I went to a local pub, The Piston Broke (a great place with delicious food and fantastic service), with some buddies to enjoy UFC 124. Many other Brantfordians seemed to have the same idea because the place was packed. This was a good thing because it made for a exciting fight atmosphere and caused me to get into the show even more. Catching a show at a bar is definitely a great experience if you enjoy things like bars and UFC shows (if you hate both, then the combination won't make it any better, I'm sure).

UFC is hugely popular right now, but I am sure a big reason why the pub was jammed with testosterone was because the MMA Canadian hero George St. Pierre (GSP) was defending his UFC welterweight championship. Not only is GSP a huge star in Canada, but he was going up against a man that many fans have been waiting months to see get beat up, Josh Koschek. This main event was built up through the reality show The Ultimate Fighter, where the two guys were opposing coaches. The show concept is absolutely genius, because it not only creates new stars to fill up the promotion but it also becomes a great way to build up a big pay per view (PPV) fight. The show consists of two teams, which are assembled by a bunch of fighters who hope to get a contract with the UFC. The fights are done in tournament format, and in the finals the winner gets a six figure deal with UFC. This allows several weeks of their personalities to get out, and causes the viewer to get to know these fighters that otherwise would unlikely remain anonymous their entire careers. For the fighters who would have always made it big, this show helps elevate them even quicker. The best part is when you either have a guy with tons of charisma or a lot of great fighting ability, because it creates an instant star the UFC can market after the show is complete. The program has created some pretty huge stars who are now some of the companies big draws (Koschek actually being one of them). The show also gets to be a weekly way to promote the big fight against the coaches, and really allows the coaches a great chance to build excitement for the fight (and to connect with the viewers). It works the best when the two coaches begin to clash, which allows for tension to mount thus create more anticipation for the fight.

This season was a perfect example of how the formula helps build fights. Koscheck came off as a stereotypical immature high school jock (except over ten years older), and probably quickly became the personality people most wanted to punch in the eye ball. The problem is, it is usually bad for your health to punch a MMA fighter in the eye ball. This is where George St. Pierre comes in, as he is one of the best pound for pound fighters in the world (and also one of the companies top draws). GSP is a humble and extremely likable guy, who just happens to be able to beat the crap out you (but luckily, he keeps that to his job rather than hobby). The entire season GSP had to put up with Koschek's obnoxious pranks and mindless insults. GSP never really responded, and he knew he'd get his revenge come fight time. That was exactly what millions of viewers had hoped for (especially in Canada where Koschek threw out a few insults to the country). Of course, GSP is a huge star here, because he is a French Canadian. Which is another thing that makes this fight so special, because it was being held in Montreal. You know the atmosphere was going to be electric, and GSP would be the heavy crowd favourite.

On The Ultimate Fighter, George St. Pierre got some sweet revenge in the form of his team winning the majority of the fights over Koschek's team. In the finals, it ended up being both of GSP's guys, Michael Johnson and Jonathan Brookins. Brookins ended up winning the whole thing, and is definitely a guy I ended up being a fan of. He is humble and easy going, but also a great fighter on the ground. I feel with some experience and work on his stand up, he'll end up having a decent shot in UFC. The show also created a few other potential future stars in the likes of Nam Phan (the Koschek fighter that got to the semifinals) and Cody Mackenzie (a fighter with a unique charisma and fighting style). I thought it was a great season with some fun fights, and interesting characters, but most of all, it really made we want to see the GSP v. Koschek fight.

This fight was so highly anticipated and so well built up (Koschek did his job of becoming one of the most hated guys in UFC), that UFC didn't even need to bother filling up the rest of the card with any other recognizable stars. So they didn't. This was the definition of a one match show, but what a match it was. Yes, everyone in that bar was only there for the main event, but they ended up being treated to a rather exciting night of fights.

Thiago Alves vs. Ron Howard: I was surprised they put this fight on first, because it was the only other fight on the card that I knew both fighters. I'd say my knowledge is about the same as the casual UFC fan, and so I'm sure many were like me in their fighter recognition on this card (as in, they knew almost no one besides the main eventers). In retrospect, this was actually a pretty good choice to kick off the PPV portion of the card (as I said in the UFC 121 review, there is many non televised fights beforehand). The crowd was pretty hot for the fight, and both guys really went at it. Alves ended up proving to be the much stronger fighter on this night, as he started taking apart Howard's legs with some pretty stiff kicks. Luckily, the judges here realized you can win by leg kicks, and gave Alves the decision. This would have to be considered a pretty big win for Alves and set him up with some bigger profile fights to lead to an eventual title shot.


Joe Stevenson vs. Mac Danzig: This is actually a fight between two former Ultimate Fighter winners. It was also a fight that I predicted would start out really fast, and end very quickly. I unfortunately, didn't realize how fast it would be, and ended up missing the finish because I thought it was the perfect time to turn and talk to my friend. He also missed the finish, due to my choice. Remember folks, your choices can harm others. Luckily, I saw the replay, and have to say I still kind of missed the finish. It is obvious Danzig won by knock out from a punch, but the punch came out of nowhere and is actually even really hard to see depending on the angle you get. It was a glancing blow, but one that knocked Stevenson in the right spot. The interesting thing about it is that Stevenson was on the offensive, but must have let his guard down, and allowed a perfect chance for Danzig to ding him. Danzig was notably jacked after the fight, and I am sure that is partly because he knew there was a good chance he would be let go if he lost tonight (UFC roster is so bloated that they usually cut guys if they have a few losses in a row).

