MMA on DVD: UFC 58: U.S.A. vs. Canada

The Backstory: Having mowed through most of the competition in the 185-pound division, UFC middleweight champion Rich Franklin was looking for a challenge in his next defense, and he found one in French Canadian David Loiseau. Loiseau had overcome an early decision loss in his UFC career on the strength of a brutal ground-and-pound assault that included some of the nastiest elbows in MMA.

B.J. Penn, the only man to defeat Matt Hughes for the welterweight title, had decided to return to the UFC after a two-year contract squabble, but Dana White refused to let him ease his way back into competition, and set him up against the top young gun in the division: Georges St. Pierre. St. Pierre had been forced to submit to a Matt Hughes armbar but had redeemed himself by dominating both Frank Trigg and Sean Sherk in subsequent matches.

As for the rest of the card, the UFC had already signed a group of promising young fighters to contracts, particularly in the newly-resurrected lightweight division, and needed an opportunity to showcase them, so they catered to our wonderfully jingoistic impulses and made “U.S.A. vs. Canada” the theme for this show.

Icho Larenas vs. Tom Murphy: Larenas, looking almost comically muscular (pro wrestler big) is making his UFC debut, while Murphy earned a degree of notoriety by going the distance with Rashad Evans on season two of The Ultimate Fighter.

Round 1: Both fighters circle for the first 30 seconds or so: looking at Larenas, you can’t help but understand why Murphy is so hesitant to get close to the guy. Finally, Murphy shoves Larenas into the cage and puts him on his back nicely with a double-leg takedown. Murphy struggles to get his hands free in Larenas’ closed guard, and finally manages to get his hands free for a couple of punches before Larenas ties him up again.

Both men are on the ground for at least 75 seconds with nothing happening; finally, as I wonder why the referee hasn’t restarted this, he brings them back to their feet. In his first offensive move of the night, Larenas misses a wild head kick, and Murphy responds by rushing him and clinching, where he lands a few punches and starts throwing knees. Larenas manages to get away, and we see him bleeding nicely from the forehead.

Murphy stays on him, throwing some wild hooks but mostly missing, as Larenas keeps backing away. They begin to circle again with a minute left in the round, as the crowd, looking for something to do, starts up a half-hearted “USA” chant. Murphy pushes Larenas around the ring, looking for a clinch; he finally gets one against the cage and takes Larenas down. This time, Murphy gets an opening in Larenas’ guard and takes it, raining right hands down on that cut until the end of the round.

This got off to a very slow start, but Murphy dominated the second half of the round. Larenas, frighteningly huge as he is, doesn’t look like he knows what he’s doing in there.

Round 2: Murphy comes out and pushes Larenas to the cage right away, then takes him down. Murphy punches Larenas in the head through his guard, then tries a basic “can opener” submission, then switches back to punches. The referee (Yves Lavigne, if you must know) stands them back up and calls time to check Larenas’ cut, which by now has grown pretty impressive. After deciding that the fight can continue, Lavigne brings both fighters together for the restart; Murphy pushes Larenas to the cage again and takes him down again.

Murphy steals a page from Tito Ortiz’s playbook, pushing Larenas headfirst into the cage and tries to get through his guard, but he can’t get free of Larenas’ grip, and Lavigne brings them back to their feet. Larenas misses with a head kick, then nails a sharp left hook/right hook combo, then throws another right hook, which Murphy ducks and takes him down after in a neat sequence. Passing easily to side control, Murphy starts blasting Larenas with elbows and punches, but time runs out in the round.

Here were two almost completely identical rounds, where Murphy can’t get the real upper hand until late in the round but still manages to finish very strongly. He hasn’t been able to quite get that finishing blow in, but then again, Larenas hasn’t been able to do much of anything.

Round 3: Murphy shoots in right away for a takedown; Larenas stuffs it at first, but Murphy keeps at it and eventually gets him down. Murphy goes back to the all-too-familiar position of throwing punches through Larenas’ full guard but not really trying to pass it: he’s landing shots but not really doing any damage. Murphy, however, finally wins his war of attrition when Lavigne has seen enough blood coming from Larenas’ forehead and stops the fight.

The Verdict: Larenas looked pretty confused in there: not scared or winded or unsure, just confused. Unless he knocks out a lot of people out in spectacular fashion back in Canada, I don’t think we’re going to see him in another UFC fight anytime soon.

Murphy, for his part, looked okay. Joe made a few good points about how his inability or disinclination to pass Larenas’ guard prolonged the fight a bit, but he was clearly the more aggressive of the two, and when he got control, he knew what to do with it. I’m surprised that we haven’t seen him since, given the state of the heavyweight division.

Jason Lambert vs. Rob MacDonald: According to Joe and Mike, both men are making their UFC debuts: Lambert’s a champion with smaller MMA promotions, while MacDonald was a world-renowned amateur kickboxer and a member of The Ultimate Fighter‘s season two cast.

Round 1: Lambert shoots for a takedown right away, but MacDonald sprawls; back on their feet, both fighters start trading punches, with MacDonald getting the better of it. Finally, Lambert clinches, picks MacDonald up over his shoulder, and gets a huge slam, but MacDonald slips out of Lambert’s grip on the ground and gets right back up. Still, Lambert gets another takedown and passes easily into side control, where he lands a few wide-open elbows and punches. He switches to a 69-ish position, almost like he’s looking for a north-south choke, then grabs MacDonald’s left arm and wrenches it back in a nasty kimura. MacDonald, with his arm bent in a way very different than what Mother Nature intended, has no choice but to tap.

The Verdict: Fighters with well-defined grappling skills have better MMA records. This is not conjecture, either–it’s fact. Hell, even Chuck Liddell was a collegiate wrestler, even if his grappling only extends to avoiding takedowns these days.

Lambert was able to quickly get MacDonald on the ground–even if he couldn’t keep him there at first–and impose his will on him. MacDonald, on the other hand, was screwed from the point that Lambert decided that he’d had enough of standing up and getting punched.

