What the hell happened on Saturday? No, seriously, what the hell is going on around here? For the first time ever the UFC took its circus act to hot and humid Abu Dhabi for UFC 112, and it was by far the weirdest night of fights I have ever seen. If you’ll indulge me, here’s my retrospective live blog of the evening’s events:
6:50: Just ordered the card on my trusty Comcast receiver, but the picture is blank, which is odd considering they usually broadcast the Countdown program hyping the matchups. Oh well, I need to sauce the wings anyways, my friend Danny is on it.
6:55 : Still no picture, we tried resetting the receiver, and now we’re screwed because it’s taking forever to reset. No need to panic just yet.
6:58: Most of the programming schedule is uploaded, but the UFC card is still missing from the scheduled programming. My friend Matt shows up, and we’re starting to stress just a tad.
7:03: Still no luck. So we’ll miss Joe Rogan and his psychedelic drug charged commentary.
7:10: Buffalo wings have to be one of the greatest snack while watching a sporting event. You know what would go even better with the wings? The fights!
7:25: Now we’re starting to become despondent about the situation. Seriously, we have a situation on our hands. Matt and Danny are both trying to get in touch with Comcast to find out what the hell is going on.
7:35: Matt is on hold with Comcast.
7:45: Matt is still on hold with Comcast.
7:53: Josh and Danny lost all interest now in the fights and are talking fantasy baseball. I kind of want to punch Josh in the gut for not caring, but he’s a friend, so he gets a pass.
7:57: Matt finally gets ahold of a Comcast rep, and our worst fears are confirmed, all of California apparently is blacked out of the UFC event. We decide to just drink beer, and I’m trying my hardest to not cry into mine.
8:03: Tonight was supposed to be awesome, and so far it’s been the worst Saturday night ever. But at least my beloved Chelsea made it into the FA Cup final. “Blue is the color…” I feel blue.
8:20: Someone heard our prayers, we have picture! I can’t recall the last time I felt such an overwhelming sense of elation. I chugged a beer in celebration.
8:25: So apparently Comcast won’t charge me for the fights because of the partial blackout, and we didn’t miss any of the main cards, so things went from terrible to looking pretty good. Just another reminder that life is full of twists, and it’s important to enjoy the ride.
8:29: First fight of the night(for us) is the historic matchup of two MMA legends, former welterweight champ Matt Hughes and Renzo Gracie, son of Robson Gracie, grandson of Carlos Gracie, nephew of Carlos Gracie, Jr., and grandnephew of the late Helio Gracie, the patriarch of the Gracie family and founder of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, and in many regards a religious figure for an entire legion of fight disciples. And yes, every Gracie I just mentioned is a Jiu-Jitsu practitioner. Hughes fought and demolished Renzo’s cousin Royce Gracie, son of Helio, at UFC 60 back in 2006. This is an emotionally charged grudge match between two fight families, which always makes a fight more intriguing.
8:31: The staredown was very respectful, so there isn’t animosity between the two, but rather mutual admiration I suppose. Touch of gloves, and they engage. One would expect a grappling fest between these two world class practitioners, but so far in the first round it’s been a stand up battle. A little unexpected, but it’s early, and they’re probably just feeling each other out. Both are throwing pawing jabs, Hughes lands a few low kicks, and not much else. That was a draw of a round.
8:37: They pick up where they left off, which means both are throwing a lot of ineffective strikes. Hughes is finding a home for his leg kicks, and Gracie is trying to land power punches to the body. How is it we have yet to see a takedown attempt from Hughes, or Gracie trying to pull guard somehow? The crowd also seems confused, as there is a mixture of cheers and boos. Another uneventful round, I give it to Hughes for being more active, but not because he’s been more effective.
8:43: Final round, and both fighters are still intent on keeping it on the feet. Gracie looks like he’s starting to gas, which isn’t surprising considering he’s 44. Gracie is revered in the MMA community for his contributions as an instructor, and something tells me that after he watches his performance tonight he’ll decide to focus on teaching, and that it’s time to hang up the gloves. Gracie falls to the floor from another leg kick, and he comically asks Hughes to help him up, and Hughes obliges. Hughes finally decides to push the pace, and starts to unload, and Gracie drops to the floor, and the ref steps in and calls off the fight. Hughes helps Gracie stand up, and we might have just witnessed the last fight of a legend.
8:48: So I think my deep fryer affectionately named Wall-E has fried his last wing. I’ve had him for over five years, and he’s brought a lot of joy to many people during his life. I’ll probably buy another fryer sometime soon, but Wall-E will always hold a special place in my heart. I’ll never forget him, but there comes a point where you have to say goodbye. Goodbye friend, and godspeed. Maybe I’ll see you in another lifetime as a baking pan.
8:49: Time for the co-main event, “The Prodigy” and lightweight champ BJ Penn, vs. Frankie “The Answer” Edgar. Props to Edgar for staying true to his Jersey roots with his nickname selection. BJ walks into the arena to his trademark Hawaiian-themed entrance music, if you haven’t heard it before here’s a clip:
8:52: Matt mentions that BJ didn’t do his usual Hawaiian arm raise at the weigh ins, and he looks somewhat subdued during his walk in. Hopefully this isn’t a sign of things to come, but it’s been a frustrating night so far, so I’m not sure what to expect. BJ is a favorite of both Matt and I, and while he’s had a checkered history of disappointing performances, he seems to have reached a new phase in his career where he’s focused on establishing his legacy as the greatest lightweight champion and pound for pound fighter in MMA history. BJ may not be the most athletic, strongest, or intimidating fighter, but he is undeniably one of the most naturally gifted.
