10:30 p.m. Leading up to Saturday night's heavily-covered and expertly sold UFC 100 in Las Vegas, I spoke with more than a handful of the 16-year-old mixed martial arts promotion's former and current stars.
There were no shortage of stories and fond memories. But there was also plenty of grumbling. And while they all had their own unique perspective to draw upon, several felt it necessary to defend their records in the UFC.
When I asked Ken Shamrock, who appeared in the first 10 UFCs and was one of the organization's early stars, what he was most proud of, he recalled winning the UFC "superfight" belt at UFC 6. Then Shamrock -- who was fighting before Rorion Gracie brainstormed with Bob Meyrowitz -- couldn't avoid mentioning his disappointment that his victory over Dan "The Beast" Severn wasn't being recognized by the UFC as the company's first heavyweight championship title.
Technically, that honor belongs to Mark Coleman, who defeated Severn after the super-fight belt morphed into the heavyweight title in 1997. At the time, there was no doubt that Coleman was MMA's true heavyweight king. That is until Maurice Smith stunned "The Hammer" in one of the UFC's most infamous fights. Five months later, Smith, who showed the world how a kickboxer could be successful in a sport dominated by wrestlers, ceded the title to Randy Couture.
To that point, no sitting UFC heavyweight champion had fought and lost outside the UFC, though they were competing pretty consistently outside the organization. That is until Enson Inoue armbarred Couture in Japan. The UFC title wasn't on the line, but the line to the linear MMA heavyweight championship had just left American soli. When Inoue handed over the mythical title to Mark Kerr in Pride, that marked another significant shift. The title continued to change hands. Coleman regained it at Pride's historic Grand Prix 2000 Finals before Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira wrested control. Russian Fedor Emelianenko finally brought a sense of stability to the crown, and has maintained his position since March 2003.
Anyhow, I mention all this because two UFC titles are up for grabs tonight -- and only one should be considered a true world championship fight.
Though it gets top billing, the heavyweight main event between Frank Mir and Brock Lesnar (despite each fighter carrying UFC belts to their clash at the Mandalay Bay Events Center) doesn't qualify. Nope, the real world title fight -- and the reason I feel like it should be considered UFC 100's true main event -- is at 170 pounds between Georges St. Pierre and Thiago Alves.
Established in 1998 when Pat Miletich became the first fighter to hold the UFC welterweight belt, the title of No. 1 170-pounder in the world has remained largely inside the UFC. A brief hiccup saw the title move to Japan until Anderson Silva decided he couldn't make weight anymore. But things came together quickly when Hayato Sakurai, a champion in Japan whom Silva defeated before moving up to 185 pounds, ran into Matt Hughes inside the Octagon.
There hasn't been a debate over where the sport's top welterweight resides since.
And with St. Pierre defending his title, there sure isn't a debate tonight.
12:02 a.m. Frank Mir strolls to the cage with a smile. He's relaxed, no doubt about that. In fact, he hasn't stopped smirking. Two giant men with two giant egos clash tonight. This is going to be fun.
12:05 a.m. Based on appearances, Mir is in the best shape of his life. UFC color commentator Joe Rogan reports that Mir clashed heads with Forrest Griffin during training, giving rise to a hematoma near his right temple that needed to be lanced. Ouch.
12:06 a.m. The opposite of Mir, Lesnar snarls his way to the cage while Metallica's "Enter Sandman" booms throughout the Mandalay Bay Events Center.
12:08 a.m. There isn't a person in the house making use of his or her chair. Veteran referee Herb Dean has the assignment. As longtime UFC ring announcer Bruce Buffer bellows out "It's timmmme!" Mir and Lesnar look relatively calm, each doing no more than shifting his weight from side to side.
12:10 a.m. Meeting in the middle surrounded by four NSAC inspectors, Lesnar refused to touch gloves, turns his back to Mir and walks to the corner. OK ...
• Mir comes out southpaw, his left leg noticeably taped up. No explosion yet. They clinch and Mir rolls for kneebar. No luck and Lesnar patiently establishes position from half-guard.
• It's a jiu-jitsu match so far. Lesnar hasn't unloaded yet. He's looking to tie up Mir, make his defense less effective. Short chopping shots from Lesnar. He creates a lot of power in such short distances, something most fighters cannot do.
• Mir says he's fine, nodding comfortably to his corner. Two minutes remain in the first and Lesnar is measuring short right hands to the face. Lesnar has basically hogtied Mir's head with his left arm while coming down with rights. Great position for Lesnar.
