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."
Diaz is champing at the bit to box after defending his title for a third time, against Paul Daley last month. But Diaz might be persuaded to fight St-Pierre in the wake of Shields' loss.
"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:
Mark Hominick (20-9): Hominick could be mistaken for the Elephant Man for all the damage he took from Jose Aldo. But while he didn't manage to wrest the title from the Brazilian, Hominick took the unofficial title of the toughest guy at UFC 129. Aldo dropped him multiple times and added elbows on the ground, leaving Hominick's face a swollen and bloody mess. Yet he hung in there and kept walking into the pocket. He had moments where he was winning. In the final moments of the fight, it looked like he might pull it off when he pounded Aldo on the mat. He just needed a little more time.
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."
Lyoto Machida (17-2): His cloak of invincibility was taken by a controversial decision and subsequent knockout loss to Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, and then a razor-thin loss to Quinton "Rampage" Jackson. But in no way did those setbacks negate the speed, accuracy or unpredictability that brought Machida the light heavyweight title. He just needed time to find his feet. And boy did he ever.
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?
Rory MacDonald (11-1): At 21, this is a kid who's frequently given St-Pierre fits in the gym, and you can easily see why. MacDonald not only outstruck the savvy striker Nate Diaz but he also made him a grappling dummy. This marked a confident return for MacDonald from a last-minute loss against Carlos Condit 10 months ago. Where Diaz largely relied on his hands to do the damage, the unintimidated MacDonald displayed a wide array of strikes that often evoked the style of his champion training partner. Raw talent is evolving before our eyes, and it may only be a matter of time before MacDonald is knocking at St-Pierre's door.
Jake Ellenberger (25-5): "The Juggernaut" escaped his previous fight, against Carlos Eduardo Rocha, more than he won it, so he needed a good rebound in his next outing. Normally, that would have come within three to four months. But the game Nebraskan took a short-notice fight with the dangerous Sean Pierson, a risky move he didn't need to make. He's sure glad he did, though, because it paid off big time. Ellenberger got right in the pocket with the hard-punching Canadian and knocked him out with a left hand in the first frame. Had there not been such fierce competition for win bonuses, he might have taken one home. That's four in a row for "The Juggernaut," who should get a shot at a fellow prospect such as John Hathaway, if not a guy who is top-10 in the division.
Jason MacDonald (25-4): One year after a freak cage accident shattered his leg, MacDonald was looking at unemployment with a poor showing in the Octagon. Lucky for him, opponent Ryan Jensen gambled early on a guillotine choke. Not a wise move, but a perfect opportunity to use his strengths on the mat. A little reverse here, a triangle there, and boom: win No. 6 in the UFC for MacDonald. While it's doubtful the 35-year-old Albertan will be vying for a title anytime soon, he still has some good shows left in him.
John Makdessi (9-0): At a reach deficit of four inches to Kyle Watson, "The Bull" had a tough task of getting inside. But when he got there, Watson, a jiu-jitsu coach of Matt Hughes', made it easy to do damage by nicely outstretching his jaw for a left hand. That softened things up for Makdessi's other weapons, including a spinning backfist that came out of nowhere to put Watson out cold in the third and final round.
Pablo Garza (11-1): Give this guy a full training camp, and he'll give you something to talk about. Last September, Garza made his Zuffa debut on short notice and paid the price in a decision loss to Tie Quan Zhang. But a second chance three months later saw him knock out Fredson Paixao with a flying knee. And on Saturday, Garza won his second in a row by using the flashy flying triangle against Yves Jabouin. Garza took a few nasty leg kicks and an uppercut, but the finishing move netted him a $129,000 "Submission of the Night" bonus for his pain. I say give him a fellow up-and-comer in his next outing. Chan Sung Jung sounds like a fun fight.
Jake Shields (26-5-1): The Cesar Gracie Fight Team standout is still a work in progress when it comes to striking, even after 11 years in the game. I'm guessing, though, that diligent work in that area has been a relatively new development, as resources have been limited for much of Shields' career. Well, now he's got the time, and he needs to lock himself in a boxing gym, or better yet, head to Holland to work with K-1 level strikers. He definitely showed more on his feet Saturday than ever before, but if he's going to work his way back, there can be no compromise on any area of his game.
Jose Aldo (19-1): I thought the champ needed a nutritionist with his camp, pronto. His punches noticeably faded as early as the second round, and he struggled to keep his opponent's pace. By the end he was on fumes and thought little of giving Hominick the chance to wail on him in the last half of the final round -- all the signs of a drastic weight cut. After the fight, he said a new weight regimen caused him to be slow. But there are rumblings that he was sick leading into the fight. As Bloody Elbow's Tom Mendes overheard after the fight, Aldo's trainer told him antibiotics wouldn't have helped. So much for the weights, then.
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.
Nate Diaz (13-7): I might no longer be able to travel in Stockton, Calif., after this, but here's the thing about Diaz. He's tough as nails and will give anyone a fight. But he's a little too in love with his hands and is going to get outwrestled by just about anyone who doesn't want to play along. He needs to broaden his horizons in a different camp and get looks from different coaches. He's 2-2 as a welterweight, and that might mean a trip back to lightweight, where he's had more success. The results, however, will be same unless he makes changes in the gym.
Kyle Watson (13-7-1):The Ultimate Fighter 11 cast member played a dangerous game in veering from his strengths as a jiu-jitsu player to his opponent's when he chose to stand and trade with Makdessi. He looked better on his feet than during his appearance on the reality show, but Watson is in a crowded division, and he may need to build his skills on the regional circuit before he swims with the sharks of the UFC lightweight division.
Ryan Jensen (15-8): The Greg Jackson-trained middleweight can submit lower-tier guys all day, but he's consistently fallen short in the middle of the pack. A first-round loss to Jason MacDonald left him with back-to-back losses and four defeats in his last six fights. He is likely headed back to the minors.
Charlie Valencia (11-7): There have been flashes of brilliance in the tough Valencia's career. But like Jensen, he's fallen short against high-caliber competition and now has back-to-back losses.