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Megastars Penn, Silva fail to shine in UFC's Middle Eastern debut

Well, we won't have a hard time remembering the Ultimate Fighting Championship's first effort in Abu Dhabi. In the shadows of all things red, fast and Italian, Dana White, Lorenzo Fertitta and Frank Fertitta came to the Arabian Peninsula touting two high-performance machines of their own.

Anderson Silva and B.J. Penn, both listed among the four best mixed martial artists, fell from their perches Saturday at UFC 112, Zuffa's first under-the-stars card on a humid, but beautiful evening on Yas Island at Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, a city-sized structure straight out of a JamesBond film.

One champion's performance was reputation-damaging. The other's ... belt-dropping. How will Zuffa's first UFC in the home country of its new Middle Eastern business partners be remembered?

In a word: Eventful.

Anderson Silva is a hired gun but he's no Charles Manson. He'd rather embarrass by mocking than clocking. This much seems clear in the wake of the 34-year-old Brazilian's last three UFC middleweight title defenses.

From the outset against Demian Maia, a good, but incomplete mixed martial artist, Silva clowned and mocked and cursed and degraded. For two rounds, he also fought.

When Silva (26-4) wanted to hurt Maia, he did, not taking long to bust up the Brazilian grappling champion's nose and eye socket. Then it stopped. This wasn't Georges St. Pierre failing to finish Dan Hardy. There was no struggle. No attempted finish. Only moving, dancing, talking, frustration. And boos, plenty of boos from a crowd that wanted nothing more from Silva than a tamp down on the gas pedal. Press forward, fire off combinations.

Maia had no hope other than the taste provided by Silva.

"I'd like to say he lost his mind tonight and he got crazy," an exasperated White said of Silva (26-4), whom the UFC president has loudly campaigned for as the pound-for-pound best in MMA. "But this is the third time this has happened. This isn't the first time."

Fifty-one weeks ago in Montreal, Silva apologized and White was embarrassed after a dreadfully boring decision win against Thales Leites, who, in defense of Silva, was looking only to survive. In October 2008, Silva did nothing against Patrick Cote until the French-Canadian's right knee blew out in the third round. He apologized then, too.

Cote, Leites and Maia shouldn't get out of the second round against a guy possessing Silva's arsenal.

Silva said he felt disrespected by Maia's pre-fight talk, though the champion didn't do a good job of explaining the nature of his complaint, and walked into the fight intending on disrespecting him back. In a sport where you're encouraged to put a competitor to sleep, there are more effective methods of getting a point across than Silva's plan on Saturday.

"Be Mike Tyson," White said. "Go in there and finish it in two minutes."

Better yet, be like Fedor Emelianenko. Is there any doubt that standing in front of overmatched opposition the Russian heavyweight, long ranked among the sport's best, doesn't make it a short night?

Missing from title defenses White called "goofy" was Silva's inner executioner, which doesn't make sense considering, in the year between middleweight bouts, it appeared and dummied Forrest Griffin.

Tonight it was Silva, court jester. He bombed.

Yet for all the criticism from his promoter, the media and fans, Silva has concluded that what he did tonight is fine: "The way I feel is my mission is completed," he said. "I came in and dominated the fight and did what I had to do."

Unfortunately for his reputation, he didn't really.

B.J. Penn no longer stands as the UFC lightweight champion, and Frankie Edgar deserves a lot of credit for that. An undersized 7-1 underdog, Edgar made the most of speed and cardio advantages by darting around like a kid off his Ritalin, keeping things competitive over five rounds against the dangerous Hawaiian.

Live I scored the bout 48-47 for Penn (15-6-1), favoring the now former champion's power shots and rewarding his defense (he blocked a ton of stuff) in rounds that were certainly tight. A replay did nothing to change my mind.

But ringside officials, shipped in by the UFC because there isn't a sanctioning body in the United Arab Emirates capable of handling the assignment, tallied their cards for Edgar (12-1).

One score in particular stood out, Doug Crosby's atrocious 50-45. (Sal D'Amato had it 49-46 and Andy Roberts a plausible 48-47.)

There's an argument to be made for 48-47 Edgar, but to call it a shutout is indefensible. Crosby, one of the first judges to be licensed in New Jersey and Nevada, has a good reputation and often makes himself accessible to discuss MMA judging on a popular Internet fan forum. It would be nice if he explained what he saw in the wake of this decision. If he saw anything at all.