• That hematoma we mentioned earlier: it's growing. Mir's left cheek is bruised. He's bleeding from the nose. Round 1 to Lesnar, 10-9. Mir can't win if he can't move, and Lesnar did a wonderful job of doing exactly what he wanted in the first five minutes.
• Mir comes out pressing with punches. A nice left hook and a good knee from Mir. His speed paying dividends early in the second, though a risky jumping knee leaves him fighting off his back with Lesnar in the half-guard. This is a bad position for Mir. The side he would escape to from the half-guard is stuck against the cage and he's taking heavy shots. Lesnar senses the end and fires big time strikes. Dean moves in for a close look. It's over!
• Mir was in the worst possible position. He couldn't do anything trapped against the fence.
• Seconds after the finish, Lesnar gets in Mir's face and screams. He's either just a jerk or knows how to play the heel perfectly.
• Official time of the fight: 1:48 Round 2. Winner by knockout, and now undisputed UFC heavyweight champion with a record of 4-1, Brock Lesnar. Mir falls to 12-4. With boos cascading down from the rafters, Lesnar is relishing the attention. And he's gone full on WWE. This is cut straight from Vince McMahon's library. Embarrassing.
• Say what you will about his antics on the mic or his persona outside the cage, Brock Lesnar deserves his UFC title. Fans may hate his attitude, but they won't deny his ability. And so now we're left with Lesnar, dangerous reigning UFC champion. What's next? UFC has plenty of up-and-coming heavies, but they don't have a clear cut No. 2 to Lesnar. People will talk of a trilogy with Mir, and you can bet they'll meet again. However it's the fight that can't happen that will generate the most discussion. Fedor Emelianenko -- the linear MMA heavyweight champion and in my eyes the best fighter in MMA history -- would love to fight Lesnar. Everyone wants to see it. It needs to happen. It will be interesting to see how the UFC reacts to a situation it can't control. Without Emelianenko under contract -- and he said he won't sign because the UFC's terms are too restrictive -- the UFC finds itself in a tough spot.
• But UFC president Dana White also has a uniquely compelling fighter to work with who will do tremendous business on pay-per-view and at the box office. Lesnar, too, may be difficult to deal with. In his post-fight interview he said he plans on drinking a Coors Light to celebrate since he doesn't see a dime from UFC's deal with Bud Light, the company's bluest blue chip event sponsor. One-hundred UFCs down. Tonight: a wild ride to commemorate a wild sport.
11:11 p.m. Thiago Alves is just a massive welterweight. He must weigh close to 190 pounds tonight.
11:14 pm. The crowd definitely belongs to St. Pierre, who makes his return to the cage for the first time since all that controversy following the B.J. Penn rematch. That story has finally died, but there are plenty of red-coated Nevada State Athletic Commission inspectors eyeing the heavily favored French-Canadian.
11:17 p.m. As St. Pierre bounces in his corner, twirling his arms as if he's at a rave, Alves stalks back and forth like a caged dog. Considering "Pitbull" is tattooed on his right arm, it makes sense.
11:18 p.m. Maligned referee Steve Mazzagatti brings the fighters to the center. No emotion from either seconds from the opening bell as the crowd showers down "GSP! GSP! GSP!"
• First attack from Alves is defended nicely. All for naught as St. Pierre lands on his first takedown attempt of the fight.
• Alves does well by getting back to his feet, but St. Pierre hogties Alves down and takes his back. GSP isn't giving Alves any room, but the 25-year-old Brazilian explodes and stands. Good effort.
• Jab. Jab-straight. Hook to a low kick. St. Pierre is mixing it up beautifully.
• Three minutes into the fight and Alves looks a bit lost. He can't get a read on St. Pierre's attacks, but does nicely stuffing a takedown.
• Alves charges forward, prompting St. Pierre to switch levels and land a heck of a double-leg. Give credit to the challenger -- he's done a fine job of standing off the bottom, but Round 1 is undoubtedly the champion's: 10-9.
• Alves' corner works on a small cut near his right eye.
• A minute into the second round and St. Pierre connects again with a strong shot. So far the champion hasn't had success holding down Alves and landing strikes, but they've been in this position for over a minute and Alves is bleeding again. An elbow from the champion pops Alves in the nose. This is St. Pierre at his most comfortable.
• Nice right to Alves, whose face leaks crimson from at least three spots.
