There's something fitting about the fact the UFC returns to Sacramento on Saturday, one day after Georges St-Pierre vacated his welterweight title.
It just over seven years ago that St-Pierre went into the home of the Sacramento Kings and defeated Matt Hughes to win his first welterweight title. From the moment the doors opened for UFC 65 at what was then Arco Arena (now Sleep Train Arena), the sense that a change of the guard was about to go down hung in the air.
St-Pierre steamrolled Hughes for the title that night. And sure GSP had a momentary stumble against Matt Serra in his next fight. But in winning the belt back from Serra and holding it for five years and eight months (six years, one month over two combined reigns), the second-longest title reign in UFC history behind Anderson Silva's middleweight title reign of six years and nine months, St-Pierre set a standard which very few fighters will ever be able to match.
It's not just a matter of total days holding the belt. Silva held the title longer, but St-Pierre was a part of more of the biggest events in UFC history than his counterpart, and that's no coincidence: Headlining the first UFC card in Canada at UFC 83; co-main eventing UFC 100; headlining the record-breaking UFC 129 at Toronto's Rogers Centre in front of more than 55,000 fans, and headlining the UFC's 20th anniversary show.
A few thoughts in the immediate aftermath of St-Pierre's decision to relinquish the gold:
*I know I'm about the millionth person to say this, but, if St-Pierre chooses to never fight again, that's his right. He's already given more to the sport of mixed martial arts than it will ever give back to him. He's set a legacy of class and professionalism to which others should aspire.
*Likewise, let's not kid ourselves: If GSP does return, we've got ourselves an instant contender for biggest mixed martial arts event of all-time. The biggest PPV draw and one of the most beloved fighters ever coming back to see if he still has what it takes? It's like a license to print money.
*I'm fine with Hendricks vs. Robbie Lawler for the interim title. I don't think anyone reasonable is going to dispute Hendricks deserves the slot. As for Lawler getting the second spot instead of Carlos Condit? When push comes to shove, Condit has lost two of his past three fights (to Hendricks and GSP), and Lawler has won three straight, including beating the stuffing out of The Anointed Next One, Rory MacDonald. And besides, wouldn't Lawler winning the gold be one of the greatest redemption stories this sport has ever told?
*Featherweight champion Jose Aldo Jr. now takes the mantle as the longest-reigning champion. If you trace it back to winning the WEC title from Mike Brown in Nov. 2009 (And I do: Zuffa owned the WEC, the WEC featherweight and bantamweight titles were the premiere championships in their weight classes at the time, and Aldo and Dominick Cruz seamlessly transferred over), then he's been the best at 145 pounds for four years, one month.
*I have to admit I got a bit of a chuckle out of the "How will the UFC survive without GSP?" chatter. Back in 2005, everyone was wringing their hands wondering what would happen when the inevitable day came that Chuck Liddell,Tito Ortiz, Randy Couture, and Hughes finished their careers. At the time, Jon Jones hadn't even begun to consider MMA as a career option. It took several years to build GSP as a draw. Hell, even Silva was part of double-title- fight cards as late as 2010. While it's true no one is immediately going to fill his shoes, let's not act like St-Pierre's maybe-retirement is going to make the UFC crumble.
Which brings us back to the night this all started in earnest. UFC 65 was the first of many memorable Zuffa events in California's capitol. A string of stellar fights, from Miguel Torres vs. Yoshiro Maeda to Aldo vs. Urijah Faber to the legendary Chan Sung Jung-Leonard Garcia showdown have gone down in the old barn. With loaded lineup (even with several fight fallouts), UFC on FOX 9 could very well add to that list.
Saturday marks Day 1 of the GSP-in-hiatus era. We're worse off for it, but the machine marches on.
With that, on to the latest edition of Fightweets, most of which was compiled before the big GSP announcement.
Fight of the Year
@RuckerYeah: Bigfoot and Hunto, Fight of the Year? That was nuts
I agree, RY. Bigfoot Silva vs. Mark Hunt was nuts. I just so happened to write a column about the plethora of candidates for 2013 Fight of the Year. So you can read it here, or I can give you the Cliff's Notes version (do kids still use Cliff's Notes these days?): I narrowed it down to Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson, Bigfoot-Hunt, and Gilbert Melendez vs. Diego Sanchez. Melendez-Sanchez gets third place on the strength of round three of that fight being round of the year. Beyond that, it's hard to place a three-round fight over five-round battles. Silva vs. Hunt gets huge points for the sheer display of heart and simply because the fact it was so unexpected made it a pure joy. But Jones vs. Gusty gets my FOTY nod because of the stakes involved, and because Jones, the sport's best pound-for-pound fighter proved once and for all his courage under fire.
(And yes, I know there's still a couple big fight cards left before we declare FOTY closed. If something happens that's better than Jones-Gustafsson or Bigfoot-Hunt, I mean, wow).
