By Christina Thomas
The bright lights shone once again on Saturday night, as UFC 154 broadcast from Montreal, Canada. Although there was little doubt that everyone was here to see George St. Pierre fight the number one contender in Carlos Condit, there were still a number of brilliant bouts to be had before the finale.
Mark Hominick vs. Pablo Garza
The first fight brought us the former featherweight contender Mark Hominick, who hasn’t quite been the same in the Octagon since the untimely passing of his trainer, Shawn Tompkins. Facing off against the well-rounded mixed martial artist Pablo Garza, Hominick seemed to have returned to form against a tough opponent in the early going, landing crisp and effective punches. Garza was here to fight, however, and sent that message with an impressive Muay Thai game of knees and sweeping kicks. By far the most impressive shot in the first was a ferocious body shot from Hominick that sent the much bigger fighter careening to the mat. Although Garza bent, he refused to fold and came back to end the round with peppering shots that cut Hominick’s face up noticeably.
The second round went completely to Garza. Hominick got taken down, and was unable to get back up nor stop Garza’s elbows from making his face almost unrecognizable. The 3rd and final round consisted of Garza understanding that his fate lay in taking – and keeping – this fight on the ground, out of Hominick’s technical realm. He was able to keep Hominick there and do more damage; enough to get the decision victory.
Mark Bocek vs. Rafael dos Anjos
Two outstanding Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioners met at the center of the Octagon in the second bout of the night. Mark Bocek and Rafael dos Anjos answered the bell eagerly, keeping the fight on the feet in the beginning. While competitive, dos Anjos clearly had a speed advantage to start, landing a few teeth-gritting knees to the body and seemingly beating Bocek to the punch for much of the first round.
The first was signs of things to come, as dos Anjos started to steadily outclass Bocek. Both fighters may be equally-skilled, but Rafael showed that his significant physical tools made the bout less than competitive as time wore on. Rafael dos Anjos put on a display that made him seem more machine than man, and appeared as fresh at the conclusion of his victory as he did at the opening bell.
Francis Carmont vs. Tom Lawlor
UFC newcomer Francis “Limitless” Carmot, a mystery that was about to be unveiled in a bout with outstanding middleweight Tom Lawlor, stepped into the Octagon riding the tide of an 8 fight winning streak. Part of the mystery was the camp from which he hailed – none other than the Tri-Star gym boasting GSP and head-trainer Firas Zahabi. Showing respect for Carmot’s striking right from the beginning; Lawlor pushed the tall Canadian middleweight up against the cage, although he got several well-placed knees to the midsection for his trouble. On a break by the ref, we got to see Carmot’s impressive kicks before Lawlor was able to tie him up again, almost finishing a guillotine attempt to end the first.
The second round showcased some more of Carmot’s clear kickboxing advantage, and Lawlor’s pressing shots – although he couldn’t manage to get Carmot to the ground. A bone-cracking knee to the body probably put Carmot ahead on the cards; it certainly got the pro-Canadian crowd to let out a collective gasp. Nonetheless, the relentless veteran was able to get Carmot to the ground twice – although Carmot evaded all submission attempts and ended up back on top.
The final round was possibly the most evenly-matched of all in this hard-to-score fight. It consisted of Lawlor pressing, Carmot defending, and a general back-and-forth exchange on the feet; although you got the feeling Carmot’s strikes were inherently deadlier. The judges agreed with this sentiment in some fashion, and awarded Francis “Limitless” Carmot a crowd-contested victory.
Johny Hendricks vs. Martin Kampmann
In a night clearly meant to shape the future of the welterweight division, the fight with the second greatest potential for excitement featured Martin “the Hitman” Kampmann and Johny “Big Rig”Hendricks. The winner would be directly in line to face the victor in the Condit-Pierre match taking place later that same night. Right away, you could see Hendricks’ supreme confidence in that wicked left, as he darted forward to try and tag the Hitman just seconds into the bout. Although he missed, the speed with which he was able to dart inside was telling, and his second attempt (after a few probing high-kicks by Kampmann) was one of the most electrifying punches ever thrown in competition. Hendricks simply unleashed on the Dutch kick-boxer, with that fabled left hand punch that’s starting to become an unfair weapon. It was more of an explosion than a shot, and his Kampmann’s lights went out long before his limp body crashed to the canvas.
UFC Welterweight Championship Unification: Georges St. Pierre vs. Carlos Condit
The long-awaited main event, as the best welterweight in mma history resumed his stomping grounds for the first time in a year-and-a-half, to face the extremely dangerous Natural Born Killer. Up until now, the closest Carlos Condit had gotten to GSP was defeating (barely, some would say) GSPs Tri-Star teammate and future star, Rory MacDonald – who, with a nickname like Ares the Greek god of war, tells you all you need to know about his fighting skills. There was little question that the 6’2” Condit was GSPs most dangerous opponent to date, and definitely the reverse.