• Beautiful from Alves as he finally explodes to his feet and gets back to the only place he has a chance to win. But the round is St. Pierre's, 10-9. Alves can't handle another couple rounds like the second.
• Alves presses to start and shakes off a GSP takedown, which was too high and got into Alves upper body. When St. Pierre moves at Alves' hips or legs he hasn't failed yet.
• Midway through the fight and Alves finds himself, once again, on the bottom. St. Pierre isn't connecting with elbows and punches the way he did in the second, and Alves again works his way to the feet. Alves is doing everything he can to stay in the fight.
• Alves scores with a kick to the outside of GSP's lead leg. But just as it looks like he might find his range, St. Pierre catches the challenger walking into a jab. They finish the period on the canvas, with GSP scoring in the guard. Once more: 10-9 St. Pierre.
• Swelling around Alves' eyes show how effective St. Pierre has been through 15 minutes. Now in the championship rounds it'll take something special for him to come back ... but forget if he can't stop a takedown, which he just failed to do.
• Mount. St. Pierre, finally in a dominant spot, grapevines his legs with Alves' and tries to maintain top position. Back to half-guard, Alves is scrambling again. St. Pierre misses on an armbar and roles are reversed with the Brazilian now in a position to ground-and-pound.
• So far good defense from the bottom. St. Pierre is tying up Alves, refusing to give space. Returning the favor, GSP rises to his feet and we're back to standing with 90 seconds left in the fourth.
• Good left hook from St. Pierre. In the clinch Alves answers with a knee. An Alves' low kick is immediately countered by a right hand and takedown. Sweet transition by St. Pierre, who has his hooks in and working for a rear-naked choke as the round closes. Thus far a shutout for the dominant champion, as he takes the penultimate round 10-9.
• St. Pierre tells his trainer between rounds that he pulled his groin. Jackson doesn't care. In fact, he tells the champion to "hit him with the groin." If it's not, that should be illegal.
• St. Pierre is moving fine. He can still circle away from Alves' power and hasn't stopped kicking. A high kick is blocked well, and St. Pierre dives forward. Another takedown. Alves stands. And the dance continues.
• Three minutes remain and St. Pierre fires a three punch combination. He could backpedal and stay away. His points lead is insurmountable at this point, but he's engaging -- on his terms as he lands takedown No. 8. Figure his batting .800 on his shots. Not too shabby.
• Alves, though, finds a way to stand; takedown No. 9 puts an end to that.
• Less than a minute to go in what will be a route on the judges' card.
• Little action with St. Pierre, about to be 19-2, controlling until the final bell. Dominance personified. He whispers to Alves (16-4) that his groin was injured, which can't make the American Top Team-trained challenger too happy. Final round goes to shock GSP 10-9, making it a clean shutout on my card, 50-45.
• Judges at ringside agree: Byrd 50-45; Crosby 50-44; Marcos Rosales 50-45.
• Brilliant effort from the champion, especially considering he hurt his groin in the third round. St. Pierre says it was injured while he was on the bottom and Alves pushed down a knee. "It could have been a very bad night for me," said the 28-year-old Quebecer. Instead, it was very, very good.
• What challenges lay ahead for St. Pierre? Likely the winner between Mike Swick and Martin Kampmann. Outside of that, we're looking at plenty of rematches. Or, maybe, a move up in weight to meet UFC middleweight champ Anderson Silva. It would be a mega-fight between two of the top three pound-for-pound best in mixed martial arts, and makes plenty of sense.
10:48 p.m. People tuning into the UFC for the first time -- and with the media attention UFC 100 has received you have to believe there are plenty of them out there -- see a blood-strewn Octagon canvas greet Japan's Yoshihiro Akiyama and Louisiana's Al Belcher. Three competitive rounds later, the judges are split -- and by a wide margin. Adalaide Byrd scored it a ridiculous 30-27 for Akiyama (13-1), while Patricia Morse Jarmon tallied a more reasonable 29-28 for the judoka. Meanwhile Douglas Crosby sees it 29-28 for Belcher (14-6) , who probably deserved the decision.
11:09 p.m. Boom. Everyone knows Dan Henderson has a monster right hand. The idea is to avoid it and hope the left hook doesn't do damage either. Michael Bisping understood the drill -- and couldn't do anything about it. A monster right to the jaw put Bisping down cold before the Brit hit the canvas at 3:02 of Round 2. Henderson (25-7) followed with another monster forearm that left Bisping (17-2) unconscious on the canvas for several minutes. Looks like Henderson gets his wish for a rematch against UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva.