There was much to love about UFC 168 on Saturday. A heavyweight rose to the occasion again, a thrilling women's MMA bout was contested and a champion defended his crown. Yet, there was much to dislike as well. One of the greatest fighters in UFC history was badly injured, casting his entire future in doubt.
It's time to separate the good from the bad, the winners from the losers and the signal from the noise.
Most Important Fact: No One Escapes The Game Unscathed
I hope everyone can finally look at what Georges St-Pierre did in (temporarily or permanently) leaving the game and fully grasp how utterly incredible it is. He did what I consider close to impossible: he left as champion, having to give up his belt because no one could take it from him. Sure, the win over Johny Hendricks is controversial. But if that's as low as GSP ever sinks - a controversial win - he's done something no other UFC champion to date has been able to accomplish.
The fight game is one that feeds its elderly to its young. That's true both in terms of wins and losses as well as punishing physical damage. Just as one gets older and develops a name, that cachet and reputational value is used to build up the next contender who is fresher, younger and has more blood to spill. There is verbal reverence paid to the elderly in this sport, but we offer them no shelter.
And the truth of it all is, almost without exception, there is no escape. Either you will lose on the way out or you will absorb untold physical damage. You'll often be the unfortunate recipient of both.
No one is exempt. No one is beyond the confines of the system. That's, in fact, what the system is designed to do. You come into it roaring and leaving it much less than how you started, often crawling on hands and knees. The only way to avoid it is to get out while you still can. Any fighter who sticks around long enough will suffer this fate. There is no escape. All we can hope is that the fighters we adore have a keen enough sense of self preservation and timing to spare us the horror of watching them consumed.
Least Likely to Get Accolades He Deserves: Chris Weidman
Here's something to consider: Anderson Silva fans talk about what might've been with Chris Weidman while Weidman fans talk about what actually happened with Anderson Silva.
I say that not as proof Weidman is some indestructible demigod, worthy of the sacrifice of our first born child. Instead, it's a comment on the moronic rhetorical arguments floating around on both sides of the fence (albeit much more from Silva fans) about how to perceive what happened on Saturday and who is really the superior talent. Can we stop this, please?
The reality as best we can understand it is that Weidman does appear to be a very tough challenge for Silva. Just how tough? It's impossible to say. I'd pick him to win handily if they fought a third time, but ultimately, that's just speculation, too.
On the one hand, Weidman has won or dominated every minute of the near 13 minutes these two have shared in the Octagon. He's taken Silva down, passed his guard, rocked him rather badly and knocked him completely unconscious over the course of two fights. How this turns into some narrative that Weidman is some beneficiary of luck and not the creator of his own serendipity is beyond me.
Yet, on the other, 13 minutes between Weidman and Silva doesn't equate to fighting into a third round. Silva does have a history of finding ways to exact offense in later rounds. The problem, of course, is there's no guarantee Silva would've made it out of the second on Saturday night. Or maybe he would have. None of us know.
All we can bank on is what we've seen. If you have some lingering doubts about Weidman, I don't think that's crazy. The good news is he'll be able to prove himself against the string of contenders ahead of him. But please, can we stop this fantasy that Weidman is helpless, overmatched chum who just managed to escape certain death because the predators placed in front of him weren't hungry enough?
Weidman's done to Silva over 13 minutes what no one has done to Silva. That's not enough to say what would've happened had the fight continued, but it's more than enough to say he's a supreme talent and a deserving UFC middleweight champion.
Best Photo of the Night: Chris Leben's Had Enough
This is the moment in between rounds where the wheels are turning towards an inevitable end. Without giving it much thought, this is the very instance it's beginning to dawn on Chris Leben he's done with this fight because he doesn't want it anymore. Not like this, anyway. He's not even looking at his opponent or at the task in front of him. He's instead facing away towards the crowd or perhaps something that's simply there and just not the fight. Anything but the fight. Given the circumstances, who could blame him? More photos from MMA Fighting's Esther Lin here.
Biggest Winner: Travis Browne
After his loss to Antonio Silva, there was a bit of pushback to the idea Browne was going to be anything more than top 15 or top 10 heavyweight. The belief was he was overhyped and simply not top 5 material. Critics pointed to his loss to Silva, one that was the result of an injury but where he still managed to look bad beyond that, as evidence. The truth is I'm not sure they're wrong, at least based on the available information at the time (I picked Browne to win at that time) The Browne who had fought up to that point was quite good, but this one we see today is different. They aren't the same fighter. He's clearly gotten better by adding skills, but also by learning to make use of his size. He's able to plant his base when he needs to, score from defensive positions, strike at distance and more. This is very much a matured Travis Browne, one we're only getting to see now. How far he can go is anyone's guess, but of all the fighters on Saturday's card, he's made the most improvement under the UFC banner.
UFC's Top Star Award: Ronda Rousey
It's debatable whether Rousey is the company star with GSP and Silva on ice for the time being. One could make the case Cain Velasquez or Jon Jones are bigger stars or, at least in the case of Velasquez, have greater upside with the opening of additional international markets. But in 2014, if she stays busy, look out. Rousey's power to draw as a headliner is already formidable. Being at the forefront of the company's promotional efforts when much of the rest of the available roster isn't around is likely to solidify her stature as a top draw. That's assuming, of course, she isn't already one.
Least Appealing Fact: Anderson Silva's Decline
A lot of this is speculation, much of it, I'm sure, dismissible by the Silva faithful. My sense, though, is that Silva has declined just a bit. He certainly can't take a punch like he used to, his strength appears to be ever so slightly diminished and I'm not sure about his reflexes. This isn't to say everything falls apart at once. He's still an ultra elite middleweight, can move nimbly and eat a punch if he has to on occasion. But as well as he used to? Is this the same fighter who rolled over Rich Franklin twice? Is this the same guy who toyed with Forrest Griffin, ducking and dodging with the utmost precision? Maybe he is, but I'm starting to have my doubts.
Strategy Most in Need of Revision: Miesha Tate's
I admire the tenacity of Tate's game plan, but tenacity is no substitute for accuracy and on that count, Tate's proposed method of winning was sorely lacking. As BJJ Scout breaks down above, there are pretty clear no no's when dealing with Rousey's game. One of them is not allowing the judoka to grasp around one's head by throwing hooking punches. Tate continually charged forward, rarely pumping her very successful jab, which ended up getting her thrown and therefore having to work from terrible positions round after round.
Look, I'm no professional fight strategist, but if your chosen method of fighting is putting you in bad spots for 10 minutes, perhaps that's a good enough cause to make an adjustment. Being tenacious is commendable, but all that energy and effort down the wrong path is all for naught.