(The lumpy, discolored face of victory. / Photo via Esther Lin @ MMAFighting)
UFC 154 wasn’t the first time I’ve attended a UFC event. It wasn’t even the first time I’ve attended one at the Bell Centre. (That would be UFC 113, when Mauricio “Shogun” Rua emphatically put an end to the Machida Era.) But with Georges St. Pierre fighting — returning from a serious knee injury, no less — this card was a special experience. Not to say it didn’t have its flaws — the decisions got to be a bit much after a while, Alessio Sakara managed to get himself disqualified, and Tom Lawlor managed to get himself robbed. Still, the atmosphere of the crowd, Johny Hendricks’ knockout of Martin Kampmann and the finale, in which St. Pierre withstood the most adversity he’s faced in years, more than made up for it.
I was seated a few rows above the exit ramp, where the fighters made their way backstage following their fights. It provided me a great view of the action, the fighters as they walked by, and Dan Hardy’s mohawk. Hardy was in attendance, and made frequent trips back and forth between cageside and backstage. So, consider it official: Dan Hardy pees a lot. Maybe. Also seen frequenting the backstage area were Brittney Palmer and Arianny Celeste, both of whom are (quickly) escorted out after the third round commences in each fight, and Bruce Buffer, who was rather short. I also managed to catch Ben Fowlkes walking down towards cageside and yelled after him, but whether my voice was lost in the din of the crowd or Fowlkes is just terrified of being associated with CagePotato yet again, I cannot say. (It’s definitely the latter.)
The Canadian crowd was pretty solid throughout. They’re not quite as partisan as the Brazilian crowds, but damn if they don’t cheer their fighters on — even if they don’t know who those fighters are. I suspect no one there knew who Ontario’s own Antonio Carvalho was. (I also suspect I was part of this group.) They occasionally boo too early, but in general they seemed fairly knowledgeable. Unfortunately, that generalization did not apply to the group sitting directly behind me, who complained that Chad Griggs was matched up unfairly with Cyrille Diabate — he was, but not because he was “tiny” — and were under the impression that an armbar was “a wrestling move.”
That said, it could have been worse. Following the Rafael Dos Anjos-Mark Bocek fight (Or was it the Lawlor-Francis Carmont bout? I don’t know, after a while all of the decisions kind of blurred together) there was a brawl in the stands on the other side of the arena from where I was sitting. Some dude was tossed down the stairs, some other guys were knocked out, security had to run in and intervene. Even members of the Canadian military — there were a lot of them there for some reason — got involved to stop the fighting. So let it be known; despite its progressive image, Canada has meatheads too. Though I’m sure they all apologized profusely to each other over a bowl of poutine later that night.
Oh, and there were some other fights as well. Ones that took place inside the Octagon. In fact, I recognized a number of fighters from the last time I was at the Bell Centre — Hendricks, Lawlor, Patrick Cote, and Sam Stout all fought at UFC 113. Some hadn’t really changed at all; Stout put on an entertaining performance, but was undone by his relatively porous defense against John Makdessi. Cote was yet again a victim of piss-poor luck; last time I saw him, he was the recipient of a piledriver that barely managed to avoid being ruled a head spike, courtesy of Alan Belcher. This night, he was knocked out with roughly seven strikes to the back of his head. At least this time he got the win via disqualification. (Interestingly enough, this drew huge cheers from the crowd, despite the fact that Cote himself was clearly unsatisfied.)
But other fighters looked noticeably different this time around. Tom Lawlor — who I expected to get wrecked by Francis Carmont – actually managed to fight the fight that he wanted, bullying Carmont into the fence and outlanding him. Not that he was able to do much damage, but he controlled the Octagon and was able to block most of Carmont’s shots. The judges, however, failed to see it that way and awarded Carmont the victory, which caused a significant amount of the crowd to actually boo Carmont. If you’re a judge, and a Canadian crowd boos your decision giving a Canadian fighter the victory, it probably means you fucked up. Lawlor walked out disgusted, and no post-fight interview was held.
Meanwhile, the last time I had seen Johny Hendricks, he had eked out a majority decision win over TJ Grant. Oh, what a difference two years can make. I expected him to have trouble against Kampmann, who I thought was the superior striker of the two. Kampmann might be more technical, but he’s eminently hittable and Hendricks packs a wallop in his punches. As it turned out, that was not a good combination for Kampmann. 40 seconds into the fight, Hendricks followed a missed right hook with a left haymaker that hit Kampmann on the jaw and felled him like a tree. After a night of decisions, the crowd — finally afforded a moment of spectacle — erupted with euphoria. Hendricks was the new number one contender (until Nick Diaz manages to shit talk his way into the discussion), and Kampmann was helped backstage, as he still hadn’t recovered five minutes after he had gone down.