All things being equal, though, this was pretty entertaining for such a short fight.

Sam Stout vs. Spencer Fisher: Fisher, a Miletich fighter, has two quick UFC wins against Thiago Alves and Matt Riley, while Stout, a veteran of K-1 and Canada’s TKO promotion, is making his UFC debut. Fisher took this fight on extremely short notice, and had to essentially cut 20 pounds in two days in order to make weight, which leads Mike and Joe to predict trouble for Fisher if the fight goes the distance.

Round 1: Both fighters come out swinging, trading punches and kicks; Stout tries a leg kick, but Fisher catches it, takes him to the ground, and climbs into Stout’s guard.
He quickly passes into half-guard, but Stout ties him up there, then throws him off, climbs to his feet, and smacks Fisher with a quick three-punch combo. Both men go back to trading punches: Fisher, a southpaw, lands a sharp right jab and tries to knee Stout in the head, but Stout spins away. Both fighters land simultaneous leg kicks, and Fisher rushes across the ring, only to get pulled into a clinch by Stout, who knees him in the ribs. From the clinch, Fisher explodes with a hip toss/trip takedown, essentially dropping Stout on his head, but the Canadian pops right back up to his feet.

They clinch and trade nasty uppercuts, then Fisher starts working the midsection with knees, which leads Stout to clip Fisher with a short right hook to the head. Stout breaks the clinch with an elbow strike to the head, but Fisher retaliates by landing five straight punches–including a sharp left hook–to Stout’s head, driving him back. Stout tries a low kick to back Fisher up, but Fisher catches it and holds on to Stout’s foot, then blasts him with a picture-perfect left cross, pushing him to the fence. Fisher lands a couple of hooks, but Stout pulls him into a clinch; after the fighters trade strikes in the clinch, Fisher snaps off a beautiful belly-to-belly throw to put Stout on his back.

Stout pushes Fisher into his guard and throws a couple of strikes from the bottom, so Fisher stands up a little, picks Stout up off the ground, and then slams him back down near the fence. From there, Fisher tries some ground-and-pound, but Stout defends well, eventually kicking Fisher loose and then kicking up at him. Fisher wants nothing to do with the feet of a professional kickboxer, so he cleverly switches to side control as Stout tries to maneuver himself away from the cage. Fisher lands a couple of strikes in that position, but Stout quickly moves him back into guard. He fights hard through Stout’s guard, landing the occasional shot over the top, but Stout kicks him off again. With Stout flat on his back, Fisher lands a nice leaping axe kick (!) to his stomach, then tries to sink in a leg submission, but Stout manages to kick free and get to his feet with 30 seconds left in the round.

Both fighters trade punches, and Stout tries yet another low kick, only to get smacked in the face yet again by another Fisher left cross. Both fighters go back to trading until the round ends, with Stout landing a sweet right cross and just missing a big right head kick.

When people ask why the UFC brought the lightweight division back, show them this round. There’s a neat subplot here with Fisher, unafraid of Stout’s counters and knowing that he’s not going to have the legs for a three-round fight, pressing relentlessly to try and get a knockout or submission. Stout, on the other hand, is showing excellent composure and defensive skills in weathering the storm, particularly from his back. Despite Stout’s career as a kickboxer, Fisher’s been the one landing most of his strikes so far.

Round 2: Both fighters trade to start, with Fisher getting the better of it; they clinch against the cage, but Stout breaks free with a sharp left elbow strike. Stout lands a left jab as Fisher dives forward with a wild hook and just barely manages to block another high kick from Stout. Both men go back to trading punches and leg kicks; Fisher lands a quick right jab, but Stout responds with a wide left hook. Fisher blocks Stout’s first three punches, but Stout pushes a left jab through and finally manages to shift Fisher’s ribs with a low kick. After some circling, Fisher answers that with a big right hook, snapping Stout’s head back, but Stout manages to circle away and throw another high kick that Fisher blocks.

Stout lands a weak leg kick, then tries to follow up with another leg kick and a high kick–both of which Fisher blocks. Both fighters circle and trade jabs for a few seconds as the pace slows noticeably, then Fisher lands a spinning back kick to the side of Stout’s ribs, to which Stout retaliates with a perfect right hand right between Fisher’s gloves. Stout, gaining confidence, lands a left jab and a left kick to Fisher’s ribs, but he charges forward and blasts Stout with an overhand right. Still, Stout backs him off with a good jab to the head, but Fisher moves back in and pulls Stout into a clinch.

From the clinch, Stout knees Fisher in the ribs, and then tries to knee him in the face as he attempts a judo throw. Fisher bounces free, but Stout cracks him with a punch to the ribs and a short left hook, and then follows up with a right cross to Fisher’s face. He throws a wild left hook over Fisher’s head, which leaves him wide open to a nasty left hook counter from the Carolina boy. Fisher lands a couple of punches and follows with a short knee to the head, but Stout backs away. Both fighters go back to circling and trading, as Stout throws a strong head kick that Fisher blocks. Fisher whiffs on a right hook, but lands a left hook and a strong kick to Stout’s ribs, and then snaps Stout’s head back with a stiff right jab.

From here, both fighters go back to trading: Stout is starting to land more punches but can’t land the big head kick, while the stockier Fisher keeps coming forward but is visibly starting to tire. With a minute left in the round, Fisher rolls out of a standing rear waistlock into a kneebar, but Stout manages to roll through, so Fisher climbs back into Stout’s guard, but Stout manages to tie Fisher up until the horn.

Another active round, if a little slower than the ridiculously fast-paced first round: Stout’s slowly gaining confidence here, finally working his way through Fisher’s defense, while Fisher looks pretty exhausted on his stool between rounds.