8:55: Fight is underway, and Edgar comes out with his trademark constant lateral movement and in and out presence in the pocket. BJ comes out in his usual neutral engagement stance, where he’s neither backing up or stalking his opponent, but where he simply stands in the center of the octagon and looks to throw jabs and power counterpunches. Edgar is throwing a buffet of straight shots and leg kicks, and he looks relaxed and loose in the cage with the Prodigy. Close round, but everyone agrees that BJ took it.
9:01: 2nd round, and like the Hughes/Grace fight, both fighters pick up where they left off, and it’s a stand up battle yet again. The difference here is both Penn and Edgar possess high level standup skills, which means we’re not watching a battle of futility, but rather a highly tactical engagement. Edgar is definitely more active, and towards the end of the round he manages to throw Penn to the mat, but the champ gets up almost instantly. Another close round, Edgar definitely looks like he came to fight for the title, but I don’t think he’s done enough so far.
9:07: 3rd round, and it’s more of the same. I’m starting to get a little concerned that BJ hasn’t been able to engage and inflict any significant damage, and Edgar is so wily that I imagine it would be difficult to try to take him down. I honestly don’t know who’s winning the fight so far, it’s a toss up, but you have to give some deference to champ, no?
9:13: We are now in championship round territory, and again it’s more of the same, with Edgar circling effectively both left and right and constantly peppering Penn with strikes. Matt just speculated as to when BJ arrived in Abu Dhabi and whether he’s jet lagged from the time zone difference, and I responded by saying I was sure that BJ came early. Ha.
Fourth round is more of the same, and my consternation over BJ possibly losing this fight grows with every second. I’ve got a consternation, and at this point the only prescription is more beer.
9:19: Fifth and final round, and BJ comes out throwing, but Edgar ducks under his punches and knocks him on his back. BJ quick gets back to his feet, but he’s visibly slower at this point, and Edgar looks as fresh as he did in the first round. The clock is ticking, but neither are exactly looking for a big knockout finisher. The bells rings, the fight is over, and Edgar raises his arms to indicate he felt he won the fight. I don’t agree with him, but it was an extremely close fight, and my bias towards BJ is at work here. Edgar was certainly the more active fighter, but to win the belt, you have the beat the champ, and he didn’t do enough in my opinion.
9:22: Edgar is the new lightweight champion! Fuck! Edgar won a unanimous decision, which was somewhat surprising, but not as shocking as one judge giving Edgar every round. Edgar was certainly game, and he thoroughly frustrated BJ, but it seemed like BJ didn’t take Edgar that seriously, or perhaps he just couldn’t light his inner fire tonight for whatever reason. The truth is I like Edgar, but the fact that he previously lost to Gray Maynard, who is still undefeated but hasn’t challenged for the title yet, looms in my mind. How can Edgar be the champ if he couldn’t defeat another contender in his weight class?
9:28: Time for the co-main event, featuring middleweight champ and World’s Most Dangerous Man Anderson “Spider” Silva vs. Demian Maia. I’m not quite sure what to expect from Spider tonight, except for a victory barring a freak flying scissor heel hook. Spider absolutely put on a show in his last fight against Forrest Griffin, but the last time he fought a jit-jitsu specialist was Thales Leities, and in that fight Spider looked unwilling to engage or put himself in harms way, despite his clear dominance on the feet. Did I just jinx this fight?
9:31: Spider just went through his humility routine before the fight, bowing to all four sides of the audience, and then bowing to Maia. Spider is a true martial artist, and his respect for the fight game is unparalleled, but some of this also seems to be a little bit mental warfare before the fight even starts.
9:33: Here we go! Spider comes out with his trademark Ali-like footwork, and Maia looks unsure of how to engage. About two minutes in, Spider starts kneeling, he’s taunting Maia at this point. Spider lands some front kicks, and even throws in a spinning back kick, and Maia looks like he’s just seen a ghost. Spider lands a flying left knee to Maia, sending him to the mat. Spider taunt his opponent some more, and the round ends.
9:39: Start of the second round, and yet again it’s more of the same. Maia tries to engage to no avail, Spider throws some strikes and then taunts his opponent. He even starts trash talking to Maia, beckoning him to try to hit him. Umm, Mr. Spider, he’s been trying, the problem is you’re a freak of nature and he simply can’t. Spider has done this in the past, but he’s taking it to a whole new level.
9:45: Third round, and I’ll say it again, more of the same, nothing more needs to be said.
9:51: Fourth round, ditto. The taunting has somewhat subsided, but the crowd is getting really restless now. They even start chanting welterweight champ’s Georges St. Pierre’s initials to the tune of “GSP! GSP!,” voicing their preference for the Canadian over the Brazilian. The talk of a super megafight between Spider and GSP have gone on for what seems like years now, and if Spider needs a real opponent to actually show up to fight, then that’s exactly what Prez Dana White needs to do.
9:57: Final round, and Maia’s left eye is now fully shut. You would think Spider would capitalize and finish Maia, but unsurprisingly he doesn’t. In fact, towards the end of the round, referee Dan Miragliotta actually warned Spider for stalling. Whatever, the fight is over, Spider won, and none of us are exactly sure what we just saw. Dana White even failed to place the belt around Spider’s waist as the decision was announced, which was a clear act of disapproval. I don’t blame him, Spider is the greatest of all time, so why does he feel the need to embarrass his opponent and himself? I get that he wants to make it clear to everyone that he is the best, but score, don’t spike. He apologized to the audience in the post fight interview, but it’s too little too late at this point. I’m exhausted, and it’s time to head out to our friend Sal’s big 3-0 party, and after what we just witnessed, who knows what’s in store for the rest of tonight?
(Sidebar: Sal’s party was great, everyone drank beer and ate tons of potato chips, vanilla wafers, and peanut M&Ms. Happy! Tonight was a great success!)