Tuesday, 11 August 2009

UFC 101: Declaration on ESPN - TV Review

After much wrangling since the demise of Setanta Sports, the Ultimate Fighting Championship has finally found a new home on British television with ESPN, who began their coverage with UFC 101: Declaration, shown live in the early hours of this past Sunday morning, with Anderson Silva taking on Forrest Griffin, and Kenny Florian challenging B.J. Penn for the Lightweight title. As always, commentary is handled by Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan.

The broadcast began with Josh Neer facing Kurt Pellegrino in the lightweight division. A very good fight to begin the show with. Fought mainly on the ground, both men showed some good work throughout. Pellegrino spent most of the fight on top, although Neer was able to put up a good fight from the bottom, going for a few submissions. However, as the fight went on, it looked like Pellegrino was getting the upper hand, especially as Neer only got on top in the last thirty seconds of the third round. The judges decision - all in favour of Pellegrino.

The action continued in the middleweight division, with Kendall Grove taking on Ricardo Almeida. The second good fight in a row gave us a good performance from Almeida, who dominated for the most part, especially in the first two rounds, as he was able to take Grove down at will. The only thing of note Grove really did in those rounds as an arm bar attempt. Grove came back a little in the third as Almeida began to visibly tire, but another take down once again showed how dominant he was. The judges saw it that way as well, with Almeida getting the unanimous decision.

Fight three went down a division to welterweight, with Amir Sadollah and Johny Hendricks. The blink and you'll miss it affair. Both guys swung early, and a series on left uppercuts on the inside sent Sadollah down. The referee stepped in immediately, giving Hendricks the TKO win, although some would say that the stoppage came in a little too early, and having seen the replays, I would have to agree.

Then it was back down to the lightweight division, with Shane Nelson going up against Aaron Riley. A dominating performance from Riley saw him outfight Nelson in every department, in the stand-up game, in the clinch and on the ground. Nelson just seemed happy to hang in there, and although this was a good enough fight, it's a shame that a few morons in the crowd decided to try and ruin things by starting a fight of their own. Thankfully this didn't distract Riley and Nelson as they went the distance, with Riley getting the unanimous decision in what was a very enjoyable fight.

Main event time #1, the fight I was really looking forward to, with UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva stepping up to light heavyweight to take on Forrest Griffin. Silva needed a big victory going into this one, especially given his last two highly criticised performances. He certainly got it with this fight. For the first time in ages, Silva looked highly aggressive, and after being rocked twice in quick succession, Griffin began to look like a beaten men. Then, with what Joe Rogan described as a "walking away right hand", Silva floored Griffin for a third time. Griffin was out, and Silva had his second win at light heavyweight with a tremendous performance, with Griffin running out of the octagon as soon as he was able to.

Main event time #2, with Kenny Florian challenging B.J. Penn for the UFC Lightweight Championship. Like SIlva before him, Penn was another fighter who needed a big win, following his loss to Georges St-Pierre in the Welterweight title fight. This proved to be a very interesting fight, certainly worthy of it's main event status, between two evenly matched fighters. Some good work from both men here, with Florian trying to take Penn down several times, and Penn showing some great take down defence. Then, in the fourth round, Penn took control, scoring with a take down and going for the ground and pound. As Florian tried to escape, Penn took his back and synched in a rear naked choke. Florian tapped moments later, retaining his title and ending a good performance. One couldn't help but feel sorry for Florian though, one of the best and hardest working fighters in the UFC right now.

With a few minutes left to spare, some filler material, further action from the lightweight division as George Sotiropoulos faced George Roop. A very good fight to end the show with. Sotiropoulos put in a tremendous performance. Whenever the fight went to the ground the Australian fighter was able to transition at will, and after dominating the first round, he did exactly the same in the second, and it wasn't long before he'd locked in a kimura for the submission win. This is one fighter I'd like to see again.

In conclusion - another tremendous show from the Ultimate Fighting Championship, once again proving that they're the best they are at what they do. The two marquee matches certainly delivered, with the under card fights proving to be more than able support features. Which makes me think, who needs that Russian guy everyone's talking about at the moment?

As for ESPN's handling of the show, well, that was a little disappointing. While I can understand why they'd want to sell advertising during the show, they often cut away while messrs Goldberg and Rogan were in mid-sentence, and often cut back in precisely the same manner. It made the overall broadcast look a little messy at times, and one can hope that perhaps they'll take a look at the way Sky Sports handle WWE pay-per-views, and leave things how they are in the future.

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