Round 3: Both fighters trade to start, but Stout’s much more accurate here than in previous rounds, throwing more often and landing more often. Pushing the pace, Stout blocks a jab, jabs away to Fisher’s body, and then buries a nice low kick right in his ribs. Fisher loses his mouthpiece, so Mario Yamasaki calls time to give it a quick cleaning. After the restart, Stout comes out and lands a sharp combination but eats a straight right jab from Fisher; clinching, Stout cracks Fisher with four straight uppercuts, knocking his mouthpiece out again. Observing the five-second rule, Fisher quickly picks his mouthpiece up off the dirty mat and puts it back in; after the restart, both fighters trade and Fisher looks for a takedown, but Stout slides out as Fisher falls right onto his back. Stout lands a couple of punches from a standing position and then starts to circle Fisher’s prone body, but then thinks better of it and lets him up.

Both fighters go back to circling and trading: Stout throws a weak low kick which Fisher catches, but Stout defends the takedown well. Fisher eventually gets the takedown, but Stout rolls on top of him and into his half-guard, where he promptly lands a couple of punches. Stout moves around in Fisher’s guard looking for an opening, but gets bored and lets Fisher up. Fisher’s mouthpiece falls out again during an exchange, but Fisher, to his credit, wastes no time in putting it back in and firing away. Both men trade and clinch, then break: Fisher shoots in for a takedown, but Stout manages to balance on one leg to block. Fisher falls backwards into guard, and Stout climbs into it, throwing a few punches, but Fisher then grabs a leg and straightens it into a leglock.

Stout slides free, but ends up in guard with Fisher on top of him; Fisher squirms through Stout’s guard and into side control, but tries to pass into full mount and leaves Stout with just enough room to escape and get to his feet. From there, both men trade until the end of the round.

Stout wins by split decision to a mixture of cheers and boos from the crowd.

The Verdict: Now, this would be the fight of the night on a normal card, but here, it struggles to even crack the top three. Fisher, one of the more entertaining fighters in the UFC, showed his trademark well-rounded explosive skills in the first round only to run out of gas by the third round. Stout, on the other hand, never really had Fisher in danger but did an excellent job of weathering the storm and coming on strong in the late second and third rounds to take the fight in the judges’ eyes.

Fisher would go on to knock Matt Wiman out in spectacular fashion at UFC 60, while Stout ended up in on the business end of a Kenny Florian submission at the Ultimate Fighter 3 finale.

Mark Hominick vs. Yves Edwards: Mike and Joe pimp Yves Edwards as the uncrowned champ at 155, while they also mention that Hominick’s never allowed an opponent to take a fight to a decision.

Round 1: Both fighters circle, then Edwards lands a quick flurry, which he follows it up by clinching and throwing a couple of quick knees. Hominick blasts Edwards in the clinch with a left hook, but Edwards holds on; finally, they break the clinch, and Edwards misses a head kick on his way back. Edwards scores with a couple of jabs and a leg kick, but Hominick clinches. They trade knees in the clinch, then Hominick nails him with another left hook to the head from the clinch. They break, and Hominick pops Edwards with a left hook, which Edwards answers with a lightning-fast combination, and Hominick responds to that with another nasty left. Both men go back to circling: Edwards jabs Hominick but Hominick snaps off a leg kick at the same time.

Both men trade punches and leg kicks: Yves scores with an uppercut, but Hominick lands a strong overhand right. Hominick is starting to score more with his left jab, even though Edwards has a big reach advantage; he scores with a left hook but can’t land the right-hook follow-up. He follows that up with two strong combinations, taking the center of the octagon and really pushing the pace. Edwards goes downstairs with two hooks and a knee, but Hominick is relatively unfazed. Both fighters trade jabs until the horn sounds to end the round.

Most MMA fighters move like wrestlers: hands relatively low, feet and legs square to target, moving straight ahead. Hominick, on the other hand, moves like a boxer: he narrows his body by angling it sideways, and he keeps his hands up and keeps attacking from different angles.

In any case, this felt more like the first round of a boxing match between two pretty skilled fighters, as both men probed and scored with different attacks but neither could really land a big shot.

Funny moment between rounds as Joe awkwardly narrates a replay between rounds that shows Edwards throwing three consecutive blatantly illegal strikes: “Bang…right on the jewels…(pause)…and a little headbutt right afterwards…(pause)…and another headbutt.”

Round 2: Hominick takes the center of the ring and scores right away with a left jab and leg kick; Edwards shoots in for a takedown, but Hominick sprawls and they clinch. Hominick backs Edwards up against the fence and peppers him with a left hook to the head, a left hook to the body, and two sharp knees to the ribs. Edwards breaks the clinch, and Hominick rushes in with a couple of body punches, so Yves switches gears, taking him down in the center of the octagon and rolling into Hominick’s guard. Hominick angles for a triangle and slowly and deceptively locks it in; all of a sudden, Edwards is locked in with nowhere to go and has to tap.

The Verdict: Standing in there with a true MMA veteran, Hominick looked fantastic here, both outstriking and eventually forcing the highly-regarded Edwards to submit. He would go on to beat Jorge Gurgel by dubious decision, but he hasn’t fought in the UFC since. As Mike and Joe mentioned, his natural weight is around 145, so he’s tailor-made for the lightweight division, and I hope that the UFC can find something for him relatively soon.

Nate Marquardt vs. Joe Doerksen: Marquardt is the seven-time King of Pancrase who’s coming off a win over Ivan Salaverry in his UFC debut, while Doerksen is the tough Canadian submission specialist who lost to Matt Lindland in his last outing.

Round 1: Both fighters circle, jab, and land leg kicks to start: Marquardt rushes forward and Doerksen drops down for a takedown, but Marquardt grabs a front facelock to stuff it. Marquardt falls on top of Doerksen, but Doerksen rolls through to the top; still, Marquardt has a tight guillotine choke locked around Doerksen’s neck. Doerksen slides into side control and escapes, climbing to his feet, but Marquardt himself pops right back up and grabs one of Doerksen’s legs, leaving him hopping around on one foot. Giving Doerksen a big push, Marquardt topples him over onto his back and climbs into his guard.

