My memory is so bad. Without the crutch of alcohol on which to blame this sad state of affairs, I shall pick that other easy mark: the ageing process. Yes, as I hurtle inexorably to that dread milestone we call ‘thirty’, my memory has degenerated from a taut rock of reliability to a soft, sagging mess. Most of what pass for memories at this stage are most likely unintentional fictions, though as long as I cannot remember that fact I should be quite fine. I’ll avoid cognitive dissonance that way.
One of many things I cannot remember is much of what happened at UFC 84, a show blighted by as unfortunate a title as ‘Ill Will’. Not that this is the first time an observer has dissed the nomenclatural disability from which the powers at Zuffa blatantly suffer, but it does provoke me to consider how future instalments of Men In Cages will be named. ‘Mildly Vexed’, perhaps. Or maybe ‘Surprisingly Irked’. And, given that the titles are supposed to set each episode apart from its neighbour, why is the titular implication of dislike so notable? I fail to recall a ‘UFC: Bezzie Mates’, though admittedly that could be my memory failing once again.
Another man feeling the ravages of Chronos, although in more physical a manner, is one Wanderlei Silva. Once the most feared man fighting at two hundred and five pounds, he went through an unfortunate period of fighting men who were neither Japanese nor smaller than he. So he stalemated against Ricardo Arona, got knocked out in succession by Mirko Filipovic and Dan Henderson, and lost an exciting bout a few months ago to Chuck ‘Also Feeling Rather Tired’ Liddell.
Well, what is now about a million weeks ago, he fought the man who topped Liddell not so long ago, one Keith Jardine. I’m so lame that there has been a show after this one, but I didn’t see it so who cares.* by rights, Silva should have walked away with this one. As far as I’m concerned, fighting should be about how skilled, tough and scary you are. While that used to be the case, the advent of very proficient MMA coaches has meant underwhelming jacks-of-all-trades such as Tim Sylvia and the aforementioned Jardine have proven frustratingly effective.
Sylvia is a lunk who happens to be six feet and eight inches tall. While lacking any natural attributes other than that, his awesome trainer Pat Miletich has forced him into being a very good fighter. He lumbers across the Octagon, struggles to kick men many inches shorter than him in the head, but manages to survive against tenacious grapplers such as Jeff Monson on the mat.
Jardine is another. Cursed with the worst nickname ever (‘the Dean of Mean’ is hideous), he is just good enough to stay out of trouble and deliver a lot of leg kicks. Should he get excited and actually try to brawl, he is extinguished, as we saw in his fight with the really rather average Houston Alexander. Sometimes he hits pay dirt, either by timing well against Forrest Griffin or being cagey enough to not get knocked out by Liddell while staying sufficiently active to get the nod.
It is rather an annoying efficiency, one that lacks any kind of flair, invention or innate skill. Death by rote learning. It’s also precisely the kind of thing that can catch out a fighter who is guided almost entirely by instinct and primary discipline, in this case Silva and the Chuteboxe style of a very street-based Muay Thai. Like I said, by rights, the fight should go to the fiercest fighter, who fights with a ferocity borne of honed instinct, rather than being instructed like a tattooed automaton. The winner of a fight like this should be the one with a nickname like ‘The Ax(e) Murderer’, rather than cute rhyming wordplay.
So it came as great relief after a series of UFC disappointments (Mirko Filipovic, Mauricio Rua etc) to see Silva temper his initial attack with a strategy heretofore underemployed by him known as ‘timing’. He picked his spot, flustered Jardine with a great punch down the pipe and – because Keith doesn’t respond well to being dragged into a brawl – was able to finish it with a bit of ground and pound. I bet he’s still annoyed at being unable to stamp on peoples heads like he did in Japan, but the path to decency is one strewn with many victims. The stamp to the head was always a tad too visceral a sight for my delicate tastes anyway.
While Silva back in the win column I should be heartened, but I’m not really. Despite his two wins over current 205lb champ Quinton Jackson, the differently successful paths the two have taken since then do not fill me with optimism for the man from Curitiba. Likewise, I see fighters like Forrest Griffin and Lyoto Machida being just too organised for him. They also enjoy the advantage of having taken infinitely less blows to the head than Silva.
Machida also fought on this show, against the increasingly Lucanesque Tito Ortiz, a man whose abnormally large head is necessary to contain his equally inflated sense of self worth. Who knew self worth was a tangible feature?
I digress. Machida employed his usual stealth tactic to great success in this one, serving to fluster both opponent (as he did Sokoudjou and David Heath) and blood-baying audience. While he did rather little in the first five minutes, his approach meant Ortiz was able to do literally nothing, thereby winning Lyoto the round.
Machida gets accused of running away from his opponents, which is really not the case. Kalib Starnes ran away from Nate Quarry and rightly lost as a result. Machida, instead, backs away while throwing the odd annoyingly effective shot. Late into the second round, Ortiz managed a takedown and it comes as sobering context that what was traditionally his bread and butter is now viewed as a personal victory; he managed a takedown after nearly nine minutes of the fight. And even that was only effective when he pulled guard rather than his usual double-leg-into-top position.
The biggest comedy came at the end of the second, when Tito shrugged at Machida in jockish fashion, only to be met with a one-two to the mush. This raised Ortiz’s ire and, after attempting to goad the Japanese-Brazilian, he ended up giving chase in a state of vexation. Props to Ortiz do come in the form of his sweet triangle choke, which seemed close to snatching the win for him. The choke seemed solidly executed with more than half a minute remaining in the last round, but Machida was able to extricate himself. By doing so, and lasting til the final bell, victory for Lyoto was assured.
One last thing to mention is the main event and, to me, the most important lightweight match in the spotty history of American MMA. In it, interim champion B.J. Penn sought to win the actual title from disgraced steroid user Sean Sherk. Morality pretext aside (invoking morals is unwise when it comes to the Hawaiian one-time bar brawler), the real theme of the fight was of Sherk’s tendency to bore and Penn representing the best (if not only) chance for fans of the sport to avoid a true reign of terror with Sherk at the throne.
My thinking prior to the fight had involved the fight being decided on the ground: either Sherk would get takedowns early and often, attempting to lay his way to victory by stifling the varied offence of Penn, or else Penn would out-box his quarry for a while before going for his effective rear choke.
As I often say about MMA, the more I learn, the more I realise I do not know. Such was the case here as the pair decided to kickbox, possibly out of respect for the ground game of the other. Whatever the motivation, this strategy meant the fight was Penn’s to lose, to almost a disappointingly easy degree.
After three (of the allotted five) rounds, Penn decided he and Sherk had danced for long enough, opting to throw a delightful flying knee to the HGH-enlarged head of Sherk, dropping him like a sack of Nandrolone. A brief segment of pummelling, and the round, were ended by the bell. From here, the fight took a turn for the surreal.
While ordinarily a fighter would be given the minute to recuperate before the next round, Penn himself decided he had won the fight. This led the commentators to decide he had won the fight. Somewhere down the line it became official that the fight was indeed over, at the behest of B.J. Penn. Sherk, for his part seemed not to object.
I should be happy that the Sherk Threat was avoided, but there lingers within me a sense of disappointment at the inherently inchoate nature of the fight. Perhaps there will be a rematch (I avoid newz sites, so do not know), though knowing my luck Sherk would win that one.
Bloody hell, there’s another show in a couple of weeks…
* All we really need to know is that Matt Hughes got stopped early in the second, which is always good, and Mike Bisping continued his run of annoying American people. They seem to think that his inevitable loss to Anderson Silva will equate to some meting out of karmic justice, despite the fact that Silva does a number on everyone he fights, whether they are gobby northern Brits or not. In fact, given that Bisping actually has some kickboxing skills unlike, say, Rich Franklin, Dan Henderson or Nate Marquardt, he may not actually fare too badly.