UFC 129 Review: Ten Things We Learned in Toronto

Ten talking points coming from Saturday’s epic UFC event in Toronto

LAST NAME EVER. FIRST NAME GREATEST.

Quoting Toronto’s Drake seems fitting in the wake of the UFC’s debut in his backyard, but also because the lyrics ring true for UFC 129; this was the greatest event in UFC history.

Plus, Drake was in the building.

The magnitude of this event will remain the benchmark for the organization for some time. It was the UFC’s first stadium show, and it was a resounding success both inside and outside of the cage.

Each of the first four fights ended with a finish, with Pablo Garza’s opening bout flying triangle choke earning Submission of the Night honors, and John Makdessi replacing Shonie Carter as the man attached to a spectacular spinning back fist knockout inside the Octagon.

When you add the 55,000 exhilarated fans who packed the Rogers Centre with the tremendous layout and outstanding production of the event, it will be hard to top this event. Of course, you can be sure that Dana White and the UFC will try, and after being blown away in Toronto, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them pull it off down the line.

ST. PIERRE RETAINS, CLEANS OUT UFC WELTERWEIGHT DIVISION

Even a one-eyed Georges St. Pierre was able to do enough to walk out of Toronto with the welterweight belt around his waist. While his victory was another jab-heavy affair that will draw some criticism, beating a talented fighter like Jake Shields with badly blurred vision on Camera 1 is an accomplishment in and of itself.

The win leaves St. Pierre without an immediate challenger in the UFC 170-pound division; Shields was the last man standing, and now he’s been dispatched too.

Outside of starting a second tour through the ranks, St. Pierre and the UFC have some decisions to make. Nick Diaz remains a very attractive and anticipated option, while a move up to middleweight is a still a possibility as well. One of those two avenues will be the course they take, but until we know for sure, expect loads of debate about which one is best.

SHIELDS MISSED CHANCE AT UPSET

Yes, I picked Shields to pull the upset and firmly believed his grappling would be enough to carry him over St. Pierre on Saturday night. Very wrong doesn’t seem to be an apt enough description for my prediction.

Despite winning rounds from all three judges and coming closer on the cards than anyone has in years, Shields missed his opportunity on Saturday night. St. Pierre’s fuzzy vision was the break Shields needed to pull off the upset, and the combination of his mediocre striking and departure from his grappling base left him with only a small moral victory instead of a grand performance on the UFC’s biggest stage ever.

Shields admitted to being disappointed with himself at the post-fight press conference, unsure why he stopped working for takedown in favor of fighting a losing battle on the feet. As much as sticking to the game plan would have helped, Shields’ lack of development in the striking department over the years just ruined his chance at immortality.

Though he’ll remain an elite contender, Shields may not ever reach champion status again, and that realization has got to sting. He’s reached a point in his career where he either needs to pour his entire being into striking or accept his place as the second or third best in the division. Something tells me the former just won’t happen.

ALDO RUNS ANOTHER TOWN

The first time UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo came out to Jay-z’s “Run This Town,” I thought it was an early musical body shot that could take the wind out of Urijah Faber and the Sacramento crowd. Now that it has become his go-to entrance song, I think there might be a little more of a connection between the fighter and the song.

A part of me thinks that Aldo relishes moments like Saturday night; that walking into enemy territory and breaking their spirits adds to the image he’s crafting as a dominant champion who can almost anything he pleases inside the cage. While he was on the receiving end throughout the fifth round Saturday night, the opening 20 minutes was all Aldo, and reiterated that he’s a cut above the competition at 145-pounds right now.

Aldo’s ability to stick and move and slip punches is second to none. For the first four rounds, he landed at will with his fast hands and chopping leg kicks, leaving Mark Hominick a bruised and battered mess with a ginormous hematoma on his forehead. Part of the reason the fifth round was so exhilarating for the Toronto crowd was because it seemed impossible before the frame began, and it’s because Aldo was in complete control until that point.

Though the UFC is heading to Brazil later this year, Aldo probably won’t be on the card, meaning that he’ll continue to compete “on the road” for the foreseeable future. After watching him dominant in his opponent’s barn once again, something tells me Aldo wouldn’t have it any other way.

HEART OF A WARRIOR

There were a couple periods in his fight Saturday night where Hominick could have quit. At the end of the fourth round, the doctor came in to check on the featherweight challenger, a growth protruding from his forehead, his left eye swelling and bleeding. Hominick could have asked the doctor to spare him any more abuse; he wouldn’t be the first fighter to take that route, and he wouldn’t have been the last for long either.

