UFC on FOX 5 was one of the more anticipated events of the entire year. Personally, for me, the most anticipated set of fights the UFC has put in in quite a while. It was easy to get hyped for this card, it a quality title fight and compelling line up of maincard fights, The event had a unified narrative of old guard vs emerging stars, mixed with the prestige and uniqueness of a Fox event.
But as a fan of the old guard, the event was difficult to immediately digest.
Part of the problem was bout placement. As it became clear the real main event for many people was BJ Penn, his bout should have been moved to co-main event status weeks ago. It hurt the flow of the event to have the biggest attraction for many fight early in the show. Especially considering how the bout unfolded. For me, as a fan, I was
rather unfulfilled. (Despite a vocal minority segment of the fanbase)the majority of fans dislike seeing beloved all-time-legends go out the way BJ Penn went out. Typically, what mitigates that unpleasantness is a breakout performance from the next generation. There is no question what Rory did was absolutely incredible. No one, not even GSP, has ever beat the breaks off BJ Penn like that. To do so in such a dominant manor is almost unthinkable. But somehow, despite his dominance, it feels like Rory, who is supposed to be building his reputation as this stone-cold emotionless body collecting serial killer, squandered an opportunity to make a huge statement. He was absolutely styling on BJ Penn, nearly finishing him in the second round. At one point, when it became clear what we were witnessing, the fans began chanting Rory's name. There was an anticipation of the that moment. That visceral moment that only MMA brings, more akin to the moment Dexter has his victim on the table than a touchdown. Harkening back to a prime evil humanity of public executions and clan leaders who fight to the death. The king is dead...long live the king...
But then the moment was lost.
While a fighter like Penn is always dangerous, Rory had complete control of that bout. Penn was shot ; there was no real reason to take his foot off the gas the way he did. It isn't as if Penn was battling his way back. There is just no excuse for resting on his laurels to the point of forcing multiple instances of referee intervention. In the third round of a bout, on Fox of all places, that was a cardinal sin. Perhaps the citizens of Ridley Scott's Rome were more merciful than MMA fans, but you seldom hear chants of "Maximus the Merciful" from spectators of today's Colosseum. You didn't in Seattle, as by the end boo's rained down on Rory.
It was a dominant performance, from a dominant, scary finisher, but it exists on the continuum which contains Jose Aldo squandered chance to finish off Urijah Faber, Condit's win over Nick Diaz, and the bizarre stint in Anderson Silva's title run which contained fights against Maia, Cote and Leites. Not exactly the stuff the legendary careers of transcendent stars - loved or hated - Wanderlei Silva, Shogun, Rampage, Crocop, Mike Tyson, Chuck Liddell, Brock Lesnar, Jon Jones and Tito Ortiz were built on.
As an old school fan, I was also disappointed to both see Shogun and Swick lose. Swick could have positioned himself for a fight with a contender off a win. Unlike Brown, who will likely never be seen as more than an entertaining mid level journeyman having a late career push, Swick was a formerly elite fighter who could have attributed his two fight losing streak to his injuries. Less upside here, and the end to another feel good story.
After seeing Penn go out so dismally, it would have been awesome to see Rua make a statement that at least some of the old guard is still here. It would have been more cinematic and provided some balance. That wasn't to be either. The fight started close and competitive, with Gus walking through some huge shots from Shogun and returning fire, but suffered from an anti-climatic ending as Shogun faded down the stretch.
Not that either fights were bad fights - they were both pretty good fights - but for me, they were uncomfortable to take one after another after another.
But then the main event happened.
While it was never really in doubt, that fight was pretty damn smooth. I was even rooting for Diaz, but Henderson's performance was just boss. He didn't finish, but he kept the offense up and the fight exciting the whole time. For as dominant as Benson Henderson was, Diaz was never fully out of the fight, and kept it exciting to the final bell. Diaz even landed the last good blow of the bout in the last few seconds...
...until Benson whipped out that toothpick anyway.
Yea, I know it is dangerous and the commission should step in and issue a stern warning or even a small fine, but I don't care. To thoroughly beat the shit out of a Stockton street fighter like a Diaz brother for five full rounds, while taking so little damage, all the with a toothpick in your mouth?
That takes gangster to a whole new level.
This event went down a lot like a well poured Guinness drought, it started out bitter, but finished smooth. That fight saved the tone of the event, and will help solidify Benson has a star. I definitely expect an uptick in his PPV performance next time out.
One final piece of analysis :
This event takes some of the shine off GSP vs Diaz. The Diaz style six months ago was one of the scariest in MMA with consecutive record setting performances. Where Condit partially neutralized Nick with a different type of game plan than GSP uses, the bout was contentious enough to not be too damaging, but Benson pretty much laid a blue print that GSP can work off of to keep Diaz from being dangerous.
Not only that, Diaz last win was over BJ Penn, and suddenly that performance looks less impressive in light of Penn's dismal showing.