At the top of last night’s UFC pay-per-view broadcast, announcer Mike Goldberg mentioned that Chuck Liddell would fight former Pride champ Wanderlei Silva if he beat Keith Jardine in the evening’s main event.
He didn’t. Now we don’t know what’s going to happen to Liddell or Silva (much less Jardine). If Goldberg’s statement is any indication, neither does the UFC.
What’s interesting about that comment is he didn’t say that the winner of Liddell-Jardine would face Silva, which is usually how these things work. Phrasing it that way told us two things about the UFC’s mindset going into last night’s main event: 1) they weren’t making Jardine any promises about his future, no matter how well he did, and 2) they only made this fight so Liddell could get another highlight reel KO and bolster his status before fighting Silva.
The irony is that Dana White went out of his way to criticize Pride when they made a similar mistake, putting Silva in last year’s Open Weight Grand Prix where he got head-kicked into dreamland by “Cro Cop”, the tournament’s eventual winner. White called them stupid (among other names) for not making the Liddell-Silva match happen when the two were at their peak and the money was on the table.
And yet, by refusing to wait until November or December to put Liddell in the Octagon again, when Silva said he’d be ready to fight, White made the exact same mistake. He thought Jardine would be an easy win for Liddell, but it turns out Jardine is a lot tougher and — probably thanks to trainer Greg Jackson — had a better game plan than anyone expected.
Liddell looked like he’d never defended against a kick in his entire life, as Jardine chopped away at his legs and body all night long. Almost every kick landed cleanly, sapping Liddell’s energy and leaving him unable to summon the knockout blow he’s depended on his entire career. Jardine weathered the early storm of punches from Liddell and came back with some bombs of his own, dropping Liddell in round two and completely controlling the final frame.
In what basically amounted to a kickboxing match, Jardine managed to stay on offense without getting too aggressive — a feat few Liddell opponents have been able to accomplish. The result was a well-deserved split decision victory that left the humble Jardine nearly speechless while Liddell crouched against the cage, staring numbly at the mat.
It will be hard for the UFC to justify the Liddell-Silva match now, with Liddell coming off two straight losses. They also don’t know how much fight Silva has left in him, considering the beatings he’s taken in the last year and a half.
To further complicate the issue, Pride import Mauricio “Shogun” Rua lost his UFC debut when he gassed out against Forrest Griffin. Rua looked good for most of the first round, scoring with punches and transitioning well into takedowns.
But it quickly began to seem as if he hadn’t trained to fight more than five minutes, as his hands dropped to his waist and his takedowns deteriorated into lazy dives at Griffin’s feet. Griffin fought through an ugly cut to submit Rua with a third-round rear naked choke, and he may have turned a corner in his career with the victory.
Griffin is one of the UFC’s most likable fighters, and his style is dynamic and exciting to watch, even when he loses. Hopefully he doesn’t develop Pedro Rizzo syndrome from being cut open in fights too often, because in an organization that allows elbow strikes to the face a vulnerability to cuts is a weakness he can’t afford.
For Rua, the future is uncertain. Losing in his debut makes him significantly drop in value, but the UFC isn’t going to give up on this investment just yet. If he had been in shape to go three rounds, I still think he would have beaten Griffin, so maybe this will serve as a wake-up call. A Rua-Liddell fight wouldn’t be out of the question, since both fighters need to pick themselves up right now and prove they’ve still got some skills worth paying for.
The two other televised bouts on the card — Diego Sanchez vs. Jon Fitch and Thiago Tavares vs. Tyson Griffin — both ended in decisions. While the decision victories for Fitch and Griffin were the right ones, they did prompt Joe Rogan to adopt the need for revised MMA scoring as his new pet cause.
Several times on the broadcast he mentioned the inadequacy of the “ten-point must” system for MMA bouts. While I agreed with the decisions that this system rendered last night, I do see Rogan’s point. That system was designed for boxing. It wasn’t designed for a sport where submissions attempts and controlling ground positioning also have to be factored in.
Rogan even took his newfound cause into his post-fight interviews, but the fighters didn’t have any answers for him. Should a submission attempt count in a fighter’s favor? Should escaping a submission count? What about controlling your opponent on the ground without doing significant damage?
There’s no quick fix here, but I do agree that some revision in the system is needed, as well as some more formalized directives for judges that don’t include the phrase “Octagon control”. But maybe that’s just me.