Charles Oliveira vs. Jim Miller:
This was an interesting fight because it contained a fighter that UFC wants to groom into one of their next big stars in Charles Oliveira. But he is really young still, 22 years old, and he was up against a fighter who would really test him. I'd only heard of both guys while trying to learn about the undercard, but I got the impression this could have been the fight of the night. Unfortunately, it didn't last long enough for that. Oliveira was trying to get various submission holds on Miller while on the ground, but ended up getting his own leg trapped. Miller cinched in the leg bar, and got the tap out victory in the first round. It was short, but exciting. I have to say that for the most part, actual finishes (rather than decisions) tend to make for a more exciting card.

Matt Riddle vs. Sean Pierson: This was actually on before the PPV broadcast, but the series of quick finishes freed up lots of time to air other fights. This one ended up being the fight of the night. Pierson laid in some really intense shots on Riddle, but the man kept coming at him. There was pretty quick and aggressive exchanges on the ground. It was a great fight because the guys kept going at each other, and were actually trying to win the fight (rather than just run out the clock). There was a visually impressive moment in the fight, that I again missed because I was busy not looking at the TV. Luckily, it was impressive enough that it got replays. Riddle tried to jump at Pierson with a high knee, but Pierson didn't like that stuff so he punched him right in the face while Riddle was in mid air. It was pretty cool, and you should try to find it on YouTube this instant. It was a really great fight, and in the end the crowd was pleased, because the Canadian boy won, Sean Pierson, by decision.

Sean McCorkle vs. Stefan Struve: This fight was unique because all the build and trash talk was done over Twitter. Welcome to the new era. Even now, that has to be considered pretty geeky. Geeky or not, these where some big boys, and I'd refrain from giving them my thoughts in person. This was another quick fight, as McCorkle was trying to get some submission on the ground, but Struve would rather just pound him in the face. Struve go his way, and so he won by TKO in the first via ground and pound.

Dustin Hazelett vs. Mark Bocek: This fight was also before the broadcast, but they had time to fill before the main event. Not much time apparently though, as this was over pretty quick too. The only thing I remember is the finish, where Bocek got Hazelett in a triangle choke and held on until Havelett tapped out. And no, he didn't choke out Hazelett with a shape. Instead, he grabbed one of Hazelett's arms and then wrapped him legs around the neck of Hazelett thus forming a sort of triangle. I am pretty sure I did the worse description of the move ever, but consider me still pretty new to the whole MMA techniques and such.

George St. Pierre vs. Josh Koscheck: It was time for the whole reason we came to the bar. I have to say, the atmosphere for this fight was unbelievable, both at the arena and in our bar. The bar was full of cheering and screaming and singing. Despite how loud the pub was, you could still hear the crowd on TV. It was just an unbelievable experience to see how amped up everyone was for this fight.

I have to say something about one of my friends that came with me to this show. He is the MMA expert for our gorup, and he predicted the lay out of this match perfectly. He stated that GSP typically uses the first two rounds to pick apart his opponent, and then gears into finishing mode around the third round where he gets far more aggressive. This is exactly the type of fight we saw from GSP. He patiently picked apart Koschek at the start, and then really ramped things up by the 3rd or 4rth round. This isn't to say Koschek didn't get a beating before those rounds though. By the third round, Koschek already had one of his eyes almost entirely closed due to the cut GSP created, and a doctor was threatening to end the fight.. Koschek's face did a rather nice punching bag impersonation, and hopefully, he didn't have a hot date for after the fight.

GSP had proven to be one of the most brilliant fighters in all of MMA. He is amazing at strategy. He proved in the Ultimate Fighter show, and he proved it here. In the previous fight between GSP v. Koschek, GSP took down Koschek at will and won the fight with his ability to control Koschek on the ground. This was incredible impressive because GSP has no formal amateur wrestling background, but Koschek was actually a top NCAA wrestler. This time around, I believe Koschek worked really hard on his take down defense and was prepared for GSP to try that again. GSP proved his diversity by keeping most of the fight standing and picking him apart with punches. Koschek seemed to not be ready for that, and it really took him out. Koschek did get a token victory by taking GSP down at one point, which something many couldn't do before him. Plus he did stop a few of GSP's attempts to take him down, but in the end, it was GSP out boxing him that decided the fight. In the final two rounds, GSP really turned things up another notch and at that point, he was even slamming Koschek hard to the mat with take downs.

When the fight ended, one man looked fairly unphased, and the other looked like the elephant man. GSP won an easy decision, and the fans got the satisfaction they clamoured for. Koschek got beat, and he got beat bad. It was the perfect ending to a rather exciting night of fights, and a main event that kept up the energy and excitement all the way through. Now, would the fight have been as exciting if it wasn't for these personalities? Probably not. That is just the reality of the sport. A big part of it is the build, and how you connect to those fighters. The connection was clear here, and it caused for a very hot atmosphere with every fan really into the fight.

UFC 124 was a really fun and high octane night of fights. I think, I actually liked this better than UFC 121, because there wasn't any dreadfully boring fights like the Shields' match. A lot of fighters came out looking strong, and hopefully, builds to some exciting stuff in the future. It was a good night, and one that I learned it is important to keep looking at the TV.

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