The main event of the pay-per-view card was supposed to crown the next contender to the welterweight title. Instead, former champion B.J. Penn and one-time contender Jon Fitch fought to a draw, and the fate of the division now rests more than ever on the outcome of champ Georges St-Pierre's sixth title defense, against Jake Shields at UFC 129 in April.
In the co-main event, Michael Bisping and Jorge Rivera were supposed to squash a rivalry born of Internet hijinks. The beef is anything but squashed after a brash display of poor sportsmanship following Bisping's second-round TKO win.
Finally, George Sotiropoulos was to climb a rung on the lightweight ladder by schooling Dennis Siver on the mat. Instead, he got schooled in a stand-up fight and lost a decision.
Look on the bright side: At least Steven Seagal wasn't there.
You can't very well control these things when two people get in a cage. Take the main event. If you looked at it as a whole, or perhaps scored it on a half-point system, it would take some cojones not to pick Fitch. But in the 10-point must system, a different story emerged.
Penn won the first round because he was the more effective fighter. Fitch was clearly a dominant fighter in the third, and thus he (rightly) won a 10-8 score. In the second frame, Fitch spent the first part of the round on a takedown attempt, took significant damage from an elbow and spent the last minute dominating the action on the mat. Penn, on the other hand, stuffed a takedown, got one of his own, achieved back control and delivered said elbow to Fitch's nose. Close, but I'm betting the judges saw Fitch's blood and Penn's back mount and gave it to "The Prodigy" by, well, a nose.
Frustrating, yes, but it's just another day in this highly unpredictable (and strangely compelling) sport. So, we'll trudge on now to some of the winners and losers from the UFC's second trip Down Under.
Jon Fitch (23-3-1): Give the former Purdue University wrestler credit for a moral victory against Penn, even if it wasn't reflected on judges' scorecards. It took Fitch half of the three-round fight to get hip to the new takedown-friendly Penn, but when he did, he found his rhythm and took control. Then he turned up the tempo and dominated Penn to the point where the third round was far from competitive. Punch after punch, elbow after elbow, Fitch erased the memory of those first two rounds and showed why he was a strong favorite coming into a fight billed as a welterweight title eliminator.
While it's clear Penn's takedowns and back control weighed heavily on the scoring, Fitch won on the overall war in damage and broke the will of his opponent. Penn's forlorn gaze both before and after the scores were announced said it all. With a few more rounds, that look might have reflected an official beatdown. Instead, it framed another disappointing end to a UFC main event and another to-do item on the promotion's check list with a rematch.
Although he'll fly home with a poofy nose courtesy of that elbow, Fitch can with complete confidence and say, "You should have seen the other guy."
Dennis Siver (18-7): Call him "The Mechanic." Siver handed out a lot of bad news in his former life under the hood in his adopted homeland of Germany, and that's just what he did to the red-hot Sotiropoulos. The bad news, Siver told the Aussie, was that he would not be another stepping stone to a lightweight title shot. He would not, as just about everyone predicted (including a crack squad of SI.com scribes), be a grappling dummy for a submission highlight reel.
The good news, at least for Siver, was that he would pick up a few clips for his own best-of series, a couple of left-hook anvils that put Sotiropoulos on his back twice in the first round and completely changed the course of the three-round fight. Siver would also take away Sot's next best out: a low gas tank engendered by a tough weight cut (it took him two tries at the scale to make the 171-pound mark allowed for non-title affairs). Sotiropoulos was game despite the cobwebs upstairs, but ultimately couldn't keep up with Siver on his turf.
What's next for Siver? I like a rematch with Melvin Guillard, who knocked him out in July 2008, or perhaps a meeting with the winner of Jim Miller-Kamal Shalorus. Neither will be a smooth ride.
Brian Ebersole (47-14-1): Ebersole's reputation as a loose cannon (and uneven talent) kept him from the Octagon in his 11 years as a pro. On Saturday, UFC fans got a taste of that in a bout with Chris Lytle, who was originally scheduled to meet Carlos Condit before an injury took the former WEC champ out of the equation.
Ebersole acted as the fistic equivalent of a musical theater actor during the first part of the fight, mixing an awkward and freewheeling fight style with hammy asides that bordered on the disrespectful. As it turns out, though, there was design in his antics. They frustrated Lytle, who tried to fight the absurd man with a straight style before throwing caution to the wind and chasing Ebersole with looping punches.
Somewhere in the craziness, the newcomer took full advantage of the herky-jerky fight and managed to crack Lytle with a leaping knee. The shot swiftly turned momentum in his favor, and the ham turned into a tough ground-and-pound artist who punished with punches and elbows and avoided submission attempts.
Will that act fly as Ebersole advances in the welterweight division? Absolutely not. But it will be fun to see him try.