One thing I didn't get into in the Yahoo piece was the wide variety this bumper crop of Fights of the Year candidates provided us. There was something for every taste. Are you a softie for nostalgia? I mean, if you didn't enjoy watching Wanderlei Silva turn back the clock in his former "home" arena in Saitama and go toe-to-toe with Brian Stann, you probably don't have a pulse. Like sudden plot twists? Michelle Waterson's fourth-round submission of Jessica Penne to win the atomweight title at Invicta 5 was something to behold. Like watching all the martial arts get mixed? That was Condit vs. Hendricks. Like an out-of-nowhere undercard fight stealing the show? Step up, Dennis Bermudez and Matt Grice. For everything crazy that goes on outside the arenas in this sport, it's undeniable 2013 had something for everyone in the cage.
One more note on Silva vs. Hunt: Is "Bigfoot" not one of the most underappreciated fighters of our time? This guy's given us some memorable moments over the years. His beatdown of Fedor Emelianenko was a pivotal moment in history of the business -- do you think Strikeforce would have been so quick to sell if Fedor didn't get drummed out of the first round of the Grand Prix and send it into chaos? His knockout of Alistair Overeem will be replayed for years to come. Now he's one half of an all-time classic fight. Bigfoot taken the time to learn and speak English, and every time I've been able to observe, he's been good to fans who approach him.
I'm not sure why "Bigfoot" isn't more popular than he is. Maybe people just don't enjoy rooting for Goliath. Maybe the losses to Cain Velasquez don't help, but can you really blame anyone for losing to Cain? Either way, Silva should get more love than he seems to receive.
TUF 20/Women's strawweights
@thelowlyingmist: who would u have as coach 4 TUF 20? My pick would b mendes vs Swanson winner getting title shot
Good question. It all comes down to timing. While the pieces are falling into place for the UFC's spring 2014 plans, there's still some time left before summer permutations come together. Let me pull one out of thin air for the fun of it: Maybe Anthony Pettis and Jose Aldo? Pettis is going to be sidelined for awhile anyway. Aldo, while a respectable PPV draw and a good one with the right opponent, still could use a nudge to finally become a top-tier draw. With that right exposure, that fight could be huge.
And as an aside, if the lead coaches are men as White strongly hinted, I hope women are brought in as assistants. The likes of known names like Liz Carmouche or Julie Kedzie could only add to the show's appeal.
@auggie85: Was Esparzas 'call out' of Torres at Invicta 7 pointless for the org. They knew contracts were going to UFC
I don't know about that, man. The deal wasn't finalized at the time and Shannon Knapp's got a pretty solid poker face (I mean, she was able to sell that "250,000 streams" thing with a straight face after their first show). She's not likely to go telling her fighters a deal with the UFC is coming and getting their hopes up before it was completed. And, this is assuming Knapp told Carla Esparza to go into the cage and call out Tecia Torres. With the deal not yet finalized, why should she close the door on a potential hot fight?
@leaffan73: any reason they went to strawweight and not flyweight?
Deeper division. Look at the names involved in TUF and compare that to a flyweight women's Top 10. How many quality women's 125ers can you name off the top of your head, without Googling it? From Esparza to Torres to Joanne Calderwood to Claudia Gadleha to Bec Hyatt and on down the line, strawweight has talent to match bantamweight. And after a season of TUF, it should also have the name recognition.
Lauzon's last call?
@thecanEHdiankid: is Lauzon turning into the gatekeeper of the lightweight division. the same career path as Koscheck minus the title shot.
You know, part of me is sort of secretly rooting for Joe Lauzon in his fight Saturday night, no offense to Mac Danzig. Partially it's because Lauzon's a Boston homeboy. But mainly its because when he fought Michael Johnson in August, Lauzon suddenly appeared to be that fighter who had been through one too many wars and had it suddenly catch up to him. I'm hoping that's not the case, because Lauzon is indisputably one of the good guys in this business. I think it's been well-established for awhile that Lauzon is a guy who puts on exciting fights but isn't likely to win a title, similar to fellow lightweight Sam Stout. Saturday should give us an idea whether that tag still applies.
@daviddyurko: Did the UFC hit the jackpot with Conor McGregor? Great fighter and great on the mic is hard to come by nowadays
They'll hit the jackpot if he can back it up against names that matter. The one thing the lower weight classes have been missing is a trash talker who gets half the people to tune in to cheer him on and the other half to pay to see him get his ass kicked. McGregor could be that guy, If he follows through. If he stumbles? Different story. At this point, McGregor has done so much trash talk that if he comes out and, say, loses three fights in a row and then vanishes, he'll forever become the fighter pointed to as the No. 1 example of a guy who couldn't back up his trash talk. But if McGregor becomes a contender and a headliner? Jackpot.
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