Fronted by Luke Thomas.
Last nights UFC 87 was the Ultimate Fighting Championship's first forray into Minnesota. And it likely won't be the last.
We arrived at the Target Center at 6:30 PM. I was startled by how many Affliction wearing fans were already in attendance, considering that prelim fights are normally made obvious by their sparse crowds (note: I was wearing an Obey shirt). The Saunders/Thomas fight was at a surprising (and estimated) 75% capacity. Immediately noticeable was that the UFC did a fine job of erecting various projection screens around the arena. We didn't have the best seats in the world, but we had a great vantage point into the octagon, and everytime a dozen drunk people had to pass me to go to the bathroom, I could avert my eyes to a screen. The crowd was positively electric. Minnesota has always been a top market for pro wrestling events because of the excellent crowd feedback and noise. It appears that that sort of enthusiasm poured over into UFC 87. Hopefully it's not the same situation as Cincy where the first event was hyped and the second was a jaded affair.
Some notes on the performances and live reactions:
- Jon Jones was a pleasant surprise and should have a very bright future in the UFC. Impressive victory, to be sure.
- Steve Bruno has no business inside the octagon. Now I'm glad that some prelim fights don't make air (with the possible exception of cards like 84, where somehow every fight is incredible). In a related note, I'm really becoming a fan of Chris Wilson. He's a go-getter and he's got a big motor. His entrance music is the only song more embarrassing than Wanderlei's.
- Demian Maia is a killer. The UFC should start him along a path towards Anderson Silva, because I don't see anyone else that'll at least make a fight with Silva interesting.
- Huerta wasn't his normal aggressive self and it cost him. Strangely, he seemed gassed towards the end of the fight, even though he wasn't as wild eyed as he has been previously. The crowd really got behind him for this fight, but Kenflo got plenty of respect in victory. Florian has truly progressed much further than anyone could have anticipated on TUF. So much for that BJ Penn money, Roger-- but there's no shame in losing to the Kenny Florian of today.
- Brock Lesnar is an absolute beast. He threw Herring (a big boy in his own right) around like his kid brother. I've never seen Herring manhandled like that. If Brock can learn what to do once he takes someone's back, I don't know if anyone can stop him based purely upon his brute physical strength. He has yet to really address the technical aspects of his striking, but the right hand he caught Herring flush with nearly sent him into next month. Granted, his antics post-fight were questionable, but his enthusiasm was perpetuated by the environment-- he's in his home town and everyone in attendance went absolutely nuts when he came out and for the entire subsequent fight and victory. Yeah, he got carried away-- but I'm also more than a little certain that the UFC encouraged him to milk it. That's extremely marketable material, considering his inevitable fight with Coleman will likely not be in Minnesota (where he will be cheered, regardless, though he may be booed everywhere else as the pro-wrestling convert outcast). It's true that he couldn't work the mic for his life in pro wrestling, but shooting from the hip with the same wrestling heel mentality lends itself to his marketability in future fights. And yeah, you better believe it-- Brock is legit.
- GSP has to be shocked at how beloved he is in the Twin Cities. His pop when coming to the ring surpassed Huerta's and even rivaled that of Lesnar. Lots of Canadian flags in attendance, too. And a lot of great energy coming into this fight. What a gutsy performance by (dare I say it) an overmatched Jon Fitch. He wouldn't say die and he ground it out all the way until the end, even when at various points it appeared that he may have had enough. GSP has finished the likes of Serra, Sherk and Hughes (twice) but Jon Fitch weathered the storm. It's true that he may be the number two welterweight in the world, perhaps this fight even defined that fact. But it also defined another-- Rush may have no equal. Bring on Baby J...
After the fights concluded, we ventured out into the streets of downtown Minneapolis. The streets were flooded with drunken MMA fans-- whom I should note were actually very well behaved at the event, as there seemed to be a lot of general comradery. Which was a pleasant surprise, given that I expected drunken revelry. We travelled down a few blocks to Aqua, where we were to be guests at Roger Huerta's afterparty. On the way, we were made aware of two different post-fight parties; Brock Lesnar & Jon Fitch at Epic and Sean Sherk & Lyoto Machida at The Annex. Naturally (or perhaps not) we decided to go to The Annex to see Sherk (who I haven't seen in two years) and Machida (who appeared to be pals with my brother from meeting him on Thursday night). We spoke to both fighters for a short while and took a few photos.
All in all, a great night for MMA in general, a great night for MMA in Minneapolis and a superb night of fights. If Sherk can get past Tyson Griffin at UFC 90 in Chicago (which I also plan to attend) this October I hope that the UFC will return to Minneapolis in early 09 to have him fight in front of his hometown. And perhaps, to let Brock get cheered again.