UFC 101 was bound to be at least a slight letdown, coming just four weeks after the Ultimate Fighting Championship had pulled out all the stops to ensure that UFC 100 would be an unprecedented blockbuster.
For the first pay-per-view after its centenary numbered event—even if that distinction was completely arbitrary—the UFC went with a seemingly odd strategy. The card was headlined by B.J. Penn, its biggest star who did not appear at UFC 100, and the rest of the card was frankly low on star power, consisting mostly of mid-level veterans and alumni of “The Ultimate Fighter”—with one exception. For the co-main event, middleweight champ Anderson Silva was booked against former light heavyweight champ Forrest Griffin. The Silva-Griffin booking was an eye-opener for several reasons. Griffin had only lost his title in his last fight and had plenty of suitable matchups available in his division, while Silva was a reigning champ who did have challengers queuing up. Most notably, while Silva was perhaps the top fighter in the sport, he was not yet a major pay-per-view star but a hardcore fan’s delight who had never quite caught on to the extent of a Brock Lesnar, Georges St. Pierre or even Penn. As such, his one-off excursion to light heavyweight did not figure to boost revenue very much.
Business questions aside—and for the record, UFC 101 was a major success, the sixth-highest selling pay-per-view to that date—Penn and Silva both delivered big in the Octagon that night in Philadelphia. In the co-main event, Silva put on the most sublimely dominant performance since his UFC debut against Chris Leben. While Silva was a 3-to-1 favorite for a reason, Griffin was a very big light heavyweight with excellent cardio who was generally thought of as a capable striker. At the very least, he was expected to be an interesting puzzle for “The Spider” to solve. Not so: Silva eluded all of the former champ’s strikes with comical ease, swiveling at the waist with his hands at his sides and knocking Griffin down twice with single punches. When Silva dropped Griffin for a third time, with a short right hand that was perfectly timed but looked to be at about half speed, Griffin stayed down. It was all over in barely three minutes: Silva grinned and danced while a Top 5 fighter in the next division up literally fled the room in humiliation.
Penn’s performance in the main event was not quite so succinct, but every bit as dominant. His challenger, Kenny Florian, was on a six-fight win streak, five by finish, since losing to Sean Sherk three years before. Meanwhile Penn, who had lost badly earlier that year in his attempt to move up in weight and dethrone St. Pierre, was otherwise settling in as the dominant lightweight champ most fans seemed to want him to be. Nonetheless, Florian’s impressive win streak—and perhaps, worries that Penn’s welterweight sojourn portended another loss of focus and motivation for the mercurial champ—led to Penn opening up as a mere -150 favorite, even if those odds eventually lengthened.
Once the fight began, Penn fought like a 20-to-1 favorite, outclassing Florian in every facet of mixed martial arts. While “KenFlo” had developed into a dangerous, rangy muay Thai-flavored striker in the last few years under coach Mark Dellagrotte, Penn punished him at range as well as inside. Always preternaturally good at staying on his feet, Penn shrugged off a half-dozen takedown attempts with ease and, more importantly, punished Florian as he did so. Early in the fourth round, Penn decided he finally wanted the fight on the floor, slammed Florian down with authority and once they were there, it was academic. Penn sliced through the guard of his fellow Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt like tissue paper, took mount, then back control, and finally cinched up a rear-naked choke for the tap. “The Prodigy” had reaffirmed his place as the greatest lightweight in the world.