Megastars Penn, Silva fail to shine in UFC's Middle Eastern debut
Anderson Silva's sloppy bout against Demian Maia was not a crowd-pleaser
B.J. Penn suffered the indignity of losing his championship belt to Frankie Edgar
This was a crucial night for the UFC -- in the Middle East and outdoors
Well, we won't have a hard time remembering the Ultimate Fighting Championship's first effort in Abu Dhabi. In the shadows of all things red, fast and Italian, Dana White, Lorenzo Fertitta and Frank Fertitta came to the Arabian Peninsula touting two high-performance machines of their own.
Anderson Silva and B.J. Penn, both listed among the four best mixed martial artists, fell from their perches Saturday at UFC 112, Zuffa's first under-the-stars card on a humid, but beautiful evening on Yas Island at Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, a city-sized structure straight out of a James Bond film.
One champion's performance was reputation-damaging. The other's ... belt-dropping. How will Zuffa's first UFC in the home country of its new Middle Eastern business partners be remembered?
In a word: Eventful.
Silva unrepentant after another 'goofy' effort
Anderson Silva is a hired gun but he's no Charles Manson. He'd rather embarrass by mocking than clocking. This much seems clear in the wake of the 34-year-old Brazilian's last three UFC middleweight title defenses.
From the outset against Demian Maia, a good, but incomplete mixed martial artist, Silva clowned and mocked and cursed and degraded. For two rounds, he also fought.
When Silva (26-4) wanted to hurt Maia, he did, not taking long to bust up the Brazilian grappling champion's nose and eye socket. Then it stopped. This wasn't Georges St. Pierre failing to finish Dan Hardy. There was no struggle. No attempted finish. Only moving, dancing, talking, frustration. And boos, plenty of boos from a crowd that wanted nothing more from Silva than a tamp down on the gas pedal. Press forward, fire off combinations.
Maia had no hope other than the taste provided by Silva.
"I'd like to say he lost his mind tonight and he got crazy," an exasperated White said of Silva (26-4), whom the UFC president has loudly campaigned for as the pound-for-pound best in MMA. "But this is the third time this has happened. This isn't the first time."
Fifty-one weeks ago in Montreal, Silva apologized and White was embarrassed after a dreadfully boring decision win against Thales Leites, who, in defense of Silva, was looking only to survive. In October 2008, Silva did nothing against Patrick Cote until the French-Canadian's right knee blew out in the third round. He apologized then, too.
Cote, Leites and Maia shouldn't get out of the second round against a guy possessing Silva's arsenal.
Silva said he felt disrespected by Maia's pre-fight talk, though the champion didn't do a good job of explaining the nature of his complaint, and walked into the fight intending on disrespecting him back. In a sport where you're encouraged to put a competitor to sleep, there are more effective methods of getting a point across than Silva's plan on Saturday.
"Be Mike Tyson," White said. "Go in there and finish it in two minutes."
Better yet, be like Fedor Emelianenko. Is there any doubt that standing in front of overmatched opposition the Russian heavyweight, long ranked among the sport's best, doesn't make it a short night?
Missing from title defenses White called "goofy" was Silva's inner executioner, which doesn't make sense considering, in the year between middleweight bouts, it appeared and dummied Forrest Griffin.
Tonight it was Silva, court jester. He bombed.
Yet for all the criticism from his promoter, the media and fans, Silva has concluded that what he did tonight is fine: "The way I feel is my mission is completed," he said. "I came in and dominated the fight and did what I had to do."
Unfortunately for his reputation, he didn't really.
Going the distance
B.J. Penn no longer stands as the UFC lightweight champion, and Frankie Edgar deserves a lot of credit for that. An undersized 7-1 underdog, Edgar made the most of speed and cardio advantages by darting around like a kid off his Ritalin, keeping things competitive over five rounds against the dangerous Hawaiian.
Live I scored the bout 48-47 for Penn (15-6-1), favoring the now former champion's power shots and rewarding his defense (he blocked a ton of stuff) in rounds that were certainly tight. A replay did nothing to change my mind.
But ringside officials, shipped in by the UFC because there isn't a sanctioning body in the United Arab Emirates capable of handling the assignment, tallied their cards for Edgar (12-1).
One score in particular stood out, Doug Crosby's atrocious 50-45. (Sal D'Amato had it 49-46 and Andy Roberts a plausible 48-47.)
There's an argument to be made for 48-47 Edgar, but to call it a shutout is indefensible. Crosby, one of the first judges to be licensed in New Jersey and Nevada, has a good reputation and often makes himself accessible to discuss MMA judging on a popular Internet fan forum. It would be nice if he explained what he saw in the wake of this decision. If he saw anything at all.
Here's my scoring breakdown:
Round 1: Penn's round, without a doubt. He matched Edgar's movement, found range and landed the most telling blows of the period, both from the outside and when they locked up. If you don't see this round for Penn, it's because you don't want to. 10-9 Penn.
R2: More of the same from Penn; in fact, his timing was better. Edgar pressed in spots, though most of his kicks were checked and blocked. Edgar offered a quick trip, but Penn stood immediately. No scoring there. 10-9 Penn.
R3: Hard round to score. Penn worked well in the first half until Edgar found his left hand. The challenger worked combinations the final 2:30, though he continued to take punches. Live I thought Edgar deserved it, and the replay didn't suggest otherwise. But, it was closer to a tossup than the opening two. 10-9 Edgar.
R4: Still a solid pace through the 20-minute mark. Penn earned the better of the exchanges in the fourth, and landed one-off power shots. Edgar scored some, but throughout the round had difficulty with range and timing. 10-9 Penn.
R5: Edgar finally reintroduced grappling to the fight with a double-leg that briefly forced Penn to the guard. But he didn't have time to do any damage from the top after the Hawaiian once again popped his feet. Edgar pressed the pace in the fifth and stood up to Penn at the end when the champion finally threw with power. 10-9 Edgar.