The atmosphere was absolutely electrifying. There were many questions to be answered –such as did Rush manage to recapture his superior athleticism and explosiveness after the ACL injury which sidelined him for so long – but none of them had to do with the technical abilities of the two top fighters. A short, probing sting on the feet ended with the first signs that the champion hadn’t lost his abilities, as he completed his renowned, driving takedown to get Condit to the mat. A good attacking defense by Condit while on the ground was surpassed by St. Pierre’s extremely strong wrestling and ground-and-pound, which resulted in a big elbow that cut Condit (but didn’t damage him visibly; in regards to his ability to continue) and drew first blood.
Although Condit was active from the bottom and defended fairly well in the first round, the second saw Rush slowly-but-surely start to assert his physical advantages – at least in Condit’s mind. He appeared wary of going back to the ground and facing GSP’s relentless strength, and his normally rapid, confident strikes started coming a split-second slower. Even worse for the Natural Born Killer, GSP started to land a convincing and effective left jab – cleanly enough to snap Condit back a couple of times. Up to this point, as far as Octagon Control goes, GSP was decidedly pushing the fight and dictating how it progressed.
However, Carlos Condit is known for nothing if not his imperviousness to getting rattled. He seemed to recall that he’s one of the best ten best fighters on the planet, early in Round 2, and momentarily pushed GSP back with a few nice combos. Rush quickly reversed the tide with a gorgeously placed combo of his own as Condit leapt forward to kick, displaying almost supernatural timing in countering this.
Rush was hardly done; as, even as announcer Joe Rogan was commenting on his wrestling and takedown ability forcing his opponents to second-guess their attacks, Rush obliged the comment with a beautiful, explosive double-leg takedown that simply made Condit look slow, while putting him firmly on his back. What Condit likely feared was coming came in droves, as GSP started dropping intermittent bombs, bloodying him up even more. To his credit, Condit remained ever active, though he failed to render any visible damage from the bottom position. Springing up with the entire right side of his face bloody from the cut George had opened up further, Condit seemed frantic at the close of the 2nd, throwing a high kick-punch combo that was evaded and met with a thunderous body blow from St. Pierre that visibly rocked him. Condit answered with a double-jump kick that fell a foot short, but he didn’t seem in despair as the round concluded, returning St. Pierre’s defiant stare before both fighters headed to their respective corners.
The third round of the scheduled five saw a small cut below GSPs left eye, as the fighters re-engaged. Kicks and punches were exchanged with some effect for the first few seconds, until Condit threw an explosive high left kick to the head that floored the champion in a pivotal moment. Condit jumped at the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and had Rush pinned to the ground for a some effective ground-and-pound of his own, until Rush was able to explode back up – though it didn’t seem as though he had fully recovered from the mind-numbing blow of a moment ago. Ladies and gentlemen; Carlos Condit is the real deal.
The last time we’d seen GSP in trouble was his legendary defeat at the hands of the hard-hitting Matt Sera over half-a-decade age, at whose hands George had last lost a fight. Amazingly, instead of remaining hurt and folding like he had every right to after such a terrific shot, GSP seemed more like a lion uncaged. He pushed forward and landed two bombs that caused Condit to cover up; then picked him up for the third time and dropped him unceremoniously on his back. Although Condit’s kick was brilliant, he was unable to keep George down with it; when George put him down, he kept him there. This was the story of the final round before the championship set.
The fourth round turned into a grappling match, with Rush getting Condit to the ground at will, but the game Condit refusing to fold. Regardless, it was difficult to ignore the fact that most of the time, the fight was taking place where Rush dictated. Indeed, it ended with GSP in a dominant position, though he certainly looked like he was in a fight by the start of the fifth and final round.
Shortly after the round opened, GSPs famous Superman punch was uncoiled in picture perfect fashion, followed by a mid-level side kicked that knocked Condit back against the cage. Condit later returned some effective kicks and punches of his own, staving off any talk of a 5th round domination. Again, however, Rush was able to successfully take him down – so far at a ridiculous 100% success clip – although he got back up faster this time than in previous rounds. Less than minute later, however, he was back right where Rush wanted him, where the champ quickly passed into side control. A brilliant series of rolling transpired, but Condit was unable to wrest control from the position where GSP had put him in, and the bout would conclude with Rush dropping elbows from the top on a defiant but soon-to-be-defeated Carlos Condit.
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