UFC 94 Analysis: On Prominence and Possibility

By Jordan Breen Feb 1, 2009
There was something sensational about UFC 94.

I don't mean sensational in the way that the pseudo-scandal surrounding Georges St. Pierre and his cornermen having a lapse of judgment with Vaseline is sensational. I don't mean sensational in the way that polarized fans both lionizing and vilifying St. Pierre following his brilliant performance is sensational. I don't mean sensational in the way that trite commentaries about the entertainment value of Clay Guida, Karo Parisyan and Lyoto Machida, and the obsessive focus on finishing fights, are sensational.

No, I mean sensational in the most legitimate, glowing fashion.

Certainly, UFC 94 was not an epic card, despite the obligatory Zuffa-trademarked "biggest fight in UFC history" tag for the main event and a wonderfully deep card on paper. It was perhaps more peculiar than anything, with a staggering five split decisions in the first seven bouts. No UFC card in the eight years since the introduction of the Unified Rules has seen more than two.

In an odder twist of fate, the streak of eight straight bouts without a finish was broken by a brutal first-round bashing from the much-maligned Lyoto Machida, who would've been the choice of few for a "Knockout of the Night" bonus.

However, as bizarre as UFC 94 was, it was even more revelatory, educational, enlightening. More than that, the performances of an undisputed champion in St. Pierre, an undefeated enigma in Machida and a preternatural prospect in Jon Jones didn't just speak to their personal talents but to the sport itself.

While many hoped for St. Pierre-Penn 2 to somehow play out as a pier-six brawl, despite the fact that the clash of styles seemed hardly conducive to carnage, there should be no sense of misfortune in St. Pierre's lopsided dominance. Zuffa did another fantastic job turning the event into a must-see happening, which passed the ultimate test of cultural penetration when my mother inquired into the fight earlier this week. It may not have been toe-to-toe or nip-and-tuck, but it was a dominant performance by an athlete who appears now to have transcended the MMA niche into the much larger cultural category of superlative sportsman.

The schedule may be a bit too busy for him to do an episode of “Entourage,” but Georges St. Pierre is the people's champion. If you need proof, just take a look at how the capacity crowd at the MGM Grand Garden Arena handled Thiago Alves when he entered the cage to firm up the next welterweight title tilt. Alves was promptly made into a pariah by an audience that was likely almost entirely ignorant to the most objectionable part of his profile: his weight-cutting indiscretions. Alves was viciously booed not because of who he was but because of who he wasn't -- he wasn't Georges St. Pierre.

I look forward to another welterweight blockbuster, but more than that, I look forward to another MMA lead on ESPN.com. I eagerly await hearing St. Pierre say, "This is my SportsCenter." I will smirk appropriately at the ensuing idolatry, as bad "bro" stereotypes blather about "Rush" over Jager.

Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com

Georges St. Pierre is
pushing MMA forward.
St. Pierre in the role of superstar is the triumph of possibility for MMA. Fans who lived through stages of proto-MMA, who watched the sport mature, prayed for a day not just when the sport would be popular enough to produce crossover sports figures, but when outstanding athletes would be able to synthesize a fight style that put all of the intricacies and virtues of the sport on display. St. Pierre gives the sport an enormous possibility: MMA has a 27-year-old king in the prime of his career, with a slate of superfights before him. Let us not jinx it (fingers crossed, knock on wood), but take a moment to contemplate St. Pierre facing Anderson Silva down the line. These are our possibilities.

Much less magnetic, Machida will never be a superstar, even if he should win out for the rest of his days in MMA's historically greatest division. However, his baffling stylistic dominance climbed to a new height at UFC 94. He completely torched fellow former 13-0 Brazilian Thiago Silva in the greatest performance of his career, perhaps putting a pacifier into the collective mouth of his naysayers.

St. Pierre's Kyokushin karate background has been prominent in molding him into the well-rounded modern MMA prototype. Machida's traditional Shotokan karate style, however, has allowed him to devise a fight style that hadn't been dreamt of.

It has been presumed for nearly the last decade that the blueprint for MMA had been designed and that the "proper" way to fight had been discovered. The developmental stages of the sport had seemingly disposed of myriad traditional martial arts, while preaching that muay Thai, wrestling and jiu-jitsu were the "correct" way forward.

Machida's dominance, especially in the light of his brutalization of Silva, instructs us further about possibility in this sport. Are we really evolved as we think? Do we really know all there is to know about the essence of prizefighting?

So long as Machida continues to parry his way to prominence, we may have to concede that we're not all knowing about combat and we may have to table the muay Thai-wrestling-BJJ myth. In this case, ignorance may actually be exciting, as we see more fighters test the efficacy of traditional martial arts in the cage. Can wing chun be next, please?

And between the possibilities of athleticism and the possibilities of technique, there is Jon Jones. At 21 years old, with less than a year of pro MMA experience, Jonny Bones has already handled two very serviceable light heavyweights in Andre Gusmao and Stephan Bonnar. Moreover, he has done it with his own distinct brand of hyper-offense, where spinning back elbows are as likely as high-amplitude harai goshi, where flying front kicks are as likely as textbook lateral drops.

MMA has had its share of precocious prospects, but few have had the unique style of dynamism that Jones has. He is an athletic marvel, and not in the hackneyed fast-twitch muscle fiber, "explosive and athletic" way. Jones' coordination, leverage and body control are all amazing natural gifts that only reinforce his natural instincts in the cage. This is a future top-10 fighter who could fight for the next decade. Hell, the way sports medicine is going, maybe two decades (again, fingers crossed, knock on wood). And now, with less than a year's experience, he already makes MMA look like pro wrestling with his knack for hurling humans. Jones is a startling, tantalizing glimpse into the sorts of future MMA may have as similar specimens continue to pour in.

UFC 94 isn't the proper tool to convert your non-believer friends into hardcore fans. It's less a stick of dynamite and more a sign of the times. UFC 94 is a vivid reminder that the best is yet to come from MMA -- promotionally, competitively, athletically and aesthetically.

So, save the snipes about split decisions and your "wasted" 50 bucks. As Kierkegaard said, "Pleasure disappoints, possibility never. "
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