Frankie Edgar file photo: Dave Mandel | Sherdog.com
The Weekly Wrap walks readers through the last seven days in MMA, recapping and putting into context the week's top story, important news and notable quotes.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship’s debut in Boston made several things clear. One, Frankie Edgar’s victory over B.J. Penn in April spoke more to the New Jersey native’s ability to stifle the legendary lightweight than any underachievement from Penn. Two, a boxer -- no matter how elite he may be in his sport -- who thinks he can win an MMA fight by simply throwing punches will still, in 2010 as in 1993, be taken down and beaten. And three, interest in seeing these two questions answered was relatively low compared to recent UFC pay-per-view outings.
UFC 118 on Aug. 28 saw Edgar firmly outpoint Penn for five rounds in his first title defense, mitigating the second guessing that followed his narrow, footwork-heavy win at UFC 112 in which he took the belt. Edgar came out more aggressive with takedowns in this opening frame, slamming Penn to the ground and showing little fear of closing the distance. Penn found himself transfixed and flat-footed as Edgar got in and out, landing some heap-snapping combinations and 55 percent of strikes, compared to Penn’s 35 percent. Penn shifted to takedowns in the fourth, but Edgar had little trouble escaping the jiu-jitsu phenom’s clutches and rebuffing his attempts to sweep.
It was the kind of performance that left one feeling a new guard was settling in atop the 155-pound division. Edgar, who two years ago seemed more suited to featherweight, became the second fighter in history to defeat Penn twice. Edgar’s next defense will be against Gray Maynard, who defeated Kenny Florian at UFC 118. Additionally, the slate of upcoming contender fights speaks to a ripening generation of fresh challengers. A date had not been determined for Edgar vs. Maynard -- a rematch of Maynard’s April 2008 decision victory. Penn voiced a desire to get back into the cage as soon as possible after the loss, which saw him fall off Sherdog.com’s Top 10 Pound-for-Pound rankings, the first time he has not been ranked in the category since March 2008.
In the co-main event but most aggressively promoted fight on Aug. 28, Randy Couture used a low single-leg takedown, ground-and-pound and arm triangle to briskly dispatch braggadocios heavyweight boxing champion James Toney. Framed as “UFC vs. Boxing,” the messaging proved effective, as spectators erupted in “UFC” chants at the outset of the bout. The submission win, according to ESPN “MMA Live,” makes Couture the oldest fighter -- 47 years, 67 days -- to ever win a UFC fight and marks the first loss for Toney in combat sports since 2007. Toney weighed in at 237 pounds to Couture’s 220, matching the heaviest he has ever come into a boxing match.
Toney made an event-high $500,000 disclosed purse for the fight and, according to Yahoo! Sports, earned a whopping $750,000 to $1 million total. Commission records did not indicate Toney or Couture -- who made a flat $250,000 along with a percentage of pay-per-view revenue -- had win bonuses structured in their contracts. Toney’s trainer, John Arthur, told MMAJunkie.com that Toney will defend his heavyweight boxing title on Nov. 5 and will continue as a two-sport athlete. UFC President Dana White was dismissive of “doing boxing” again in the Octagon in post-show remarks. Arthur said Toney has not, as of week’s end, received any release papers.
While long anticipated due to White’s history in the city, UFC 118 drew softer numbers than expected in Boston. The state athletic commission reported that 11,205 tickets were sold, with 2,963 complimentary tickets issued. The numbers are well below the TD Garden’s roughly 18,000-seat capacity. White said in interviews that he was shocked the event did not sell out shortly after tickets went on sale, as the company has in several major cities for its debut event, and chalked up slow sales to the economy.
The event drew a $2.8 million gate, which looks to be the fourth-lowest gate for the 11 pay-per-views the UFC has done this year. Still, the event drew a tremendously enthusiastic, early-arriving crowd, including pro sports luminaries Tom Brady and Shaquille O’Neill. The event was showered with local media attention, including a column by nationally renowned sports writer Bob Ryan, who wrote that he was bored by many of the grappling-heavy fights.
Unlike recent UFC outings, the event was not an appreciably hot Twitter or Google trending topic, and pre-fight interest looked down. The Spike TV “Countdown” special premiere on Aug. 23 did a paltry 293,000 average viewers, according to the Wrestling Observer, the lowest for a Countdown show in years. The one-hour preliminary special on Spike TV drew a 0.83 rating and an average of 1.1 million viewers on Spike TV, the lowest rating for a pre-fight special since the network started broadcasting them in September. The special, which began with a clinch and wrestling-heavy affair between Nik Lentz and Andre Winner, lost audience throughout the hour, starting at 1.2 million and ending at 1.06 million. Spike TV coverage of Friday’s weigh-ins drew 380,000 viewers, well down from 645,000 drawn for its presentation of the UFC 116 weigh-ins.
While not always correlated to interest in the PPV, the ratings do not show an encouraging pattern. The Wrestling Observer reported that earliest industry buy estimates for UFC 118 are in the 570,000 range, a middle-range number. The figure comes off two events in UFC 114 and 116 that looked to do north of one million buys. UFC 117 was thought to approach one million, but further reporting from pay-per-view providers looks to put the show at just less than 600,000 buys, according to the Wrestling Observer.
Front and center in media coverage of the event, Massachusetts native Kenny Florian came up short against Gray Maynard. An Xtreme Couture Mixed Martial arts product, Maynard consistently trapped Florian against the fence and scored with takedowns and ground-and-pound. It was the first non-title loss Florian has suffered since “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 1 finale in 2005. With the win, Maynard tied Jon Fitch’s record for the second-longest winning streak in UFC history at eight, trailing only Anderson Silva’s 12.
Another New Englander handed defeat was Marcus Davis, as the Maine native was battered and bloodied by Nate Diaz. After putting down Davis in the third, Diaz locked on a guillotine that put Davis to sleep. Diaz and Davis collected $60,000 bonuses for “Fight of the Night.” It was Diaz’s sixth performance bonus in 11 UFC appearances. The “Submission of the Night” bonus went to a hometown fighter who did not falter. Joe Lauzon landed a short elbow and proceeded to rush Gabe Ruediger with dominant position and strikes until ending it with a first-round armbar. No knockout bonus was paid because there were no knockouts on the card.
Also picking up wins at UFC 118 were Lentz (unanimous decision over Andre Winner), Demian Maia (unanimous decision over Mario Miranda), Dan Miller (round two power guillotine choke submission over John Salter), Greg Soto (unanimous decision over Nick Osipczak) and Mike Pierce (round three armbar submission over Amilcar Alves).