Being from New Jersey, I'm not used to seeing the big spotlight on my home state unless it's for something utterly ridiculous: things along the lines of McGreevey leaving the closet or Snooki getting punched in the face. Less so are we able to stick it to New York. But it's The Brick City, Newark, that had the biggest UFC card of the year – not MSG or anywhere in NYC, which has yet to get on board with MMA sanctioning.
What we saw last night at the top of the card were two dominant performances and one that had enough grit to rival the Shore itself.
Dan Hardy's resilience was tested by the wicked leverage of Georges St.-Pierre.
Going off as a six-to-one underdog, most people didn't give Dan Hardy a chance against the overwhelming talent of Georges St-Pierre. And frankly, the fight confirmed it — Hardy never seriously threatened GSP after the pre-fight staredown. But Hardy showed two things in the fight – extreme confidence and a total unwillingness to quit. St-Pierre took Hardy down at will, which isn't surprising. But twice during the fight, GSP locked Hardy down in submissions that would have made lesser fighters slam the canvas. Hardy fought and fought and escaped a deep armbar and later, a deep kimura. We're talking painful-to-watch here, and yet Hardy would not be stopped.
If the fight reminded me of anything, it was watching Rocky struggle to simply go the distance against Apollo Creed. Yes, GSP didn't land as many big strikes as he usually does, but he didn't have to — Hardy spent so little time on his feet that even his recoveries off the mat were short-lived, usually a second or two hopping on one foot before heading back down to the canvas.
Some fans booed and left during the five-rounder, which is ludicrous and insulting to Hardy's immense heart. Should we question GSP's dominance for failing to finish his last two fights? Absolutely not. GSP is not a lay and pray fighter. He beat on Thiago Alves for five rounds and here he had two submissions that really should have ended the fight but for Hardy's staggering tolerance for pain. Nobody is going to confuse St-Pierre for Jake Shields anytime soon.
If you can't appreciate GSP's elite talent for fight control and takedowns, you're really missing out. St-Pierre apologized to his fans after the fight for the lack of a stoppage. If most MMA fighters turned in the sort of performance Georges did last night, they'd go on a three-day celebratory bender. It wasn't a classic, but pitting GSP's talent against Hardy's heart produced a much better fight than it's getting credit for.
In the other co-main event, it was Shane Carwin's power that was on frightening display.
Carwin, in 12 professional fights, has never needed more than one round to secure a win. Former UFC champion Frank Mir was Carwin's biggest test by far, and statistically it showed: Carwin needed almost three times as much of the clock to put away his opponent as he had in almost any other fight during his career. That the fight still only lasted 3:48 should tell you something about the staggering power possessed by the Engineer of Pain.
Operating from smothering range for most of the fight, Carwin only needed a short distance to achieve massive punching power. Physically, he overpowered Mir, backing him up against the cage and refusing to let him go. Mir attempted to stay too close to strike, but eventually Carwin opened up the tiniest sliver of distance — and once he did, the fight was over. Repeated uppercuts battered Mir to the mat and all Frank Mir could do after that was turtle up. An escape attempt fell short and Carwin landed shot after shot before Dan Miragliotta mercifully (and belatedly) stopped the fight.
While the UFC is surely disappointed they won't be able to hype the third installment of Brock Lesnar vs. Frank Mir, I like the Lesnar/Carwin match much better. We've seen Mir twice now get shoved around in the ring by physically dominant opponents; I see no reason to believe that a third would be different. Instead, what we'll get on July 3 is nearly a mirror match — two huge guys with immense power and great wrestling going at it like Godzilla and… uh… Mecha-Godzilla. (Mothra is not giving either of these men enough credit).
A few thoughts from the rest of the fights:
- Jon Fitch dominated Ben Saunders in what was far more boring fight than either of the two previously scheduled Fitch/Thiago Alves or Saunders/Jake Ellenberger tilts would have been. Fitch wants a rematch against GSP; Dana White wants Fitch to just fight Josh Koscheck already. Sorry, Jonny. I'm with the boss man on this one.
- It was a good night for the Jersey boys. Jim Miller and Mark Bocek had a tight one that saw Miller nearly kimura Bocek out in the first and Bocek slap on a body triangle in the second that left Miller one-armed for the last 1:30 of the round. I thought the third round could have gone either way, but all three judges gave it to Miller. Meanwhile, Kurt Pellegrino looked good against Fabricio Camoes as Camoes took the back but couldn't finish. Pellegrino tired him out, worked him down, and finally locked in a rear naked choke to earn Submission of the Night.
- Rousimar Palhares took advantage of a Tomas Drwal slip to lock in a heel-hook; that was impressive. What wasn't impressive was Palhares refusal to release the lock — which is already considered an inherently dangerous hold — for seconds after Drwal's frantic tapping and referee Kevin Mulhall's signal to release. Today, Palhares received a well-warranted 90-day suspension for the classless violation.
- Yeah, yeah, Nate Diaz looked solid against a shamefully overweight Rory Markham. But after showing little more than the family's chip on the shoulder at 155, I'll need more proof that he's legit at 170 before I'm ready to seriously consider him as much more than a kid in there.
- A terrible stand-up in the Fitch/Saunders fight and a late stoppage that got Frank Mir battered senselessly – it was an embarrassingly bad night for referee Dan Miragliotta. MMA needs more, and better, referees. Quickly.
Photo from USA Today