“UFC 112: Invincible” was supposed to be a break-through card for the UFC. By putting on the event in Abu Dhabi, the leading MMA promotion was moving into the Middle East for the first time and, more importantly, they were testing the new, international market in a co-promotion with their new partners, Flash Entertainment Group. In order to impress the new spectators and investors the UFC loaded up their card with fighters who usually display nothing short of greatness. The card showcased pound-for-pound greats BJ Penn and Anderson Silva defending their championship belts and also a number of exciting up-and-comers battling it out to get one step closer to contender status. Even though the show started strong with the young up-and-comers delivering spirited and entertaining performances, the event slowly devolved into a bizarre spectacle marked by poor judging, disrespectful antics, and general confusion.
The pay-per-view portion of the show began with the fight that would garner Fight of the Night honors, a very good way to start off a UFC. Mark Munoz and Kendall Grove fought a pitched, back-and-forth battle that ended when Grove couldn’t come up with an answer to Munoz’s ground and pound attack in the second round. What we learned in this fight is that Grove’s chin just can’t stand up to any significant punishment. Although he has good standup and a very impressive submission game, this loss mirrors his back-to-back TKO losses to Patrick Cote and Jorge Rivera too closely to chalk them up to chance. I’ll be a little surprised if Grove is handed his walking papers though; the UFC always has a spot for an exciting fighter that provides a solid litmus test for up-and-comers. Munoz may get some hype building around him after this fight but his chin has appeared entirely too suspect for me to give him a serious shot as a contender just yet. He proved that his wrestling is solid and his ground and pound is downright vicious but until, and if, he can get hit on the feet without going down he won’t make big waves at middleweight.
The next pay-per-view bout was between lightweights Rafael Dos Anjos and Terry Etim. In this fight Dos Anjos proved that he is no joke as he tapped out the very dangerous Brit, Terry Etim. Etim was on a four fight win streak over tough competition and had posted his last two wins via submission. The bout was an entertaining one that saw Dos Anjos survive an early guillotine attempt to come back and tap out Etim from an armbar that he beautifully transitioned to after threatening with a kimura. Things are pretty straightforward for Dos Anjos; he should continue to try and climb the ladder and face another rising lightweight, maybe Ross Pearson. Things may be less clear for Terry Etim. Etim has shown an impressive knowledge of technique, both on the feet and on the ground, and he has tenacity to boot. This fight certainly doesn’t spell the end for Etim but he’ll have to rack up some impressive wins to even get close to facing the division’s elite.
There isn’t much to say about the Matt Hughes-Renzo Gracie fight other than this fight marked the point in the evening when things started going downhill. Both men looked tentative and uncomfortable in the cage. Hughes was content to land leg kicks and a few single punches here and there and besides landing a few combinations, Gracie really couldn’t get an offense going at all. Hughes finally stopped a clearly exhausted Gracie in the third round via strikes. Neither did anything to show me that they have much chance for a late-career renaissance. If he is going to fight again, Gracie should move to 155lbs. (provided he can cut the weight) where his frame is more suited to competition. Even with a move to lightweight it is hard to see Gracie making much of an impact in the UFC. In his past few fights Hughes has looked more like a man showing up for a paycheck than the powerhouse grappler he once was. In interviews, Hughes has said that he doesn’t care to fight more than once or twice a year anymore; stating that he would prefer to spend time with his family. While this is understandable, it shows where Hughes’ mind is at and it certainly isn’t on getting his title back. Hughes will likely remain on the periphery of the welterweight division, picking up paychecks in fights that don’t hold much overall relevancy.
Next, BJ Penn’s UFC lightweight title was put on the line against Frankie Edgar in the co-main event of the evening. The story of the fight was Penn landing hard and effective counters while Edgar stayed busy and moved in and out with combinations. Something seemed off about Penn, who wore a knee brace and looked to be slower and less in shape than he has in recent fights. The defending champion was constantly chasing Edgar down and never attempted to get the fight to the ground, despite his corner’s advice. While watching the bout I scored four rounds for Edgar but after reviewing the FightMetric stats (which showed that Penn landed more overall strikes than Edgar and also landed the most effective strikes) and watching the fight again I would score Round 4 a draw, I would give Round 5 to Edgar and Rounds 1, 2, and 3 to BJ Penn. I was stunned that Penn never tried to take Edgar down or to work off of his back when Edgar got him to the ground; from the look of things Penn was either injured or didn’t take Edgar as seriously as he should have. The decision in Edgar’s favor was not an outright robbery but the fight should have gone Penn’s way or been scored a draw. Either way we are looking at a new lightweight champion lording over a division that just got opened up to a lot of new match ups. I think we’ll see Gray Maynard or Kenny Florian for Edgar in his first title defense. Maynard should probably get the first shot since he already owns a win over Edgar. I like a rematch between Penn and Takanori Gomi to get “The Prodigy” back in the win column and on the way back to his title.
The final bout of the evening was also the most baffling and it left many fans with a bad taste in their mouth. Anderson Silva put on a performance against Demian Maia that was in the same vein as those he put on against Thales Leites and Patrick Cote; Silva displayed his potential for greatness in toying with a clearly overmatched opponent before basically refusing to engage for the latter half of the fight. This is one of those times that I really wish that there were no language barrier interfering with what we hear from Silva. Who knows what was on his mind? Maybe he was tired or maybe he really needs someone to engage him to implement his counter-fighting style or maybe he was protesting the perceived lack of competition he saw in Demian Maia. Any way you look at it Silva’s antics were disrespectful and he did nothing to earn himself any new fans. He mocked his opponent more than he fought him and a lot of people that paid for that fight are wishing they had their money and their Saturday night back. What we’ve seen in the past after performances like this one is Silva being tossed up into the light-heavyweight division to take on a bigger threat; having apparently reached a new level of anger because of Silva’s odd performance, it is unclear what UFC president Dana White will actually do with “The Spider” next. It seemed like the UFC had basically all but announced a super-fight between Silva and Georges St. Pierre on Saturday but after the show White said that Silva doesn’t deserve to fight “GSP” and could show up on the undercard in his next fight. It’s clear that something needs to be done to fill the chip on Silva’s shoulder but I’m not sure what that is and I’m also not sure who we should see him up against next. Props to Maia for hanging in there and for mounting some offense in the last round but I don’t think we’ll see him anywhere near a title shot again for some time.
UFC 112 will go down as one of the UFC’s most infamous and bizarre shows ever. It will be interesting to see what, if any, effect the show has on the UFC’s partnership with Flash Entertainment and on international expansion in general. Even though the fighters on the undercard shined and at least half of the main card fighters fought their hearts out, UFC 112 will be remembered for the poor officiating in the Penn-Edgar bout and the embarrassing spectacle put on by Anderson Silva. The upside to UFC 112 is that it raised more questions than it answered. Interesting questions usually make for good fights so I am anticipating a chain of good fights to come about as a result of what happened at UFC 112.