Instead, he passed the doctor’s tests prior to the fifth round, then went out and put it on the champion for the final five minutes, sending the Rogers Centre into a frenzy. If fans reaction could force a victory, Hominick would have walked out of Toronto the featherweight champion; the crowd was that vocal.

After entering as an afterthought, Hominick walked out as the biggest star of the night despite coming away with a loss. He won thousands of fans with his performance, showing fans that he has the heart of a warrior, the ability to compete at the highest level and the moxie to take a beating and keep coming back for more. Those are things people don’t forget quickly, so don’t expect Hominick’s new found fame to fade any time soon.

THE REAL KARATE KID

Move over Daniel LaRusso and whatever they called Hilary Swank in that awful fourth film that sullied the fabulous franchise of my youth; “The Real Karate Kid” stood up in the Octagon on Saturday night, and he didn’t need a script to help him win the big fight.

Lyoto Machida’s jumping crane kick knockout of Randy Couture was the most awesome thing I’ve seen in some time. On a night full of impressive finishes, it made me jump out of my seat the highest; yes, I jumped out of my seat several times. The former light heavyweight champion was more aggressive than he’d been in recent bouts and it made all the difference. Machida attacked more, keeping Couture off-balance and leaving him open for the awesomeness that ended the night.

While we all laughed about the dangers of a teep kick to the face the instant we saw Steven Seagal in Machida’s corner, the fact that he was able to finish Couture with that moves cooler, jumping cousin was unbelievable. I guess we can’t make jokes about Seagal’s work with the Black House team anymore, can we?

THANKS FOR EVERYTHING, RANDY

An era ended on Saturday night.

Though he was on the wrong side of the spectacular finish, Couture is leaving on his own terms and no one can fault him for that. In fact, no one should be faulting him for anything; the man is a legend, and all we should be saying is thanks.

While there were some lows over the years, the highs have been Mt. Everest moments, and those are the memories that will keep Couture at the top of the list of all-time greats in UFC history.

Thanks for the memories, Randy. Have fun in Hollywood.

NO MORE DOUBTING THE WEC LIGHTWEIGHTS

Before the WEC was merged into the UFC, people assumed the WEC lightweights wouldn’t be able to compete in the dangerous waters of the organization’s 155-pound division. After all, if they were really that good, why weren’t they in the UFC already?

Guys like Shane Roller and Donald Cerrone had started to dispel the myth since stepping into the Octagon earlier in the year, and former WEC champ Ben Henderson’s victory on Saturday should mark the end of the questions for good. Henderson earned a unanimous decision win over Mark Bocek, utilizing his strength, speed and otherworldly submission defense to sweep the scorecards in the opening bout of the pay-per-view card.

After losing to Anthony Pettis in the WEC’s final fight, Henderson had fallen into the background a little, but this win puts him right back into the conversation in the division. He continues to improve his striking and has shown some intangibles that could help separate him from the pack in the future.

PLENTY OF CHOICES COME BONUS TIME

Sometimes the UFC has a hard time determining who will take home the Fight Night bonuses, but that was not the case on Saturday night.

Aldo-Hominick was an easy selection as Fight of the Night. Normally, Jason MacDonald’s quick submission of Ryan Jensen would have scored him a little extra spending money, but Pablo Garza took the air in the opening bout of the night and took home the $129,000 submission bonus with his flying triangle choke.

As for the knockouts, there were plenty to choose from.

Jake Ellenberger’s one-two finish of Sean Pierson was solid, and Vladimir Matyushenko’s 20-second blitz of Jason Brilz would have been an award winner on most nights, but both were afterthoughts on Saturday. John Makdessi’s spinning backfist was a thing of beauty, and probably could earned him a little bonus in the back, since Machida went out and front kicked Couture’s career out of the Octagon en route to collecting the Knockout of the Night bonus.

The big stage brought out the best in the UFC 129 winners, and gave the fans the electric evening they expected.

ONTARIO ON THE RISE

Don’t be surprised if the UFC is back in Ontario before the year is out. An annual trip to Toronto is virtually guaranteed. In the next couple years, Toronto could very well become the territory the UFC visits the most outside of Vegas, and with good reason.

The city showed itself capable of carrying a massive event, with the Fan Expo adding to Saturday night’s fights to draw well over 100,000 fans to Toronto over the week. The much-maligned Ontario Athletic Commission did a tremendous job on fight night, with the ringside physician making the right call with Hominick’s hematoma, and the judges delivering understandable and acceptable scorecards at every turn.

Cities like Ottawa, Hamilton, London and Windsor could all be in the running for events in the future, and Ontario MMA fans have already shown they are willing to travel to see live events. That kind of support speaks to the UFC.

It may have taken years for the UFC to hold their first event in Ontario, but you can be sure that the second, third and fourth shows will come quickly.


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