New Year’s Reverie: Finally!

By Mike Sloan Jan 2, 2008
It is a seldom occurrence. Rarely does a contest surpass the lofty expectations set forth by fans and media, let alone the promoters themselves. So infrequent is such an event that when it does actually happen, mouths are left agape and virtually everybody clamors for a rematch.

Typically it doesn't matter how often some fight experts or promoters bloviate about an imminent matchup -- I'm usually too cynical to buy into the hype.

And can you blame me?

I can't even begin to fathom how many fights that I've covered as a writer or watched as a fan that failed miserably to live up to even half of the expectations set forth by everybody involved with said skirmishes. Now I haven't morphed into some bitter or jaded fight scribe, but my hopes have been duped on too numerous an occasion to expect some sort of fistic divine intervention.

I remember the days leading up to these alleged mythic battles, only later to have these "fights" foster ill will toward the propaganda-spewing fiends that marketed them. Who can forget or forgive such despicably dull showdowns as De la Hoya-Trinidad, Lewis-Tua or Ken Shamrock (Pictures)-Dan Severn (Pictures) II?

Thankfully Chuck Liddell (Pictures)-Wanderlei Silva (Pictures) missed that particular boat by a mile.

I never thought that I'd see Silva get cracked and stumble into the cage on the verge of being knocked out so many times, only to fire back and halt Liddell's attacks. I didn't think I'd witness Liddell being staggered and dropped, also on the verge of being stopped only to fend off the attrition. Who would believe that a simple double-leg takedown would be so dramatic and so exciting to watch?

Liddell clearly won the fight, though in my opinion it certainly wasn't a 30-27 margin of victory. Silva got the second round on my card, but Liddell's late rally closed the gap in scoring.

My prediction was an early KO in favor of Liddell, and it seemed as if I was going to yet again look like a genius. But it was Silva's warrior spirit that kept him alive and rifling bombs back at "The Iceman" that made the fight such a marvel to the eyes.

While I don't personally feel that the fight was the best of 2007 (Huerta-Guida has that one nailed), it more than lived up to everybody's expectations. The only drawback to the fight -- I mean war -- was that on the night of Dec. 29, Liddell-Silva should have been a rubber match or at least a second go-round for the two.

This epic battle should have taken place years ago, when UFC President Dana White inserted Liddell into the PRIDE Grand Prix. Though I don't always agree with how White conducts himself, he is not to blame for this fight not happening sooner.

I always openly demand rematches for fights that were this fantastic, but I will be able to sleep better at night knowing a return bout is unlikely. Liddell is pushing 40 and Silva, though seven years younger than Chuck, looks a little too ragged and worn out from his dozens of wars.

But hey: Even if we never get to see if Silva can topple Liddell in some sort of fairytale sequel, at least we got to see the fight materialize. And luckily for everybody who watched, it was worth more than the price of admission.

The End of the Road?

I'm not going to perch my feet atop that proverbial soap box, but I think it's time that Matt Hughes (Pictures) be put out to pasture. The former monarch of the 170-pound weight division was reduced to rubble on Saturday night by the skillset of Georges St. Pierre (Pictures).

I'm not certain if Hughes is shot or if he's a shell of his old self, but St. Pierre made it look like a veteran against a rookie out there. Hughes couldn't do anything against "Rush." For the third time in three meetings, he was thrashed (yes, Hughes won the first bout via armbar, but he was getting clobbered until then).

St. Pierre is clearly among the greatest on the planet pound-for-pound. Whenever he nabs his title again, I don't see him losing it for a long time. I envision GSP dominating the division much like Hughes in his heyday, but he'll be more fun to watch and he'll trounce his opposition in much more spectacular fashion.

While Hughes is the greatest champion the UFC has had up to this point, he's always been somewhat of a one-dimensional fighter. He was never a world-class striker; he never possessed crushing knockout power; and though he scored a few submissions along the way, he was never a tapout specialist like some of his contemporaries.

