Two things -- Georges St-Pierre's eye and his opponent Jake Shields' pesky toughness -- kept UFC 129 from an explosive finish on a night that, until the main event, was one of the more memorable in the sport's recent history.
Saturday's banner event kept a virtual sprint in pace from its opening curtain. Its magnitude wasn't lost on the fighters, and they rose to the occasion, fighting to finish. And there were plenty of 'em: flying triangles, spinning backfists, leaping front kicks -- more stuff that's melding movies with MMA. (This is all your fault, Mr. Showtime Kick, Anthony Pettis.)
Everything was teed up for the headliner. But alas, the wind changed direction. Welterweight champ St-Pierre was half-blinded by a glancing punch from Shields in the second round. That made him finicky about the environment in which to finish a fight, as it often does when opponents surprise him. Meaning, he wasn't going to venture into uncontrolled territory. He had the upper hand in striking, as expected. So with one eye, he loaded up on jabs and worked an overhand right in hopes of giving fans what they wanted. A handful of times, he staggered Shields and sent a surge through the crowd.
When he couldn't finish, and when fans sensed he might be shirking a knockout for a safe win, the boo birds arrived.
Meanwhile, Shields pushed forward. Outclassed and facing unconsciousness on his feet, the former Strikeforce champ channeled his inner-Nick Diaz and broke St-Pierre's streak of 30 unbeaten rounds with persistent jabs and body kicks. Although Shields couldn't get the fight to where he really needed -- on the mat -- he bloodied the champ's face. By the end, Shields looked fresher. That's a lot more than most expected.
If St-Pierre had finished the fight, the roof might have blown off Toronto's Rogers Centre. A crowd of 55,724 was ready to explode. Instead, the champ defended his welterweight title for a sixth time, winning a plodding five-rounder.
When the stakes are highest, a dearth in action is always a threat. So it goes. There are still bookmarks from the biggest MMA event yet in North America. The sound generated from those fans simultaneously screaming "knee." A gate north of $12 million. The ovation given to the retired Randy Couture. It was still a very good night of fights.
The night MMA held court in a stadium, just like any other big-league sport, wasn't perfect, but it was special.
Some notes from the UFC 129 post-event news conference:
• With the tepid response to St-Pierre's fight still hanging in the air, UFC president Dana White entertained the idea of pairing the dominant champ with current Strikeforce welterweight champ Diaz, a longtime training partner of Shields' and a guy who would almost certainly take the fight to St-Pierre.
Although UFC parent company Zuffa LLC purchased Strikeforce in March, White previously said he would elect to let its fighters complete their current contracts before doing crossover fights. However, with talk of a St-Pierre vs. Anderson Silva superfight apparently cooling, he might be revising his rule.
"I imagine I can do whatever I wanted to do if I really want," White said. "But we have a contract with Showtime and he's a Showtime fighter. We have to see how this works out."
"We'll see what happens there," White said. "I do respect Nick Diaz's boxing. He's got good boxing for MMA, but boxing and MMA are two totally different sports."
Of St-Pierre vs. Diaz, White added: "It's an interesting fight."
• Jose Aldo's second defense of his featherweight title may take place at UFC 133 on Aug. 6 in Philadelphia. White said undefeated Urijah Faber protégé Chad Mendes is a front-runner for the contender spot, as Kenny Florian, a two-time lightweight contender and newly minted featherweight, is booked to meet Diego Nunes at UFC 131 and unlikely to be ready by August.
• Heavyweight champ Cain Velasquez is recovering from shoulder surgery and is targeted for a fall return, possibly at UFC 136 on Oct. 8 in Houston, as MMAjunkie.com reported earlier.
And now, a stock watch:
Before this fight, "The Machine" was a talented guy who had been around the block several times and caught some tough breaks. Had the WEC not been there to provide him a platform on which to develop, we never would have seen the type of gutsy performance we did on Saturday. But we're glad it was. The lighter guys are a jolt of energy to their new home. And Hominick is loving one perk: a $129,000 bonus he received for "Fight of the Night."
The best anyone could hope for Couture was that he would close the distance and take away those weapons. He did manage to sock Machida a couple of times (though he took a few). But it was clear from the get-go that he couldn't compete with the speed of a man 15 years his junior, and nothing could have prepared him for the leaping front kick that slipped between his fists and knocked him flat on his back.
It was without a doubt the best possible outcome for Machida. He would have gained little with a pedestrian victory, and a loss would have been devastating to his future title aspirations. Instead, he picked up another clip for his highlight reel. He paid tribute to the legend Couture seconds after being the jerk to put him out to pasture. He even picked up an extra $129,000 for the "Knockout of the Night."
But gosh darn it, did he have to bring Steven Seagal back into our lives?
There's no doubt that Aldo has some of the most dangerous tools in the business, and when he's on, he's a 145-pound wrecking ball. If he was indeed sick, he's a brave man for going five rounds with a lion like Hominick. The $129,000 bonus he received for "Fight of the Night" should be able to buy all the medicine he needs to cure his ailment. It wasn't his greatest performance, but it got the job done.