What we learned from Saturday's UFC 111 card in Newark, N.J.:
1. GSP's style could flavor his legacy.
At some point, Georges St. Pierre is going to need to ask himself whether winning alone is enough.
It sounds like a ridiculous question, something a reporter would ask. Of course winning is enough. Better yet, dominance. Overwhelming the opposition has positioned St. Pierre, who Saturday night pitched a perfect game against Dan Hardy to retain the UFC welterweight championship, as the corporate face of mixed martial arts. It landed him deals with Under Armour and Gatorade. In 2008 and 2009, he was recognized as the Canadian athlete of the year. Of course, winning is enough.
Or, it has been.
Will it matter at all that fans might stream out of the building during his fights, as they did tonight at the Prudential Center during a championship match that was scored 50-45, 50-44, and 50-43?
Writing this, it feels like an unfair standard. But the question feels appropriate since St. Pierre often mentions how important it is to him to be considered the best of all time. He's great. Is he exciting enough? Fight fans love finishers, which is probably a big reason why Chuck Liddell is the most famous of all mixed martial artists.
The win over Hardy (23-7), who didn't have a chance from the opening bell and needed several miraculous escapes to go the distance, was St. Pierre's third in four bouts that went five rounds; he needed just four to pummel B.J. Penn. Credit certainly goes to Jon Fitch, Thiago Alves, Penn and now Hardy for hanging on against possibly the best fighter in the world. Yet I'm not sure that's enough for fans.
Shaquille O'Neal was impressed. The Cleveland Cavaliers' center posted on Twitter after UFC 111 that he considered St. Pierre (20-2) in the same class of athlete with Michael Phelps, Floyd Mayweather and LeBron James. I doubt there's higher praise. In a sense, St. Pierre is very much like Mayweather, who's earned a reputation as a fighter that doesn't mind slowing things down, playing only to his advantages, and winning in a way that can bore the audience. Mayweather seems to believe he's the best in boxing history. Should St. Pierre keep winning, I don't doubt he'd feel the same. What everyone else will conclude, that's tough to say.
2. Hardy earned respect in defeat.
Anyone who paid attention to something other than UFC Primetime knew Hardy, 27, didn't have a shot against St. Pierre. He fought with the wrong style, wasn't any kind of wrestler, and never faced the caliber of opposition that would make one think he could hang. On all fronts he couldn't, save the thing that makes him a fighter. Whatever it is inside Hardy, and many other men and women, that makes him do this for a living was on full display against St. Pierre.
The engineering in Hardy's arms was tested. Somehow they didn't buckle. Somehow he didn't buckle. It's a backhanded compliment when you congratulate a fighter for a loss. But Hardy deserves notice for simply surviving, which is a trait we often dismiss when it should, by all rights, earn a "you're one tough SOB."
3. Lesnar-Carwin big in every sense
Five letters each in their first name. Six letters each in their last. Even in silly little trivia Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin are similar. We know now, after Carwin blasted Frank Mir to earn his 12th first-round victory in 12 fights, that the UFC heavyweight championship will be contested by the top super-sized heavyweights in the sport. We're talking about fighters that cut down 20 pounds in weight to make 265. Guys with kegs for pecs.
Many, including myself, felt a third fight between Mir (13-5) and Lesnar would be the biggest money maker for the UFC in 2010. If that's true, then there won't be any let down when Lesnar and Carwin (12-0) end up on a poster together -- assuming there's space.
I've always considered Carwin a poor man's Lesnar (4-1). He has the size. The power. The wrestling. But not the speed, or athleticism. Lesnar is a specimen. Still, Carwin is just the kind of opponent that should bring out the best in the current UFC heavyweight champion, who looks to fight for the first time in a year this summer.
The fact that Carwin is unbeaten, hasn't been out of the first round, and knocked out his last five will make the 35-year-old Coloradan a live dog. He deserves to be. Lesnar's chin hasn't been tested by anything resembling Carwin's wrecking ball of a right hand.
I don't doubt Lesnar-Carwin will do the best business for UFC in 2010. It may do so well, second place could look like Hardy.