UFC 84 Review: According to Plan

May 26, 2008

Everything came up roses for the UFC last night at UFC 84 as all the company’s “favorites” came through with flying colors (Dana White couldn’t have hand picked the winners any better from a business perspective) in another entertaining event that saw only two out of twelve fights go to a decision. BJ Penn made a strong case for consideration along side Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre as the company’s best pound for pound fighter in the main event, but the story of the night took place on the undercard.

It was there that the changing of the guard was again in full swing as the company seems to have bid farewell to Tito Ortiz, the second of the company’s four original superstars to leave in the last year, while three newcomers that the company has high hopes for made impressive debuts. Given Matt Hughes’ recent outings, Chuck Liddell arguably now remains as the last of the old guard and even the Iceman appears to be in the middle of his final run.

The current changing of the guard and the company’s ability to create new stars is its biggest test moving forward. Based on the early returns of GSP at UFC 83 and Brock Lesnar at UFC 81, the process is progressing nicely, however, the first true test of the new guard won’t come until July when Quinton Jackson and Forest Griffin square off for the Light Heavyweight Title in a battle of two of the company’s most heavily pushed successors.

But before the ascension of the next generation is even complete, the company debuted three more stars in the making at UFC 84, fighters who may be in the mix sooner rather than later in an industry where stars appear to have a short shelf live. Shane Carwin (HW), Rousimar Palhares (MW), and Goran Reljic (LHW) all made decisive debuts and have the look of future players in their respective divisions.

The main blemish on an otherwise flawless night was the company’s handling of the issue of Ortiz’s departure. It was handled about as well, actually even better than was expected, on the live broadcast. However, the decision to give Ortiz a live mic on the television broadcast only to attempt to deny him a spot at the post-fight press conference was puzzling to say the least.

The fiasco that followed, combined with White’s skipping of the weigh-in and reportedly the fight itself, made the UFC look defensive and heavy handed, not an unfamiliar position for a company mired in an outdated media strategy that attempts to tightly control information while the rest of the world embraces the information revolution. The incident capped a tough week for the UFC President which also saw his hometown newspaper feature an unflattering column comparing him to Don King.

OTHER NOTES:

  • The main event featured another breaking kayfabe moment. Immediately after the fight Penn told Sherk (in a “private” conversation overheard by the production) that he told him he was going to make this the biggest fight in history, that he respected him, and to come train with him anytime. This was coming on the heels of a promotional campaign that explicitly focused on how each man hated the other (SEE: UFC 83 Review: Breaking Kayfabe).
  • Lyoto Machida’s style continues to frustrate opponents, fans, and promoters alike. While the UFC got what it wanted when Machida beat Ortiz, the Dragon and his elusive style are now dangerously close to a Light Heavyweight Title shot.
  • Wandelei Silva’s win was the best news of the night for the company. Silva looked like his old self in a dominant mauling of Keith Jardine. One more win for the ax murder would appear to setup a highly anticipated rematch with the winner of December’s presumed Jackson-Liddell III. Of course in a sport where nothing is for certain, long term plans rarely work out.

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