A viewer's guide to UFC 129
Georges St-Pierre meets Jake Shields in the main event of UFC 129 in Toronto
A sellout crowd of 55,000 is expected to break the organization's attendance mark
Notable prelims include Nate Diaz-Rory McDonald, Claude Patrick-Daniel Roberts
|UFC 129 Main Card|
Fifty-five thousand. That's how many fans will be packed into the Rogers Centre in Toronto for UFC 129 on Saturday night. It's a crazy number, considering that the fight organization's previous attendance high, set just last December, was not even half of that: 23,152 at Montreal's Bell Centre for UFC 124.
The common denominator: Georges St-Pierre, who will defend his welterweight championship in Saturday's main event against Jake Shields, also was the headliner Dec. 11 in his Quebec hometown, beating up Josh Koscheck to the roars of the big crowd. Maybe GSP is the UFC's cash cow.
Or perhaps it's all about Canadian venues, or maybe Canadian fighters in general. Fighters from north of the border will be competing in all but two of this weekend's dozen bouts.
Notice that I'm throwing out a lot of numbers? Here are some more, from a couple of UFC 129's other featured bouts: 7 and 100, 2 and 47. Allow me to decode: Jose Aldo, who has scored a stoppage in seven of his last eight bouts (and won 11 straight), will defend his featherweight belt against striker Mark Hominick, who'll be a crowd favorite, having grown up in Thamesford, Ontario, about 100 miles from Toronto; and ex-light heavyweight titlist Lyoto Machida, once considered not just unbeatable but unhittable, will be carrying two consecutive losses on his back when he steps in against 47-year-old Randy Couture, the five-time UFC champion and a Hall of Famer, who has announced that this will be his last bout.
Another important number to note: nine, as in 9 p.m. ET. Starting with this event, UFC pay-per-view telecasts will begin an hour earlier, presumably to help people like me meet fight-night writing deadlines. (Thanks, Dana White.) That pushes the Spike telecast of two free fights up to 8 p.m. And the whole event gets under way at 6 ET, with the first five bouts to be shown on the UFC's fan page on Facebook.
Keeping with the theme, here are paint-by-numbers portraits of the main event fighters:
5: Number of times he has successfully defended his welterweight belt since winning it (for the second time) with a TKO of Matt Serra in April 2008.
4: Number of those bouts that he's left in the hands of the judges. They've all ended up as wins, dominant unanimous decisions at that, but he hasn't stopped anyone other than BJ Penn (TKO by corner stoppage in January 2009).
1: Number of defeats in his last 15 bouts. Standing in the way of a Shields-like winning streak is just an upset loss to Matt Serra in April 2007.
6: Number of inches in his reach advantage. St-Pierre's reach is 76 inches, Shields' 70. That could put Shields on the wrong end of a lot of leather.
405: Number of dollars you'll have to risk at a sports book in order to win $100 by betting on the heavily favored GSP.
15: Number of consecutive wins.
2,328: On Saturday, this will be number of days since he's lost a fight. Where were you on the night of Dec. 14, 2004? If you were in Tokyo, perhaps you witnessed Shields dropping a unanimous decision and his Shooto middleweight title to Akiro Kikuchi.
8: Number of consecutive finishes (six submissions, two TKOs) he had scored before his last three bouts, all decision victories.
3: Number of significant championships he's won (Strikeforce middleweight, EliteXC welterweight, Shooto middleweight).
3: Number of bullies he's beaten down on the MTV show Bully Beatdown, hosted by his good buddy Jason "Mayhem" Miller, who definitely will not be invited into the Octagon at the conclusion of St-Pierre vs. Shields to announce his new multifight UFC deal.
Since numbers don't tell the whole story ...
Earlier this month, Shields' training partner at Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, Strikeforce welterweight champ Nick Diaz, put himself thorough an unnecessarily difficult fight with challenger Paul Daley by choosing not to take the fight to the ground, where he had a distinct advantage, and instead standing and trading with the power-punching Brit. Diaz ended up beating Daley at his own game, which no doubt was a satisfying point of pride for him.
St-Pierre aims for no such satisfaction. His strategy always is to identify his opponent's weak point and exploit that. So don't expect to see GSP roll on the mat with Shields, a submission grappling virtuoso. Instead, the well-rounded St-Pierre will rely on his striking skills to pick apart Shields, who is pretty ordinary on his feet. St-Pierre, one of the sport's most proficient wrestlers, might take down Shields at some point, but at the first sign of trouble, he'll be back on his feet.
What should we expect out of Shields, then? He'll be persistent in his pursuit of top position on the ground, where he is deadly. But to gain a dominant position on GSP he'll first have to get his hands on the champ, which will be no small task.
St-Pierre is either MMA's pound-for-pound best or a close second, so any time he steps into the Octagon, it's an event worthy of our attention. And when he does so in front of 55,000 people, smashing a UFC attendance record he set in his last fight, it's a sign that this guy is someone special. His fights are more slow burn than explosion, but there's plenty of entertainment value in his dominant performances. And when GSP is stepping in against a guy who hasn't lost since George W. Bush's first term, that's worth watching.
A little bit of barely relevant trivia: Since I've twice mentioned the Shooto middleweight championship, here's a question: Who wore that belt before Shields? It was current UFC champ Anderson Silva, who took it from Hayato Sakurai in August 2001, then vacated the title, which remained vacant until Shields claimed it in July 2004 by beating Ray Cooper. Why is this even remotely relevant to Saturday's fight? Only because if GSP wins, looming next would be a superfight with Silva.