Tuesday, 21 April 2009

UFC 97: Redemption on Setanta Sports - TV Review

It’s that time of the month again where the good and the great of the Ultimate Fighting Championship show their wares on pay-per-view, with “The Iceman” Chuck Liddell making his comeback against Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, and Anderson “Spider” Silva defending the Middleweight title against Thales Leites in Montreal at UFC 97: Redemption, shown in the early hours of this past Sunday morning on Setanta Sports here in Britain. As usual, commentary duties are handled by Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan.

The show begins with action from the light heavyweight division as Steve Cantwell faces Luiz Cane. This proved to be a very good bout to start the show. Both men preferred the stand-up game here, with only one take down attempt early in the first round. While Cane showed some great boxing skills in the first round, Cantwell did well to come back and take the second round in reply. The third round looked pretty even, with both fighters looking to gain the advantage. But in the end the judges gave the unanimous decision to Cane. Although this was a well deserved decision, it was a little strange that only one judge gave a round to Cantwell.

Then it’s up to the heavyweight division, with Cheick Kongo taking on Antoni Hardonk. This all European affair showed just how much Kongo’s ground-based game continues to improve. While the majority of the first round was fought upright, with Kongo scoring with a take down late on, the fight went downstairs early on in the second, with Kongo in control. Hardonk tried to fight back, but eventually Kongo’s improving ground and pound proved to be too much for Hardonk, with the referee stepping in to stop the punishment, giving Kongo the TKO win. A good effort from Kongo here, but I’m left wondering what will be in store for him next, given that the big names in the division are all tied up with big fights planned.

Then it’s back down to the light heavyweight division, with Krzysztof Soszynski taking on Brian Stann. A very impressive performance from Soszynski here saw him score the first take down with authority, reminding this pro wrestling fan of Bill Goldberg’s spear as he almost put Stann through the cage. Stann managed to get back up to his feet, but Soszynski took him straight back down again, and moments later, the former Ultimate Fighter contestant had the first round win after applying a kimura. Great stuff from Soszynski.

More light heavyweight action followed, comeback time with the Iceman himself, Chuck Liddell, squaring off against Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. This was the kind of fight you wait ages for, between two of the biggest stars in the division. Both men had their moments, with Shogun scoring with some good leg kicks, and getting the first take down of the fight. But the former champion soon managed to get back to his feet, and moments later scored with a take down of his own. Then it happened. A left from Shogun sent Liddell crashing to the ground. Shogun followed up with the ground and pound, and with Liddell offering no defence, the referee stepped in and called a halt to the proceedings, giving Rua the TKO win. An impressive performance from Rua, but could this be the last time we see the legendary Iceman in action?

Lightweight action followed with Sam Stout tackling Matt Wiman. The great fight action continued with this back and forth battle. While both men had a good first round, the turning point of the second came when Stout connected with a hard left to Wiman’s body that doubled him over and sent him down to the ground. Stout, however, was unable to capitalise on this, even though Wiman clearly looked stunned for the rest of the round. So when everyone thought Stout would win the fight in the third, Wiman came back strongly with his take downs, first, taking Stout’s back before the Canadian was able to reverse things, and secondly taking him down again, and doing enough to get himself back into the fight. So with the fight going the three round distance, it went to the judges decision, and all three gave it to Stout. A very good fight, but I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed for Wiman, who I thought did just enough to get more of the score.

Main event time, the battle of the Brazilians, with Thales Leites challenging Anderson Silva for the UFC Middleweight title. Sadly, given the pedigree of the fighters involved here, this won’t go down as one of the best title fights in UFC history. It seemed that Leites went into this one determined to play the role of spoiler, unwilling to engage with the champion, and going to his back hoping that Silva would follow him down whenever he could. It didn’t make for a good fight, and although Silva tried his best, in particular when he focused on Leites’ lead leg with a series of front kicks, it just didn’t make for a good fight. In fact, things were so bad at times that the fans were chanting for local hero Georges St-Pierre - twice. So after five rounds of what could only be described as less than inspiring contest, the decision went in favour of Silva. You couldn’t help but feel sorry for Silva, going up against an opponent who seemed unwilling to fight, although Silva wasn’t entirely blameless here.

In conclusion - sorry to my loyal readers, but this show isn’t going to get one of those reviews where I say that everything is wonderful. The undercard was good, with four solid fights, but the main event just didn’t live up to it’s billing. There’s really not too much more that I can say about the fight, but let’s hope that the next time Anderson Silva defends his title, his opponent will be more willing to fight.

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