Then it was time for the return of the prodigal son, Georges St. Pierre. After Condit was lustily booed during his entrance, St. Pierre’s music hit and the French Canadian made his way to the Octagon to the raucous cheers of the masses. (He actually entered through the ramp I was right next to, but it was impossible to get close to the sides as everyone had crowded around them by that point. Hat thieves must be a tenacious bunch.) Somehow, as GSP entered the ring, the crowd got even louder. By the time Bruce Buffer introduced St. Pierre, you couldn’t even hear him.
But all the noise the crowd made seemed to underscore a certain anxiety it was trying so desperately to hide. No one knew how St. Pierre would perform, whether his knee was still affecting him, whether ring rust would play a role in his fight. The first round began, and St. Pierre landed occasional jabs. Each time, the crowd ooh’d and aah’d, perhaps in an effort to support St. Pierre as much as convince themselves these were significant strikes. Then St. Pierre landed one of his trademark takedowns, and the place erupted again. The hero was back, their fears alleviated. St. Pierre did a brilliant job of maintaining distance on the feet while never letting Condit move forward, dictating the pace at which the fight was fought and when the exchanges would take place. On the ground, he utilized a can-opener to repeatedly mitigate Condit’s attempts to utilize a high guard, and passed to side control while landing elbows that cut Condit open. Everything was going as the crowd had hoped.
Then the kick came. In the third round, Condit came forward, missing with a left-right combo, ducked and threw a head kick. It was an unorthodox position to throw a kick from, and St. Pierre didn’t see it coming. From where I was sitting, I was facing St. Pierre’s back at the time. I saw the kick connect on his temple, his legs stagger and St. Pierre fall. The crowd let out a collective gasp in shock and terror. Immediately, that anxiety returned. As Condit began following up with ground and pound, I had flashbacks of Serra-St. Pierre I. Would St. Pierre wilt under pressure again? The answer was a resounding “no.” St. Pierre defended Condit’s onslaught, grabbed a leg, and seemingly willed by sheer determination as much as his brilliant grappling technique, was able to turn the tables and get up. When St. Pierre managed to take Condit down, the crowd — yet again — erupted in euphoria. You know how the rest of the fight went, and when St. Pierre had the belt wrapped around his waist yet again, the Bell Centre went nuts for a final time. Sadly, Anderson Silva did not step in the cage and claim he was unimpressed with GSP’s performance.
As everyone left the arena, it was hard not to appreciate what we had just witnessed. Yes, there had been a lot of decisions, but there wasn’t necessarily a lack of action throughout the night. And the last two fights had more than made up for any disappointments that had preceded them. A new challenger had announced his presence in the welterweight division, and the hometown hero had made a successful return after months of speculation and uncertainty. It was a glorious homecoming for St. Pierre, who overcame the type of adversity his detractors had long claimed he was somehow too mentally fragile to withstand en route to a clear-cut decision win over a man he claimed was the toughest test in his career. There isn’t much more you could’ve asked for.
OK, maybe a couple more finishes.
UFC 154 QUICK RESULTS
Main Card (PPV)
- Georges St-Pierre def. Carlos Condit via unanimous decision (49–46, 50–45, 50–45)
- Johny Hendricks def. Martin Kampmann via KO, 0:46 of round 1
- Francis Carmont def. Tom Lawlor via split-decision (29–28, 28–29, 29–28)
- Rafael dos Anjos def. Mark Bocek via unanimous decision (30–27, 30–27, 30–27)
- Pablo Garza def. Mark Hominick via unanimous decision (29–27, 30–26, 29–28)
Preliminary Card (FX)
- Patrick Côté def. Alessio Sakara via disqualification (punches to back of head), 1:26 of round 1
- Cyrille Diabaté def. Chad Griggs via submission (rear-naked choke), 2:24 of round 1
- John Makdessi def. Sam Stout via unanimous decision (30–27, 29–28, 30–27)
- Antonio Carvalho def. Rodrigo Damm via split-decision (29–28, 28–29, 29–28)
Preliminary Card (Facebook)
- Matthew Riddle def. John Maguire via unanimous decision (30–27, 30–27, 29–28)
- Ivan Menjivar def. Azamat Gashimov via submission (armbar), 2:44 of round 1
- Darren Elkins def. Steven Siler via unanimous decision (30–27, 30–27, 30–27)