St. Pierre has it all: formidable striking, excellent subs and punishing ground-and-pound. He is much more varied in his attacks than Hughes ever was, and so much so that his talent level might have indirectly led to Hughes' ultimate downfall.

It wasn't until recently that Hughes got this notion that he wanted to become a dangerous striker and he changed his fighting style slightly. He strayed from the brutal takedowns and vicious ground-and-pound that got him the title. I'm not sure exactly why he altered his style, but he did it nonetheless. Granted, it wasn't as drastic as Tank Abbott trying to become the next Rumina Sato (Pictures), but the subtle deviations from what made him a great champion cost him dearly.

Is Hughes done as a world-class fighter? Certainly not. But as long as man-eating sharks like St. Pierre lurk in his waters, Hughes won't snatch back the title.

As for "Rush," the only person that will clearly beat him in the months to come is Georges himself. Don't expect him to be stunned by genuine welterweight champion Matt Serra (Pictures) again, and don't expect him to stumble against the many contenders currently on the circuit.

Uh Oh

Lyoto Machida (Pictures) is a very dangerous fighter, someone who will be very difficult to topple. While he doesn't have the awesome knockout striking ability of middleweight champion Anderson Silva, Machida possesses such clever technique that he doesn't need it.

Don't get me wrong; Machida can crack. But it's his deceptive hand and leg speed and his precision accuracy that make him such a force to be reckoned with. He also stays at the perfect distance from opponents, whom he engages at the right time almost every time.

On top of his world-class striking ability, Machida is also the farthest thing from a slouch when it comes to ground fighting. He's as comfortable fighting off his back as he is on his feet. He's unbeaten and for good reason. It'll take a fighter of immense talent to offset his journey toward the world title.

The only drawbacks with Machida are that he isn't aesthetically pleasing for the casual fan to watch and he doesn't speak English. Those snags in his coat are perilous to him capitalizing on his fighting ability, and it's the same peculiar dichotomy of greatness and lack of marketability that has felled many a fighter. I'm curious to see how Zuffa plays this one out.

Misc. Debris

I've never quite understood the UFC's TV graphic after a fight ends via submission. At the bottom of the screen, the caption reads, "Winner by submission - tapout." I never knew that a "tapout" was a type of submission. Why doesn't Zuffa tell the audience something specific: "Winner by submission - armbar" or "Winner by submission - chin on back tickle." That never made any sense to me. …

Thankfully the televised portion of UFC 79 was magnificent because the first four dark bouts on the card were dreadful to witness. Luckily none of the fans that shelled out their hard-earned money had to suffer through them. With the way the weekend was going, what with the lousy IFO card at the Riviera the night before and the terrible UFC dark bouts, I was starting to contemplate changing careers to cover something more exciting, like the WBNA. …

Sokoudjou will be just fine. Before people leap to their deaths off his bandwagon, you must first realize how green he still is. He's just a kid with five professional MMA bouts under his belt. Give him a few years to blossom, and if he stays under the tutelage of Team Quest or their equal, he'll be the absolute monster many insiders believed he was until he was trounced by Machida. …

Like a complete empty-headed nincompoop, I forgot to set my DVR to record the IFL World Grand Prix Finals. Too bad because from what I read and heard, it was a killer night of fights. With Ryan Schultz (Pictures) pummeling Chris Horodecki (Pictures) and Benji Radach (Pictures) being flattened by Matt Horwich (Pictures), it sounds like I missed out. Oh well, at least I'll be able to watch the countless replays. …

So Dana White was openly criticizing Mark Cuban, Floyd Mayweather and HDNet Fights at the UFC 79 post-fight news conference. Hmm … sounds to me like he realizes what a threat Cuban's business acumen and deep pockets are. …

I can't wait to see Rich Clementi (Pictures) and Melvin Guillard (Pictures) in action again. These two dudes seriously hate each other, and it's only a matter of time before they officially fight on another night. Let's hope it's sooner rather than later, but it will happen. …

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