A viewer's guide to UFC 129 (cont.)
Beyond the main event ...
Nine of the evening's 12 bouts pit a Canadian fighter vs. an American. But the fight in which the home country competitor figures to have the biggest crowd support is one in which the opponent is not an American but a Brazilian. Hominick, who was born, grew up and still lives just down an Ontario highway from Toronto, will be going for the featherweight championship against Aldo, a buzzsaw of a fighter. Aldo is billed as a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, though we've seen no evidence of that, since he's punched out everyone in his path. Finally, in with a stout striker like Hominick, Aldo might show off some of his ground skills.
Age is just a number
At 47, Couture is finally ready to hang up the gloves. For good this time. "The Natural" did retire from the UFC once before, back in 2006 at the tender age of 42, but there was a divorce and other turmoil in his life at the time. He came back a year later. Now he's insisting that this weekend's fight with Machida is it. He's not about to go Brett Favre on us.
What a storybook ending it would be if Couture were to go out a winner in front of 55,000 witnesses. It might happen, but just as it's amazing that a 47-year-old athlete can perform at an elite level, consider this other example of how numbers lie: Couture enters this fight on a three-bout winning streak, while Machida has lost two in a row. How is that deceptive? Machida's losses came to a pair of former light heavyweight champions, Quinton Jackson and Mauricio "Shogun" Rua. Couture's wins came against big-mouthed boxer James Toney, an old 46-year-old Mark Coleman (loser of three of four) and Brandon Vera, once a rising contender but lately a fighter on a downfall.
This is going to be a big-time challenge for Couture, who has risen to the occasion before. Does he have one more in him?
Of the 12 bouts on the card, only two do not include a Canadian fighter. One of those is Couture vs. Machida, and no one will leaving their seats during that one. Even if it weren't Couture's Octagon finale, he's always a popular combatant. The other non-Canadian bout: Vladimir Matyushenko vs. Jason Brilz. That's not exactly ho-hum, either. Brilz has lost two of three but started his career 17-1-1, while "The Janitor" is 25-5 and has won four of five, the only loss coming against the runaway diesel known as Jon "Bones" Jones.
The highlight was a lowlight for him
Ben Henderson knows what it feels like to be the guy being dunked on by Blake Griffin in the SportsCenter highlight, the defensive back being leveled by a Brandon Jacobs rumble. Henderson has made the highlight reels, too. Or at least his head did, when it was kicked by Anthony Pettis after "Showtime" pulled off a crazy cage-walking maneuver in their WEC lightweight title bout last December. Now Henderson, who might have won that fight by decision if not for what looked like something out of a grainy, dubbed martial arts movie, faces Toronto native Mark Bocek, who has submitted four of the last five guys he's faced, the exception being indestructible Jim Miller. At some point, Bocek ought to take a leap toward the cage just to mess with Henderson's head.
The undercard bout most likely to Spike your blood pressure
Both welterweight fights to be shown on Spike (8 p.m. ET) have merit, but Nate Diaz vs. Rory McDonald could be a thriller. The 21-year-old McDonald (10-1), who hails from British Columbia but recently has been training in St-Pierre's home gym in Montreal, is coming off his first loss. But he got the better of a serious fighter, Carlos Condit, for nearly three rounds last June before succumbing to a stoppage with just seven seconds to go. Diaz, who trains with Shields (as well as his brother, Nick, and Strikeforce lightweight champ Gilbert Melendez), is also coming off a loss, by unanimous decision to Dong Hyun Kim in January, but he's tough both on his feet and on the mat and has a Fight of the Night pedigree.
The undercard bout most likely to prompt you to change your Facebook profile status to "Wow!"
Toronto area welterweight Claude Patrick is 13-1, winner of 12 straight fights, his last two in the UFC. Daniel Roberts is 12-1, his only blemish being a one-punch KO loss to John Howard in his UFC debut last year. These guys can fight. Fire up your computer and watch them do so. Then go to your sister's wall and make a funny comment about the high school picture she just posted.
"It used to be called SkyDome" and other facts about the Rogers Centre
Biggest crowd: 73,500 for a Billy Graham Crusade youth rally in 1995
Biggest paid crowd: 68,237 for a Vince McMahon Crusade, a.k.a. some WWE WrestleMania silliness in 2002.
Biggest crowd for an actual sporting event (as opposed to scripted, choreographed "sports entertainment" live theatre): 54,088 for the Canadian Football League's 1989 Grey Cup between Saskatchewan and Hamilton. OK, American football fans: What are the nicknames of those two teams? Answers below.
Greatest pre-GSP moment: Oct. 23, 1993, when Joe Carter's walkoff home run gave the Toronto Blue Jays their second consecutive World Series title.
Size matters: Eight 747 airplanes or 516 African elephants can fit on the field. (This is according to the Rogers Centre website; I did not bring in the pachyderms myself to check.) And a 31-story building would fit under the retractable roof, which will be closed for UFC 129.
Famous people who've appeared there: Aside from the various Blue Jays, CFL Toronto Argonauts and even NFL preseason Buffalo Bills, not to mention Billy Graham and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, the ballpark has been host to a variety of celebrities, ranging from the Dalai Lama to author J.K. Rowling, the latter of whom either gave a Harry Potter reading or provided commentary for the Quidditch World Cup.
No-sweat-for-Canadians, no-chance-for-Americans trivia answers: The Saskatchewan Tiger-Cats and the Hamilton Roughriders. Is that the answer you had? It is? Well, guess what: I reversed the names to guard against wandering eyes cheating. The Roughriders actually play in Regina, Saskatchewan, the Tiger-Cats in Hamilton, Ontario.
Get a room ...
You weren't one of the lucky 55,000 who scored UFC 129 tickets, but you want to be in Toronto for the fights? The Renaissance Hotel, located adjacent to the Rogers Centre, has a deal for you. For $1,300, you and three friends can stay in one of the hotel's 68 "stadium view" rooms, with a picture window opening up on the action inside the ballpark. It'll actually cost you a little more than the $325-a-person room fee, assuming you and your buddies want to eat and drink (hotel catering only; no outside food and beverages allowed). You'll also have to pass through several security checkpoints and wear wristbands, refrain from smoking, hang no banners from the window, follow hotel guidelines on room lighting and buy a round of cocktails for UFC management. OK, not that last one.
... but just because there's a bed in the room, don't get any ideas
Several times during the ballpark's and hotel's joint history, room guests have been seen engaging in innocent private moments by a stadium full of lascivious voyeurs. Or maybe it's the other way around. When the ballpark first opened, a risqué couple's hotel hanky panky was shown on the Jumbotron during a Blue Jays game. Couples have been caught doing the same at least two other times, and once a man was spied at his room's picture window having his own little privates party. Now hotel guests must sign an agreement stating they will not engage in any lewd activities ... or at least pull the shades before they do.
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