A Look Back: Strikefore, TUF Finale Main Events

This past weekend MMA fans were treated to two spectacular events. The first was the pay per view event Strikeforce: Shamrock vs. Baroni which aired Friday. The second was the The Ultimate Fighter 5 season finale that aired Saturday live on SpikeTV. There was much hype going into both events and in this look back we’ll examine what all the hype was about and whether or not the events delivered.

Strikeforce: Shamrock vs. Baroni

The Hype
There was a lot of hype going into this one. Since beating Tito Ortiz for the middleweight (now light heavyweight) title back in 1999, Frank Shamrock has fought sporadically against fighters that are average C-level at best. His unimpressive performance against Renzo Gracie (backed with a disqualification) led many fans wondering if Shamrock still had it. In facing Baroni, Shamrock was not only looking to silence doubters but was also facing his toughest competition in years.

For Phil Baroni it was another chance for him to step it up. He’s lost 3 or his last six fight and has fallen short whenever an opportunity like this presented itself. For Baroni this was another, perhaps final, chance to put his career back on track by being the first man to soundly defeat Shamrock in almost a decade. A win that could possibly bring him back into the UFC fold.

Already this was a must win fight for both fighters, but add the trash talk these two have been doing on the Internet and you’ve got fireworks soaked in kerosene.

The Fight
The two wasted no time and came out right away trading strikes. Shamrock connected with a hard right that almost ended it for Baroni early. Baroni soldiered on but spent the remainder of the first round trying to get composure while Shamrock continued to connect with hard punches. The second round, was a back and forth slugfest that begged the question how much more could either fighter take. Late, into the round Shamrock connects with punches that force Baroni to shoot to for a takedown. Shamrocks sprawls and brawls before swinging around to Baroni’s back and locking in a rear-naked choke. Baroni fights the choke with punches to Shamrocks face but the choke is deep. Baroni refuses to tap and is unconscious at 4:00 in round two.

The Aftermath
It would be revealed afterwards that both fighters were injured. Baroni pulled his groin during the bout and Shamrock had torn the ACL and MCL in his left knee two weeks before the fight. Despite this the fight was testament to the warrior spirit of both men. For Shamrock the win puts his legacy out of jeopardy and proves that a focused and determined Shamrock still has what it takes. As for Baroni, this is one of many in a long line of disappointmenting performances when given the opportunity to rise to the occasion. And as stated before this could be his last chance to, as he so eloquently put it, “become the bride and not the bride’s made”.

The Ultimate Fighter 5 Finale: Penn vs.Pulver II

The Hype
BJ Penn and Jens Pulver have bad blood stemming back from when they first fought back in 2002. The rivalry was further heated when they were featured coaches on The Ultimate Fighter show. Going into the finale Penn looked to avenge his first loss, while Pulver looked to once again silence those who were counting him out in this fight as they had done in their first fight. With the drive to subdue their nemesis, both fighters were motivated to train harder than ever, and all were eager to see the long awaited climax.

The Fight
The fight was a dominant display of just how overwhelming difficult an opponent BJ is when he is motivated and in shape. From the bell it was an MMA clinic as Penn stood with Jens before shooting in and taking him down with trips and slams. On the ground BJ was masterful. Not content to just rush in and submit Jens (which he could have done several times over) BJ sought to punish Pulver with strikes before attempting submissions. To Jens’ credit he showed heart. He reversed BJ in the second half of the first round dishing out some tough ground and pound. During the last 30 seconds, the two fought tough dirty boxing in the clinch and trading knees and punches. But, when the second round came about Penn was just too much for Pulver. After taking mount, Penn smoothly transitioned to Pulver’s back. Pulver did his best to defend punches and a rear naked choke until BJ, demonstrating his amazing dexterity, used his own leg to trap Pulver’s arm. Having only one arm to defend with, BJ found it easy to finish Jens via rear naked choke 3:12 of round two.

The Aftermath
The only thing more compelling than watching two intense rivals go at it, is watching them bury the hatchet afterwards. No sooner had he submitted Jens, BJ immediately wrapped his arm around his defeated foe. The two hugged and finally showed each other the respect they deserved. Jens was graceful in defeat acknowledging BJ’s toughness and the respect he had for him. Jens even went as far as to say he asked BJ if he could train him to help Pulver work on his ground game, and that Penn accepted. During the post fight interview Pulver had this to say, “This is almost our way of saying goodbye. I’m going down to 145; I think he [Penn] wants to go back up to 170. So we just put a stamp on a phenomenal weight class that I hope you guys love, enjoy, and will always embrace in the UFC: 155.”

A fitting end and farewell to the two men who made the UFC Lightweight division.

The Inside Pulse
If you watched the fights then there is no question that both main events lived up to the promotional hype. The big factor that prompted curiousity was that in both fights their was an air of uncertainty as to how the fights would play out. Can Jens use that punching power to KO BJ? Will be BJ be able to finish Jens or will Jens’ takedown/submission defense be too much like it was in their first fight? Can Baroni KO Shamrock? Does Shamrock still have what it takes to compete against a fighter like Baroni? Regardless of what calls people made, everyone was back and forth on the possible outcome. It was a most exciting weekend for the sport and I looked forward to more weekends of MMA as the sport continues to grows.