UFC 94: A fistful of bone-crunching thrills

Lyoto Machida quickly began pummeling Thiago Silva on the bloody mat of the UFC Octagon ring, throwing him down, jumping on top of him and hailing punches. The loud crowd of 14,885 agitated.

"You (expletive)! You’re on the ground!" they screamed. "Stop hugging him!" "Knock his jaw off!"

Machida laser-beamed two fists into Silva’s face. Silva was out. A referee called the fight over — which meant it was time for Saturday’s main event: Georges St. Pierre vs. BJ Penn.

Canada’s St. Pierre, the welterweight champ at 5-feet-10 and 170 pounds of determined muscle, marched into the MGM Grand Garden arena with a "Karate Kid"-esque headband wrapped around his forehead.

Hawaii’s Penn, the lightweight champ at 5-feet-9 and 168 pounds, looking flabby and anxious, jutted into the arena to chants of "BJ!" and Hawaiian flag waving.

The barefoot warriors embraced immediately, trying to leverage each other into submission, using brainpower as if in a chess match of physicality, drawing on combined strengths of Brazilian jiujitsu, wrestling, boxing and judo.

St. Pierre tackled Penn to the ground in rounds two, three and four.

Penn, on his back, wrapped his legs around St. Pierre’s torso, waving his arms to stop St. Pierre’s fury of fists and elbows from smashing his cheeks, nose and head. St. Pierre’s punches and elbows came in short bursts: fist-face, fist-face, elbow-face …

Penn fans stopped chanting their idol’s name. They stared in silent anxiety until:

"Oh, look at him! He’s bleeding!"

Penn’s bloody nose smeared and splattered the mat. St. Pierre fans chanted his initials. "GSP! GSP!" Penn’s loss was sinking in.

"It’s bedtime," someone said.

After the fourth round, Penn hobbled to his corner for emergency care — a towel to the head; cold packs to the face and back of the head; swabs for the bloody nose; pressings for the black eye. A trainer peered into Penn’s eyes with a penlight. It was too much. A referee ended it.

Gentleman Georges St. Pierre hopped in joy and walked over to Penn and affectionately pressed his uninjured head to Penn’s, wrapped his left hand around Penn’s neck, and spoke to Penn as Penn humbly nodded.

Leaving the arena, Penn fans in black "BJ" jerseys spoke in a haze. "He’s a beast," a Penn fan blurted.

For years, Hawaiians have poured into Vegas for mixed martial arts bouts. Would Penn’s loss slow them from coming to Ultimate Fighting Championships?

"I doubt that very much," Ryan Gilbert said. Gilbert, a big hulking mammoth of a muscle man, lives here but is from Hawaii and was surrounded by fellow Penn mourners outside the arena.

"He lost," said Daris Garcia, one of Gilbert’s many friends in black who flew in from Hawaii. "It doesn’t mean we don’t love him."

"One thing about Hawaiians — they’re very loyal," said Todd Wong, a Hawaiian who came in from Corona, Calif. "Growing up Hawaiian, (fighting) is all you do on the street. … I wish BJ had shown up more. But Georges St. Pierre is good. BJ won’t lose his following. It’s just a big heart" hurt.

Some Penn fans hoped they wouldn’t hear smack from St. Pierre fans. But in a washroom before the fight, it was a Penn fan who looked at a St. Pierre fan in a hockey jersey and observed, "Canada is America’s hat." Although, that Penn fan’s tone was playful, not acidic.

St. Pierre fans smiled large. Pat Dunn flew in from London, Ontario, with his wife, Elizabeth, and had witnessed what he’d hoped for — for Gentleman Georges to "ground and pound" Penn.

"It was awesome," Dunn said, standing in a flag-cape combining St. Pierre’s name with the Canadian flag. "It’s nice to have a guy of that caliber representing the country."

Dunn complained only that UFC President Dana White made top athlete Jon Fitch fight in an undercard, not shown on pay per view, after Fitch refused to sign lifetime rights to his likeness for an upcoming UFC video game.

"A fighter of Fitch’s caliber should not be (punished) for not signing his likeness away," Dunn said. "That’s the only thing (bad about the UFC). Dana: Give fighters the chance to make a living after UFC."

Other than that, Dunn and other fans in their 30s spoke in talking points about the UFC with zeal on par with paid marketers.

Talking Point No. 1: Unlike boxing, UFC gives fans a full card of tough, good fights for nearly five hours, at ticket prices from $50 to $750.

"A lot of times, the undercard fights are better than the main fight because they’re hungry," said radio host Buck Burnett, covering the fight for Albuquerque’s KTEG-FM.

Talking Point No. 2: Fans dig the fun factor. Undercard fighter Akihiro Gono, of Japan, entered the arena in drag. The testosterone crowd approved with a roar. Gono and two assistants strutted in silvery dresses, sunglasses and dark wigs, looking and dancing very Diana Ross and The Supremes-style.

"It’s a very manly sport," Dunn said. "He’s dressed like a transvestite. And everybody was, like, ‘Yeahhhh!’ I bet he gets more fans from that."

Talking Point No. 3: Before Saturday’s impressive fights began, the day’s fighters took turns greeting fans in hotel lobby spots. Dunn posed for personal pictures with all but one of Saturday’s fighters.

"They came out here every couple of hours because they know fans are die-hards. And they sign autographs and take pictures," the Canadian said. "You want to meet hockey players, but you’re not gonna find them coming out of their hotel rooms to meet the fans."

Dunn concluded he got hooked on UFC because the league began staging fights in his home country. What keeps Dunn coming back is accessibility to amicable brutes.

"For people who beat the (expletive) out of people for a living," Dunn said, "they’re sooo approachable."

Doug Elfman’s column appears Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Post comments at reviewjournal.com/elfman or send them to delfman@review journal.com.

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