Zhang Tie Quan (13-1): Killer instinct has its own universal language, and either you speak it or you don't. "The Mongolian Wolf" hails from Beijing, a place where MMA is in its infancy, but with a first-round submission victory over Jason Reinhardt, Zhang said a lot about the kind of fighter he is. He slapped a guillotine on so fast that Reinhardt barely had a chance to tap before going out, but of equal importance, he kept a laser-like focus in striking exchanges and picked shots that hurt his opponent. That lack of fear could take him far in the game, and with some added work in the offensive and defensive wrestling department, he could make things interesting in the featherweight division.
Mark Hunt (6-7): At long last, the hard-headed Australian (by way of Samoa) turned the tide on a six-fight, four-year skid with a violent knockout of Chris Tuchscherer. The best part of the knockout -- his 10th in combat sports -- was its economy of motion. When the wrestler got in close in the second, he delivered a short hook that crushed Tuchscherer's jaw. Many fighters would have pounced and in effect provided an opportunity for recovery. But Hunt knew he didn't need to do one bit more, and casually strolled away as Tuchscherer, a member of former champ Brock Lesnar's squad, tried in vain to stand.
Yes, the former PRIDE and K-1 fighter's days in the UFC are probably limited; Hunt was brought back as a local draw after a first-round submission loss to Sean McCorkle at UFC 119. But it will always be fun to watch Hunt give and take shots of enormous force. Paging Pat Barry?
B.J. Penn (16-7-2): The former lightweight and welterweight champion will again be forced to take a good, hard look in the career mirror. Yes, the gods smiled on him, as he said after the draw dud was announced, and he did considerably well against a fighter who was bigger and probably stronger. But the third round of the fight looked an awful lot like his four rounds with St-Pierre, and that means he's hit a glass ceiling in the 170-pound division if he can't get past Fitch if and when a rematch happens.
It's doubtful that Penn has the desire to scrap it out in the wilderness of non-title fights; he's now a devoted father and family man and doesn't need the money (and never did, really). There are a few possible scenarios that could get him out of bed: St-Pierre beats Jake Shields in April and moves up to middleweight, and Fitch-Penn II is for the welterweight title; Shields beats St-Pierre and the rematch is for the No. 1 title contender position; Shields wins and Penn gets a title shot while Fitch gets a rematch with St-Pierre.
As with all of the speculation surrounding the future of the welterweight division, it all depends on what happens in April between St-Pierre in Shields. Until then, "The Prodigy" won't know one way or the other if it's wise to wait out his current feelings of disappointment, or hang 'em up.
Jorge Rivera (19-8): All the work he did to book and promote his fight with Bisping went down the tube with a blatantly illegal knee he took in the second round. Rivera was a shell of himself after the blow and proved an easy target for "The Count," who should have been penalized two points for the intentional foul. That Rivera chose to continue despite being hurt shows a lot about his character. Unfortunately, losses are losses in the UFC, so he's unlikely to get another shot at Bisping. And at 39, it remains to be seen how many fights he has left in him.
George Sotiropoulos (14-3): Siver exposed a glaring hole in the Aussie's game, and it's not kickboxing. Sotiropoulos had but one tool in his arsenal to take down Siver: a single leg. With his mind muddled by punches, he telegraphed his shots and allowed his heavy-handed opponent a chance to slide his leg out of grasp and resume the upright punishment. If he's to compete with the upper echelon of UFC lightweights, Sotiropoulos will need to broaden his horizons with double legs, ankle picks and trips before he can take the next step.
Chris Lytle (30-18-5): The Indianapolis-based firefighter told me that his fight with Condit was part of a final run at the welterweight title. I never got a chance to follow up with Lytle after Condit was replaced with Ebersole, but it's hard not to imagine the loss is a devastating setback to his ultimate goal. Lytle will have a job with the UFC for as long as he wants it. Now, it's a question of how many more bumps in the road he can bear.
Michael Bisping (21-3): Rivera and his camp made a few silly YouTube videos poking fun at "The Count," giving a much-needed pre-fight boost to a co-main event that many saw as a mismatch on paper. Unfortunately, Bisping allowed them get under his skin entirely too much and let his anger dictate some pretty foul behavior inside the cage both during and after the fight. Perfectly reasonable men can make irrational decisions under the influence of anger and adrenaline, as Bisping did when he spit at (or in the general direction of) Rivera's cornerman, who co-starred in the videos playing him.
The fact is, Bisping is not a bad guy. He was, in his mind, protecting his family's honor by attacking the people who attacked him. But he must learn to curb his behavior before, and not after, he does something that could reflect poorly on him and the sport. What he did was dishonorable, and he needs to hold himself to a higher standard.