Doerksen locks up Marquardt’s arms, but he still manages to pass into half-guard. Doerksen uses the butterfly guard to push Marquardt back into full guard, but Nate keeps moving Doerksen around the octagon on his back, looking for an opportunity. Doerksen ties Marquardt’s arms up long enough for Big John to call a restart, from which both fighters jab away. Marquardt lands a nice leg kick, then a sharp cross, and then clinches, where he throws a big knee to Doerksen’s ribs and then pushes his head down and lands another right between his eyes. Doerksen falls forward, breaking the clinch, and then gets back to his feet, where Marquardt uncorks another leg kick. Doerksen lands a couple of good jabs, but Marquardt blasts him with a kick to the midsection, so Doerksen takes the opportunity to tag him with a left hook. Doerksen manages to block a left hook but eats an overhand right, and Marquardt follows up a sloppy Doerksen jab with a solid inside leg kick.

We hit a lull as both fighters, leery of being taken down, stand just out of each other’s range and trade missed punches. Just as I’ve written that, Doerksen charges forward and smacks Nate in the face with a right cross, while Marquardt responds with a left leg kick to the back of Doerksen’s knee. Doerksen keeps coming forward and landing jabs, but Marquardt keeps countering with leg kicks. Both fighters clinch, and Marquardt takes Doerksen down and immediately passes into his half-guard. Doerksen uses the butterfly guard to push Marquardt out again and looks for a guillotine, but Marquardt grabs his arm to block. With Marquardt’s right arm trapped underneath him, Doerksen uses the opportunity to land a few glancing shots from the bottom, but Marquardt gets free, stands up in Doerksen’s guard, and pops him right on the chin with a right hand. Doerksen, on the other hand, kicks him off and gets to his feet, where both fighters go back to trading jabs and kicks.

Doerksen lands a Superman punch but sees a high kick and front kick blocked; circling backwards, Nate responds with a sharp overhand right that Doerksen shrugs off, and the horn sounds to end the round.

Not a great round per se, but an active one, where both fighters kept trying to press whatever advantage they could find. So far, they’re about even on standup, with Doerksen’s jabs canceling out Marquardt’s kicks, but Marquardt’s been able to get Doersken to the ground on a couple of occasions.

Round 2: Both fighters block each other’s jabs, then Doerksen buries a low kick into Marquardt’s midsection. Marquardt lands a low kick of his own, but Doerksen grabs his leg, takes him down, and dives in over the top with big right and left hands. He climbs into Marquardt’s guard, but Nate clinches from his back, rolls back to his feet, stands up (still clinching), sweeps Doerksen’s leg out from behind him, and takes him down. Doerksen uses his butterfly guard to push Marquardt to his feet, but he still smashes Doerksen with a sharp right hand on the way up and then kicks him square in the ass. As Doerksen climbs to his feet, Marquardt rushes forward: he misses two short punches, but blasts the Canadian with a knee to the head.

Doerksen smacks Marquardt with a wide left hook, and both fighters exchange leg kicks. Marquardt pops Doerksen with a short right hand, and Doerksen’s reaction leads me to think that his nose might be broken. Marquardt presses the advantage with a nasty overhand left and then shifts Doerksen’s ribs with a right hook to the body, which he follows with a kick to the same spot. Mike notes that Nate’s been slowly getting more aggressive as the fight’s gone on, and Marquardt drives that point home by promptly taking Doerksen down. Sucked back into Doerksen’s guard, Marquardt tries to land some kidney punches but can’t get anything behind them, so he grinds Doerksen against the fence, stands up, and dives in with a big right elbow that lands cleanly, which he follows with a strong right hand.

Doerksen is obviously hurt here, but he pushes Marquardt back to his feet, landing an upkick cleanly. As he gets up, though, Marquardt takes the opportunity to kick him in the head and then starts stalking him around the octagon; even so, Doerksen catches his second wind, rushes at Marquardt, clinches and lands a couple of big knees to Marquardt’s ribs. Marquardt breaks free and lands another kick to the midsection, but as his leg is in the air, Doerksen just destroys him with a left hook, knocking him down. As Marquardt starts to get up, Doerksen comes flying in with a nasty right cross, driving Marquardt up against the fence. In big trouble, Marquardt quickly grabs a waistlock and takes Doerksen to the ground.

Marquardt can’t get a solid advantage, so Doerksen rolls him over and onto his feet, and Marquardt kicks him in the face for his troubles. Both men swing for the fences: Marquardt lands a short right cross but misses a left hook, which Doersken absorbs a low kick and blasts Marquardt with a big left hook of his own. With Marquardt near the fence, Doerksen tries another Superman punch, but Marquardt dodges, then grabs Doerksen, smashes two uppercuts into his face, and takes him down. Doerksen rolls over on top, but the round ends.

This was another super-active round: Marquardt seemed to be solidly in control until the knockdown, and even then he recovered pretty nicely to finish the round. Doerksen, a very smart fighter, had eaten enough of Marquardt’s low and leg kicks in the first round and worked much closer to Nate in the second; every time Marquardt would throw a kick, Doerksen would punch him in the face to counter.

Round 3: Marquardt snaps Doerksen’s head back with a sharp jab, then follows up with two short hooks and a big uppercut. He throws out a left jab that Doerksen uses both hands to block, but sneaks in a nasty right hook behind it; Doerksen tries a takedown to buy himself some time, but Marquardt stuffs it and drags him back to his feet. Doerksen then tries another takedown, but Marquardt stuffs that one too and blasts him in the ribs with a low kick for good measure. He smashes Doerksen with a right hook and uppercut, then sprawls out of yet another Doerksen takedown attempt and snatches a front facelock. Doerksen falls back into guard: Nate tries for any kind of advantage, but Doerksen ties him up until Big John restarts them on their feet.

Doerksen’s lost his mouthpiece, so Big John calls time until his corner can clean it; on the restart, he comes out firing and lands a big left hook, but Marquardt persists and lands a massive overhand right after another exchange. He follows that up with a solid left uppercut and right hook, and Doerksen just barely blocks a big head kick. Just when Doerksen looks like he’s finished, though, he comes back with a quick flurry of punches and a head kick, backing Marquardt off, and then takes him down and then climbs into side control. Marquardt grabs an odd guillotine choke from there, but Doerksen knees him in the ribs to break. From the half-guard, Doerksen tries to pass into full mount, but Marquardt reverses and ends up on top in Doerksen’s half-guard. Marquardt moves into side control, but can’t land anything and Doerksen shuffles him back into full guard. He tries to reverse, but Nate pushes him back down into half-guard. Doerksen finally manages to reverse and get on top, but Marquardt grabs another guillotine until the end of the round.

Bruce Buffer announces the decision, and it’s a unanimous win for Nate Marquardt.

The Verdict: This reminds me of the Lindland-Doerksen fight at UFC 56 and the Edgar-Griffin fight at UFC 67: a fast-paced fight between two excellent mat-based competitors showing off the full range of their skills. Again, on another card, this might be the fight of the night, but it won’t even crack the top three tonight.

Marquardt is scheduled to fight Anderson Silva at UFC 72, and from what I’ve seen of him, he should give Silva fits: he’s better on his feet than Travis Lutter, his wrestling is excellent, and his ground-and-pound is far more effective than Lutter’s is. People want to see a Franklin-Silva rematch, and they may get their wish; of course, Silva may not have the belt by the time it happens.

Doerksen is just a tough fighter, having never been knocked out in 47 professional fights, so it’s not entirely surprising that he was able to avoid the KO. This fight seemed to shake out just like the Lindland fight, where he was able to hang for a couple of rounds but just couldn’t keep up in the third with a ridiculously well-conditioned opponent. That’s not a knock on Doerksen’s conditioning, mind you–it’s just a statement about the quality of his opponents.

B.J. Penn vs. Georges St. Pierre: Considering where both guys are a year later, it feels odd that most of the pre-fight hype focuses on B.J., but that’s the case here. Never one to underestimate his own abilities, B.J. gives a jaw-dropping monologue about how Matt Hughes’ title has no legitimacy to him, since he never beat the champ to get it, then claims that Hughes wants him to win tonight’s fight in order to get a shot at the real champion.

St. Pierre also claims that Hughes really wants to avenge his loss to Penn, but tells Matt to brace himself for some bad news, because St. Pierre is winning this fight. You know, there was a discussion on an MMA message board as to why St. Pierre gets a free pass for statements like this and the “I am not im-PRESS-ed by your perfor-MANCE” line while people burn the Miletich guys for being cocky.

I thought about that for a little while, and here is what I came up with: if you talk trash in your second language, it usually comes off as funny rather than insulting.

With all of the buildup, the fight has a real main-event feel to it, and we get the staredown as Herb Dean reads off the pre-fight checklist: Penn bounces back and forth, while St. Pierre is ice-cold.

Round 1: Both fighters come charging out of their corners and Penn lands a couple of quick punches, while St. Pierre scores with a jab but whiffs on a high kick. Penn takes the center of the ring and pushes a straight jab into St. Pierre’s face, but St. Pierre responds with a strong right cross. Penn blocks a leg kick and surges forward with punches as the crowd starts up a “B.J.” chant; St. Pierre keeps jabbing away, but Penn drives him back with a short left hook. He lands a short leg kick, but Penn presses forward with four hooks, one of which inadvertently thumbs St. Pierre in the eye. Penn lands a big left hook but slips, then throws an uppercut that only barely catches St. Pierre’s nose but still manages to break it.

Both fighters trade jabs, and St. Pierre lands a solid leg kick, but Penn responds by bashing him with a short right hook and following that up with a stiff left jab. St. Pierre jabs effectively, keeping Penn at bay, then throws a spinning back kick to Penn’s ribs, which B.J. just barely manages to avoid. Both fighters trade jabs, then St. Pierre throws a high kick that Penn blocks and a leg kick that Penn doesn’t block. St. Pierre dives in with a jab and a missed overhand right, but eats a short right hook in return; both fighters clinch, and St. Pierre looks for a throw as Penn uses his leg to block. St. Pierre’s nose is bleeding all over the place as both fighters trade knees in the clinch; St. Pierre tries a single-leg takedown, but Penn takes the opportunity to show off his ridiculous takedown defense, balancing on one leg while using one of his hands to steady himself, then leaning against the cage for a little extra balance.

Finally, St. Pierre scrubs that idea, puts Penn’s other leg down, and goes back to the clinch. Penn breaks free with two sharp hooks to St. Pierre’s face, blocks a high kick, takes a leg kick, and then gets smacked by St. Pierre’s jab. St. Pierre misses several more jabs and a high kick, and Penn snaps off a jab to St. Pierre’s ribs as Joe makes a comment about how badly messed up St. Pierre’s face is with a busted nose, a nasty cut underneath an eye, and an eye almost swollen shut.

Switching strategies, St. Pierre lands a couple of quick leg kicks to the inside of Penn’s left leg but walks right into a straight jab; he tries another spinning back kick, but Penn blocks it. Both fighters trade a little: St. Pierre lands a couple of leg kicks, but Penn buries a sharp right hook into his ribs. Penn blocks two St. Pierre leg kicks and another spinning back kick, and both fighters clinch until the end of the round.

St. Pierre was throwing more shots, but Penn was landing more shots, giving him this round. Besides, using the litmus test of who looks worse at the end of the round, Penn wins hands down.

Round 2: St. Pierre comes out jabbing but not really landing, so Penn responds with a crisp uppercut, which leads St. Pierre to throw a head kick that Penn manages to block. Neat little sequence here as Penn blocks a leg kick, so St. Pierre throws a kick at Penn’s back leg, which Penn actually leaps over. Both fighters clinch against the fence, and St. Pierre goes for another single-leg takedown, which Penn balances out of at first, so St. Pierre moves Penn away from the fence and essentially tackles him, finally getting him to the ground. Hanging out in Penn’s guard, St. Pierre throws a few short punches to Penn’s kidneys but can’t get any decisive advantage, so he stands up, kicks Penn in the ass, and then dives back in with a sharp right hand. Still, Penn manages to get back to his feet with one leg still firmly in St. Pierre’s grip and quickly squirts free.

Penn tags St. Pierre with an overhand right, and then both men score with jabs. Penn blocks a leg kick and a head kick, then both fighters trade punches and clinch, where they trade knees. St. Pierre throws a knee high into Penn’s ribcage, so Penn backs him up with a right hook to the face as Mike and Joe relate the oft-told story behind B.J. Penn’s first name. St. Pierre finally finds the right range with his left jab, landing three or four in succession; Penn blocks a leg kick, but St. Pierre finally scores with a head kick right to Penn’s jaw and follows it up with a jab/cross combination. St. Pierre pulls Penn into a clinch again, and Penn blocks the knees to the midsection by putting his own shin across St. Pierre’s legs. They break and start slugging it out: St. Pierre blasts Penn with a right cross to the face, but Penn lands a cross of his own, so St. Pierre lands both parts of a jab/cross combination. They clinch against the cage again and both initially try and punch their way out of it, but St. Pierre scoops Penn up with a double-leg takedown just before the round ends.

St. Pierre showed brains and resilience here, switching up his gameplan early on to get Penn to the ground and outstriking him once the fight went back to its feet. Of course, by this point in time, he’s wearing the proverbial crimson mask, turning Penn’s white trunks pink with his blood.

Round 3: Both fighters snap off sharp leg kicks, and St. Pierre throws out another nice jab, then follows it up with a sweet leg kick/head kick combo. He lands an uppercut to Penn’s ribs, and then clinches; against the fence, both men work for position while the crowd starts chanting Penn’s name again. Both men briefly stop clinching to trade punches, but then go right back to the clinch: St. Pierre goes for a single leg, but Penn balances out, so St. Pierre grabs the other leg, throws Penn over his shoulder, and then snaps him to the ground with a Hughes-esque slam. From Penn’s guard, St. Pierre mashes Penn with an elbow to the face, but Penn keeps squirming, pushes off St. Pierre’s hips, and pops back to his feet.

St. Pierre rushes in to clinch, and both men roll around the fence a bit, with B.J. looking very tired. He manages to push St. Pierre off, though, and both men trade jabs. Penn shoots in for a takedown, but St. Pierre uses the cage for support and stuffs it. Still, Penn trips St. Pierre up and gets him almost to his back against the cage, but St. Pierre stands up and goes back into the clinch, where both fighters trade right hooks. They break the clinch and Penn comes out throwing, landing a strong overhand right, but St. Pierre rushes forward, snags a leg, and quickly takes Penn down again.

Knowing just how close the fight is, Penn throws punches from his back, then grabs St. Pierre’s right arm, twists his left leg over his shoulder, and tries to lock in an oma plata, but can’t get it completely sunk in. In an awesome visual, St. Pierre keeps throwing punches with his free left arm while Penn keeps trying like hell to wrench his opponent’s shoulder with the submission. Finally, St. Pierre gets his arm free as the horn sounds to end the round and the crowd goes crazy, giving both men a standing ovation.

Bruce Buffer comes out and announces the 29-28 split decision for St. Pierre, who raises a visibly disappointed Penn’s hand in a show of respect.

The Verdict: For the first seven minutes of the fight, B.J. Penn completely dominated the man widely considered to be the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. As has sadly become a trend in his last two fights, though, he couldn’t quite finish the job. Penn’s performance here spawned the whole “B.J. has no cardio” argument that has plagued Penn and his fans to this day. Penn did admit, though, that he bonked in the third round and that he should have trained harder for such an important fight.

For St. Pierre, on the other hand, most commentators consider this fight to be the most important fight of his career. Taking an awful beating at the hands of the man who was never defeated for the welterweight title, he managed to keep his composure, keep the pressure on, and win the day and the title shot with Matt Hughes (though Penn would ironically get a title shot before him).

The fight itself was fantastic, and almost too close to call, which hopefully means that we’ll get some resolution someday with a St. Pierre-Penn 2. Who’ll win that fight? It’s hard to say, but I have to chuckle at one post that I read on the subject: “GSP dreams of B.J. on a treadmill and wakes up screaming.”

Mike Swick vs. Steve Vigneault: Swick is yet another alum of The Ultimate Fighter’s original season: at this point in his career, he’s 2-0, and his UFC career has lasted all of 42 seconds, thanks to extremely quick knockouts of Alex Schoenauer and Gideon Ray.
Vigneault, who trains with Georges St. Pierre, is making his UFC debut.

Round 1: Swick comes out looking for the home run shot, but Vigneault ties him up as both men trade knees against the fence. Maz restarts them due to inactivity: Swick follows a left jab in with a great left hook, but Vigneault tags him with a left hook in return. Swick follows another jab with a nasty right uppercut, and Vigneault clinches before he can do any damage. He pushes Swick against the fence, and Swick rolls him over and shoves him into the fence.

Maz restarts again, and Swick swings in a high kick that Vigneault just barely manages to block. Both fighters circle, then Swick goes for a flying knee; Vigneault catches it and Swick is forced to hop around on one leg for a few seconds. Vigneault gets in close for a big takedown, but as he does, Swick clamps on a tight guillotine and locks his legs around Vigneault’s body, and that’s all she wrote.

The Verdict: Not much of a fight, really; rather, it ended up being just another notch in Swick’s belt. He managed to pull the insta-guillotine out twice now (against Joe Riggs as well) as part of his takedown defense, so future opponents might want to keep the fight standing or find different methods of takedowns. Between Silva winning the title, Nate Marquardt emerging as a better matchup for Silva, and Swick himself having a little difficulty getting past David Loiseau, Swickamania has taken a bit of a detour; on the flip side, though, at least he’ll get to fight in his hometown at UFC 69.

