May 01, 2011

Sometimes the guy who has his hand raised isn't the only winner.

Fifty-five thousand fans at the Rogers Centre in Toronto saw evidence of that not once, not twice, but three times in the marquee bouts of UFC 129 Saturday night.

Jake Shields couldn't take away Georges St-Pierre's welterweight championship in the main event, but even in experiencing defeat for the first time in 15 fights over six years, the former Strikeforce middleweight titlist opened some eyes by battering GSP's left one. St-Pierre left the cage with his shiny belt but also a bloodied face and a left eye that he said was blurry for much of the bout. The popular Montrealer still managed to get the better of what was almost entirely a standup battle, taking a unanimous decision, but he didn't exactly rouse a UFC-record crowd that came to be roused and he didn't exactly outclass the jiu-jitsu virtuoso in the striking game, either.

Mark Hominick, who was welcomed to the Octagon by an ovation loud enough to possibly be heard in his southern Ontario hometown an hour away, also was unable to dethrone a champion, but he gave Jose Aldo the stiffest test -- along with some of the stiffest jabs -- the Brazilian has seen since joining the Zuffa fight organization, first as WEC featherweight champion and now in the UFC. Another unanimous decision for a belt holder, another unexpectedly proficient showing by a challenger.

And then there was Randy Couture, the 47-year-old five-time UFC champion and already a Hall of Famer, who had announced before his fight against fellow ex-champion Lyoto Machida that this would be his last. Even though "The Natural" was finished by a stunning Machida karate kick to the face that sent him to the canvas and sent one of his teeth flying, the ageless one went out in a blaze of glory. This was a more noble exit from the Octagon than if Couture had called it quits following last August's Ringling Brothers spectacle against boxer James Toney.

Couture might not agree that this was a fitting end to his career. His dentist might not, either. But his opponent sure saw it that way. "It's an honor for me to fight this guy," Machida said afterward, his voice starting to crack, tears starting to swim with the sweat on his cheeks. In broken English he continued: "It was a dream, when I was child, I would like to fight this guy. But he's a hero!" The crowd roared, and Machida walked over and put his arm around Couture's neck, repeating, "He's a hero. This is the hero! This is the man!" As the crowd drowned him out, and Couture stood there stoically, taking it all in, Machida added, "Thank you. Thank you so much."

A minute earlier, just before Bruce Buffer had officially ended a legendary career by announcing that the KO had come at 1:05 of the second round, Couture had walked over and embraced Machida, saying only, "Nice shot."

A mild understatement and one not acknowledging the irony of the situation. After all, Couture is the one who's been transitioning from a cage fighting career to one in the even more vicious game of Hollywood, with a starring role in Sly Stallone's The Expendables and a sequel soon to be shot, among other film projects. But it was Machida who went all silver screen on us by downing Couture with a jumping front kick that was right out of The Karate Kid. Somewhere Ralph Macchio is smiling.

Now, if there were a movie called The Jiu-Jitsu Kid, no one from that cast would be smiling. Jake Shields, perhaps the best practitioner of that art in all of MMA, was unable to take the main event where he needed it to be in order to win. True, he did better on his feet than anyone, including St-Pierre, thought he was capable of. But that just kept him in the fight. He never had the champion in a threatening position, in part because GSP's jab kept him away, in part because whenever he did manage to close the distance, he was not fast or strong enough to finish a takedown.

Still, St-Pierre was impressed. "His striking was much better than I thought," the champ said, looking disconsolate even in victory. "He closed my eye, you know?"

He said the damage came in the second round. "In the beginning, I was able to see," said St-Pierre. "I think I got something in, or I got scratched inside. I need to go to a hospital to see. I cannot see with my left eye right now. I just see a blur."

That's pretty much what Mark Hominick saw in his first round against Jose Aldo, too. The speedy champion peppered him with punches and kicks, hardly allowing the local guy to give the crowd something to cheer for. But Hominick hung in, and in the second round Aldo appeared to become tired and perhaps even frustrated. His punches were less frequent, and he began to shoot for takedowns. Hominick now was the one peppering with punches ... until he was floored late in the third. The ground-and-pound assault swung the fight back very much in Aldo's favor.

The champion remained in control in the fourth, but in the fifth Hominick, needing a finish, put Aldo on his back and nailed him with some good shots. The crowd was in Game-7-of-the-World-Series mode as the challenger tried to land the one punch that would earn him the leather strap. He delivered a lot of them -- Hominick had a 61-5 striking edge in the round, according to CompuStrike -- but not the one he needed. Aldo held on for the unanimous decision.

Aldo got to keep his new UFC belt but knew he was in a fight for it. "You've got to take your hat off and congratulate Mark Hominick," he said through his manager/translator, Ed Soares, drawing his first applause of the night. "He's a heck of a fighter. He went all five rounds giving his all."

Not his all. Hominick did have one thing left with which to entertain the crowd: the line of the night. "First off, I just want to say to my wife, 'I hope I didn't put you into labor,' " he said, his face bloodied and bruised, his forehead grotesquely marked by a hematoma the size of his huge heart. Even with the pain of a fight, the pain of a loss and the pain of a hometown disappointment, he still could smile. "I know you're due any minute. I love you, babe. I hope you're OK."

Questions? Comments? To reach Jeff Wagenheim or contribute to the MMA mailbag, click on the e-mail link at the top of the page.

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