Here's my scoring breakdown:

Round 1: Penn's round, without a doubt. He matched Edgar's movement, found range and landed the most telling blows of the period, both from the outside and when they locked up. If you don't see this round for Penn, it's because you don't want to. 10-9 Penn.

R2: More of the same from Penn; in fact, his timing was better. Edgar pressed in spots, though most of his kicks were checked and blocked. Edgar offered a quick trip, but Penn stood immediately. No scoring there. 10-9 Penn.

R3: Hard round to score. Penn worked well in the first half until Edgar found his left hand. The challenger worked combinations the final 2:30, though he continued to take punches. Live I thought Edgar deserved it, and the replay didn't suggest otherwise. But, it was closer to a tossup than the opening two. 10-9 Edgar.

R4: Still a solid pace through the 20-minute mark. Penn earned the better of the exchanges in the fourth, and landed one-off power shots. Edgar scored some, but throughout the round had difficulty with range and timing. 10-9 Penn.

R5: Edgar finally reintroduced grappling to the fight with a double-leg that briefly forced Penn to the guard. But he didn't have time to do any damage from the top after the Hawaiian once again popped his feet. Edgar pressed the pace in the fifth and stood up to Penn at the end when the champion finally threw with power. 10-9 Edgar.

As if the fistic honor of your country wasn't enough to think about, Shinya Aoki now knows he could validate himself as the No. 1 lightweight in MMA if he beats Gilbert Melendez April 17 in Nashville.

Showing the inter-connectedness of MMA as a global sport, Penn's loss is a large tremor in a division that features talent well outside the confines of the UFC.

I'll wait until Aoki (23-4) and Melendez (17-2) engage, one of three title fights set for the Strikeforce card set to air on CBS, before thinking about the new No. 1 at 155. But think about the potential here for Aoki, Melendez, Strikeforce, Dream and the rest of the MMA world. The UFC, until Penn's loss, promoted top-ranked fighters in four of five weight divisions, with the lone holdout -- no pun intended -- being Emelianenko. Now Aoki, or possibly Melendez, could emerge.

There is power to owning that top spot, creating additional interest in a fight that has already hooked both the media and fans.

• Say it ain't so, Renzo. The 43-year-old Brazilian jiu-jitsu ambassador to the U.A.E. looked terrible against former UFC welterweight champion Matt Hughes (44-7). After a three-year layoff, at his age, based on previous performances, the loss wasn't any kind of surprise. But the UFC has something to answer for here. There's no doubt that Gracie (13-7-1), a legend and not just for his last name, received a contract from the UFC only based on the involvement of Flash Entertainment, the U.A.E subsidiary that purchased 10 percent of the UFC earlier this year. He should not have been in the cage with Hughes, who finished the Brazilian with 30 seconds remaining in the third round.

• Middleweights will need to reckon with Mark Munoz. The powerful and aptly named "Filipino Wrecking Machine" willed his way past early trouble against 6' 6" Kendall Grove (11-7, 1 NC) to score a second round technical knockout. "You gotta have will to survive in the cage," said Munoz, 8-1, after he was pulled off Grove in the second round. "That's what I have. I want to make it to the top."

• The Brazilian jiu-jitsu influenced U.A.E. crowd, bolstered by an initiative from the Royal Family that makes the grappling sport required curriculum throughout the country's schools, seemed to appreciate lightweight Rafael dos Anjos (14-4), whose performance against England's Terry Etim (14-3) culminated with a slick second-round armbar.

• NCAA champion wrestler Phil Davis (6-0) continued his evolution as a mixed martial artist, scoring a first round anaconda choke against previously undefeated Swede Alexander Gustafsson (9-1). Everyone's talking about Jon Jones as the future of the light heavyweight division. Davis isn't far behind.

• There was so much handwringing about the negative aspects about an outdoor event in the desert -- rain, sand, bugs -- but thankfully none of that materialized. The UFC is tentatively planning on returning to the neighborhood in August with an event for American troops in Afghanistan, though who knows what the situation on the ground will be as military and political pressure is ramped up in the final months before weather turns cold.

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