Vigneault hasn’t been seen in the UFC since this fight, and I doubt he’ll get another look at all, unless it’s at the UFC’s much-rumored Canadian card.

Rich Franklin vs. David Loiseau: This was Rich’s second title defense, having spectacularly knocked out Nate Quarry after winning the title from Evan Tanner. Franklin’s mystique was on the rise: at this point, he’d finished all of his UFC opponents off by knockout, TKO, or submission. Similarly, all of Loiseau’s wins in the promotion had come by knockout or TKO, and everyone considered this to be Rich’s biggest challenge yet.

Round 1: Loiseau misses two high kicks and lands a nice kick to Franklin’s ribs; Rich takes the center of the octagon and throws a couple of wild punches, but Loiseau ducks under them and tags Rich with a sweet left hook. Rich throws a high kick that Loiseau blocks, and both fighters trade punches. Loiseau misses two head kicks, and Rich responds by landing four straight hooks to the head and a sharp kick to the ribs. He follows that up by faking a jab to Loiseau’s head and throwing a hook that digs into the challenger’s ribs. Both fighters circle and trade jabs and leg kicks, then clinch along the cage; Rich lands a knee to Loiseau’s ribs, but Loiseau slides away. Rich finally works Loiseau into a corner of the octagon, then smacks him with a left jab just before kicking him in the ribs, knocking Loiseau down against the cage.

Loiseau bounces back to his feet pretty quickly though, and we’re back to the familiar position of Loiseau moving around the outside of the octagon while Rich shadows him in the center. Rich throws a short left hook and follows that with another knee to Loiseau’s ribs, and Loiseau spins away and goes back to circling. Both fighters are slowly getting more aggressive–Franklin blasts Loiseau with another left hook, while Loiseau staggers Rich with a left of his own–but Rich almost slips and falls while kicking Loiseau in the ribs. He lands a nice jab/cross combination and then follows it up with another shot to Loiseau’s ribs, but Loiseau slides out again. Loiseau does a good job of limiting Franklin to one or two punches by circling away, but ends up with egg on his face when Rich starts throwing five or six-punch volleys, which forces Loiseau to literally run away from him as the crowd begins to boo. Just as the natives start getting restless, Rich wakes everybody up by plastering Loiseau with a left hook just before the horn, knocking him down. Loiseau heads straight for his corner as Big John moves in to hold Rich off.

I didn’t see Loiseau’s fight against Joey Villasenor, but he’s showing the same problem here that he showed against Mike Swick: he is fighting very passively and making Rich chase him. Yes, Rich is a pretty monstrous striker, but Loiseau is not exactly a 98-pound weakling. The only thing on Loiseau’s agenda seems to be to stay away from Rich, and the judges just don’t look kindly on that.

Round 2: Loiseau tries a couple of jabs and a spinning back kick but nothing lands; Rich tires of this and rushes in, but Loiseau runs away again, drawing the ire of the crowd. Loiseau throws another couple of head kicks that miss, then both fighters trade punches. Rich finally traps Loiseau against the cage and clips him with a right and left hook, then a knee to the ribs. Loiseau spins away, and Rich stalks him again. Rich lands a right and left hook, and Loiseau starts to run away, so Rich, running after him now, lands a huge running left hook to Loiseau’s chin, knocking him down. Loiseau curls into a ball and sets his hands over the back of his head to cover up, and Rich tries to land a couple of shots from his back. Loiseau starts to get to his feet, so Rich takes the opportunity to blast him with several punches on the way up. Still, Loiseau manages to get back to his feet and get some space between himself and Rich, and they circle.

Rich tries to close the gap but Loiseau runs away again: the crowd is incensed, and Big John gives Loiseau a warning for being a chickenshit. Loiseau misses a high kick and Rich returns fire, but can’t land anything decisive. Up against the fence, Rich nails Loiseau with a left and a right, and counters a Loiseau cross with a short kick to the ribs. He misses with a right hook, but grabs Loiseau¡¯s head with his right arm, pulls it down, and rams his right knee into his face. The fighters clinch, where Rich lands a couple of knees to the body; Franklin forces Loiseau’s arms down in the clinch, then blasts him in the side of the head with a sharp elbow. He keeps chasing Loiseau around the ring: finally, he clips Loiseau with a right hook, gets behind him, locks his left arm underneath Loiseau’s, and takes him down, instantly taking his back. He goes for a rear naked choke, but Loiseau spins away as Joe mentions that Loiseau’s fairly comfortable giving up his back. Not able to get the choke, Rich knees Loiseau in the shoulder a few times, then stands up and starts clobbering Loiseau (who’s on all fours) from point-blank range with left hands. Still, Loiseau’s luck continues to hold: the horn sounds just as Franklin looks to finish the fight.

At this point, I can’t figure out who Loiseau is: the Tin Man (no heart) or the Cowardly Lion (no courage). He’s taking a pretty serious shit-kicking and giving no real indication of fighting back; of course, listening to his corner, it appears that their strategy was let Rich wear himself out beating up Loiseau’s face. Rich, in no real hurry here, just keeps calmly stalking him across the octagon; unfortunately, between rounds, Rich tells Jorge Gurgel that he thinks he’s broken his left hand.

Round 3: Coming out with a little more intent, Loiseau throws a couple of head kicks that Rich just barely manages to block and then buries a kick right into Rich’s ribs. Having seen quite enough of that, Rich rushes in to close the gap and scores with a right hand and a left kick to the ribs. Loiseau manages to block another right hand, but Rich grabs a clinch, starts kneeing Loiseau in the ribs, and then takes him down. Passing pretty easily into full mount, Rich starts pounding away on Loiseau, but can’t use his dominant left hand. Loiseau rolls over, so Rich takes his back and sinks his hooks in, angling for a rear naked choke. Loiseau manages to roll back onto all fours, so Rich grabs a front facelock and hangs on, then takes Loiseau¡¯s back again, throwing a couple of punches. He gets a little bored with this, so he stands up, pops Loiseau with an ultra-nasty kick to the ribs, then lets him to his feet.

Big John calls time to check the second head growing over Loiseau’s right eye, but the docs allow the fight to continue, even though Loiseau’s face is now bleeding like crazy. Both men circle and jab as Rich tries to land a cross with his damaged left hand but misses. At close range, Rich lands a short, chopping left and a left kick to the ribs; while he still has one leg in the air, though, Loiseau just obliterates him with a perfect left hook, knocking him flat on his ass and into deep trouble.

Loiseau dives on top of Rich and lands a couple of quick left hooks in succession, but Rich gets right back up to his feet. From there, Loiseau crushes Rich with a short right hook, staggering him against the cage and forcing him to clinch. Rich works for a takedown, but Loiseau defends well, so Franklin goes back to kneeing him in the ribs. Loiseau manages to nail Rich in the head with one of his feared elbows, but Rich breaks the clinch with a left/right/left combination, digs another short kick into Loiseau’s midsection, and then chases him off with a couple of wild missed hooks. Rich tags Loiseau with a couple of punches and a knee to the midsection, but Loiseau scoots out of trouble as we resume our old dynamic of Loiseau running and Rich giving chase.

The mouse over Loiseau’s right eye is becoming more and more grotesque as Rich coolly jabs and kicks away, but unfortunately, Rich’s left hand is too damaged for him to load up for a finishing blow. Still, Rich is clearly the aggressor at this point, landing unanswered punch after unanswered punch as Loiseau circles around. He uncorks a nasty left head kick that wobbles Loiseau, but the horn sounds to end the third round.

We see a shot of Rich’s hot wife in the audience as Loiseau’s corner misleadingly tells him that he’s won the round. Yes, Loiseau did knock Rich down, and for a moment, it looked like Loiseau was finally going on the offensive, but we soon settled back into the all-too-familiar pattern of Rich abusing and Loiseau taking abuse. Overall, the third was a much better showing by Loiseau, but still not enough to take what ended up being a fantastic round.

Round 4: Rich drives Loiseau back with a couple of quick right jabs as Mike and Joe have a surreal conversation about how nice and genial both Franklin and Loiseau are. Quoth Joe Rogan: “This sport is just filled with really interesting, polite guys…(pause)…you know, that are killers.”

Rich tries to grab a clinch, but Loiseau drives him back with two short hooks and then follows up with a head kick. He looks to take Rich’s head off with a second high kick but slips and ends up with Rich on his back. Rich tries to grab a dominant position but decides to punch Loiseau with rights to the head instead; mirroring the end of the second round, he gets to his feet and starts laying into Loiseau with rights and lefts. Loiseau tries to get up, but Franklin slides him across the mat on all fours, then hooks a waistlock and pulls out a massive suplex!

Even so, Loiseau manages to get back to all fours and then to his feet, but the mouse over his right eye just keeps getting more and more pronounced, and now his left eye is swelling shut. Rich keeps stalking him across the ring, but Loiseau somehow manages to hold him off with some decent counterpunching. Rich misses a hook but knees Loiseau in the ribs again, then zips a straight right jab at Loiseau, clinches, and throws another knee into his ribs. Loiseau throws a strong head kick that Rich blocks, and Rich keeps chasing him across the octagon, finally catching him with a right head kick that Loiseau shakes off. Loiseau throws a nice flurry but doesn’t land anything, and the effort proves to be too little, too late as the round ends.

By this point, Franklin’s just brutalizing Loiseau: I can’t see how either the doctors or Big John are going to let this fight continue, but they apparently are.

Round 5: Franklin jabs Loiseau at the same time that Loiseau snaps off a kick to Rich’s ribs; Loiseau then tries two head kicks that Franklin blocks. Rich tries to punch and clinch but Loiseau gets loose by smashing his right elbow into Rich’s temple. Rich shoots in and takes Loiseau down against the cage, then lays him flat on his back into guard and mounts him. Franklin moves to side control, but Loiseau transitions and takes Rich down; in turn, Rich reverses on the ground, slides into side control, and then into full mount. Rich lands a couple of decent shots from the back, but Loiseau rolls over, and Rich takes his back again.

Rich throws a few more shots from Loiseau’s back and then tries to roll him through into a rear naked choke. They grapple for a while, and then Loiseau rolls back onto his back; Rich takes side control, so Loiseau rolls back onto all fours. They grapple, Loiseau starts to get up, and Franklin suplexes him again. Still on Loiseau’s back, Rich throws right hands and elbows at Loiseau’s head, then eventually stands back and lets him up as the horn sounds.

The judges score the fight 50-43, 50-42, 50-42 for Rich, which I think may have been a little harsh, but any way you slice it, Rich was the winner.

The Verdict: Rich pulled out the full arsenal of his skills here, using his strong standup and grappling to secure what turned out to be a pretty easy win for him. Watching him here makes his performance against Anderson Silva even more confusing: why didn’t he try and take Silva down? I know that Rich loves to stand in there and mix it up, but he looked pretty solid on the ground; if Rich gets a rematch, that’s where the fight is going to go.

And Loiseau? This was a bit of a frustrating fight to watch because Loiseau never showed the aggressive ground-and-pound or striking that got him the title shot in the first place. He spent most of the fight either figuratively or literally running from Rich, only breaking that pattern briefly in the third round. At least he showed the chin of a champion, though: Rich threw everything but the kitchen sink at him, but couldn’t finish him.

The Final Verdict: Like UFC 56, I bought this video for one fight (Penn-St. Pierre) and definitely found myself very pleasantly surprised, as the entire card was fantastic with only one notable exception. We saw the fight that would eventually (and I mean eventually) lead to St. Pierre as welterweight champion, we saw the lightweight division in its infancy, we saw Yves Edwards and David Loiseau begin their matching downward career spirals, and we saw Nate Marquardt and Mike Swick get another notch closer to that elusive middleweight title shot.

In a year where the UFC kept putting out excellent cards (including UFC 60, 63, 65, and 66), this one ranks right up there with the best.

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