Gsp!! Gsp!! Gsp!!
Well it was worth the pay-per-view and it went a lot differently than I expected. Guess that Alphamax will be needing a new home.
After the first fights of the night went split decision, and the next was for all intents and purposes a domination, I hung my hopes high on the fight between Karate-based, surgical striker Lyoto Michida and Sao Paulo bruiser Thiago Silva. They didn't touch gloves, and the fight was on. Machida tactically picked Silva apart the entire first round, and at 4:59 in the 1st round, he absolutely DRILLED Silva while he was on his back, knocking him out instantly. Silva's hands, which were almost defending, fell flat as the horn sounded ending the round, and Referee Yves Levine stood over him watching carefully for any sign of response before wavin his hands and ending the fight, a full 10 seconds after the buzzer.
I fully expected this one to be 15 minutes of cat and mouse, with Machida dodging and weaving and Silva slamming hammers down when he could sneak them in, but... I am happy to say that the relative boredom of the previous fights was mercifully ended, and we were headed into what was thought to be a clash of true UFC warriors. It's almost become cliche to refer to the fighters as warriors, and lord knows Bruce Buffer has made more than his share of money with that phrase, but tonight epitomised the statement.
As he entered the arena to his usual E Ala E and Hawai'i '78 by the late Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, Penn seemed more at ease than I have ever seen him. I took this as a fairly bad omen. An anxious BJ Penn is a dangerous person to face. A cold, calm, calculating Penn is a fate worse than death. He has had a history of questionable conditioning, but everyone who witnessed him train this time said it was a thing of the past. As he entered the octagon, he looked a little heavy, not as toned, but the focus and peace that was etched in his face was all I needed to see to become nervous.
Finally, to the roar of a JAM PACKED MGM Grand Garden Arena, George St. Pierre came bouncing out the darkness with a strange look on his face. I looked at Cheri to see if she saw it too, and she did. He had the same look in his eyes as he fought the legendary former 12 time Welterweight Champion, and his idol, Matt Hughes. George lost that fight. He had the same look when he lost his title to the severely underestimated Matt Serra. It looked as if he was a bundle of nerves, about to explode internally and full of doubt. I settled into the recliner and waited to see what his actions in the cage would tell me.
The two came to the center of the ring for the final instructions from long-time Referee Herb Dean, and touched gloves. I felt a little better because as they stood there staring eachother down, George never backed down or looked away, and Penn started to show a bit of nerves. As they parted, neither man broke the stare, and soon the fight was on.
Penn and GSP exchanged knees right away, but none were very effective, and GSP grabbed BJ's left leg, holding onto it for much of the first round. When they did break, an infrequesnt occurance in that round, George seemed to be frustrated by his inability to take Penn down. 7/8 of the free world couldn't take Penn down with the help of shot gun, so I was concerned that he would lose focus early. That could prove to be a major problem against a lot of people in the UFC, and with Penn it is a death penalty, but he shook it off, and was ble to cleanly connect a snapping left jab multiple times before the end of the round.
It was a difficult round to score, but I felt that because of BJ's take down defense, and his agressive approach when they were seperated, I gave the round to him, but only by the thinnest margins.
End of round 1 - Penn 10 GSP 9
BJ never sat down, and that could have lead to the errors in the round. As they came together, GSP landed a couple of left jabs, but they didn't connect as cleanly as they had in the first round. BJ seemed content to lean against the fence and wait it out as GSP grabbed his leg again, but this time something was different about St. Pierre's approach. Amazingly, George turned a complete circle with Penn in tow, and then muscled BJ down for the first time. Cheri jumped to the edge her seat yelling "GO!", waking Jake in the process.
Time and time again he slipped from full guard to half guard, with minimal resistance from Penn, and delivered some fairly decent elbows to the face, but it was when GSP postured up and reigned down big bomb after big bomb, that St. Pierre took the round away. GSP would slide Penn's legs to the left and drop huge staight arm puches into the eye and nose of Penn, then return to Penn's full guard, for a moment, and do it all over again.
Penn was visibly shaken at the end of this round and there was no doubt who won it. It was not complete domination, so I scored it 10-9 GSP.
End of round two: Penn 19 - GSP 19 - EVEN.
The worm had turned in GSP's favor and to the crowds chant of "GSP! GSP!" St. Pierre drove Penn into the cage for what I thought would be ba breather round, but as Penn tried to maneuver out of his leg hold, George countered and turned into Penn, then literally ran him backwards until his leg gave out. He drove penn into the ground and immediately took side-control. For the next 3 minutes it was a constant barage GSP's elbows and fists delivered from full-guard to side-control and back to full-guard.
Penn looked as of he would never get off of his back, and as he finally rose to his feet, St. Pierre connected back to back left jabs that appeared to break BJ's nose. Blood ran freely down his face, and the fight returned to the ground with the same results as before. At one point GSP was warned for shots to the back of the head, but BJ was tucked just below St. Pierre's arm pit and turned his head to avoid the short punches that were bouncing off of his cauliflowered left ear.
End of Three - Still not a dominating round, but certainly one sided. 10 - 9 GSP.
Penn 28 - 29 GSP
Cheri thought this one would go the distance as the bell rang and the fighters made for the center of the cage, but it was quickly aparent that she was wrong. BJ still hadn't sat down, and was clearly having a difficult time breathing due to his injured nose. I was certain that he had swallowed a lot of blood when he was on his back, and having done that a time or two myself, I felt pseudo-nausea for Penn. George was red-faced, but on his toes as he drove Penn into the mat again and again. He continued to easily pass Penn's weakened full-guard, and at on point, he was inches away from full-mount when miraculously Penn slipped back into full-guard.
At this point every strike for St. Pierre sent Cheri into a tizzy. "Get him! ELBOW! ELBOW!" she yelled at the TV, and I have to admit that I too was growing more and more excited with each pass and punch from St. Pierre. BJ just could not get George off of him no matter what tried, and his effort soon had him gassed. Two things happened just before and after the horn sounded to end the round.
Before the buzzer, GSP unloaded on Penn, swelling up his left eye and brusing his right cheek, Dean warned Penn to keep active, and Penn was doing more than he could just block and roll. After the end of the round, GSP literlally popped up onto his feet as if he had just finished the first round, and punched the fence on the way to his corner. He knew he had dominated Penn, and that in and of itself it no easy task. Penn was understandably slow to get up, and he looked defeated and lost as he stumbled back to his corner.
End of Four - 10 - 8 GSP.
Penn 36 - GSP 39.
The doctor stepped in to look at BJ who was still standing between rounds, but his held on to the fence and as the doctor turned away with a grim look on his face, BJ's cornerman and brother called the fight. GSP, immediately after hearing the news, rushed to BJ who was now finally seated and graciously, (as always) made sure he was not seriously injured and thanked him with his traditional kisses to the cheek for the opportunity.
The crowd was in hysterics, and Cheri was happy that her secret crush would retain his belt.
All in all, it was a really good card tonight. There really were no matches that were off balance, at least on paper. All but one of my guys won, and the guy that didn't, Nate Diaz, lost by a very close margin on a split decision to the incredibly irritating and less-than-talented Clay Guida. So... money well spent.