UFC 129 Results: Zuffa and the UFC Finally Hit It Big

UFC 129 St-Pierre vs Shields on April 30, 2011 in Toronto, Canada. (Photos from Al Bello/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

There have been many opportunities for Zuffa to take the next logical step towards dominance. However, historically speaking, whenever given the shot, they fail to impress when most needed. Since purchasing the UFC in 2001 from former owners Semaphore Entertainment Group, Zuffa has used the tagline "Best in MMA" or "grow the sport to be the biggest" in the world; yet never making it to the next level. Let's take a look at the failings and why UFC 129 may mark the beginning of an era for not just the UFC but also MMA.

Three shows following their first foray into MMA, Zuffa would try and make a major impact with UFC 33. As one of the first shows since the return to Pay Per View, UFC 33 was supposed to be the card that put the Ultimate Fighting Championship back on the map. Featuring three title fights, UFC 33 would showcase the top talent that Zuffa had to offer in the Lightweight, Middleweight, and Light Heavyweight divisions. Title fights featuring both Tito Ortiz and Jens Pulver defending their belts, this card was put together to please MMA fans and rebuild the UFC brand, which had been tarnished from years of John McCain legislation. Instead of an exciting card, fans were treated to the first decisionfest in MMA history. Not only did the PPV feed cut out in the middle of the Tito Ortiz vs Vladimir Matyushenko title fight; there were many who never saw the fight at all. This fight caused Zuffa to reevaluate its business plan, which led to the promotion never again promoting three title fights in one night. In Dana White's own words, when asked at the UFC 111 post fight press conference about the boring title fight between Georges St. Pierre and Dan Hardy:

UFC 33 is the only one I can remember where every fight sucked.

There is some irony to the above statement. Much was made in the media when Zuffa, in an unprecedented move, sold a minority stake in the company to Flash Entertainment. Flash Entertainment, a shell corporation of the Abu Dhabi royal family, was a "strategic partner" for Zuffa. It seems that for all his bravado, Dana White had trouble in boardrooms internationally. Where American fans buy into his "man of the people" persona, broadcasting executives around the world are not impressed by his "do you wanna be a f*cking fighter" routine. Flash Entertainment would bring legitimacy to Zuffa's plans for international expansion. In return for the large chunk of money spent, the royal family wanted the UFC to host and produce fight cards in their small Middle Eastern country. The first card would be UFC 112, just a month after Dana provided the above quote. 

UFC 112 was supposed to be the event to show their investors that the UFC appreciated its strategic partners. Taking place on Yas Island, it would mark the first time that Zuffa had ever held and outdoor event, headlined with two title fights: BJ Penn vs Frankie Edgar and Anderson Silva vs Demian Maia. The five fight undercard saw only two fights go to decision, with the rest of the fights ending in either TKO or Submission. With momentum going into the broadcast, it was Zuffa's opportunity to shine. After the first two fights ended in spectacular finishes, the UFC was well on its way to impressing its new strategic partners and the rest of the Middle Eastern community. Then disaster struck in the form of Matt Hughes vs Renzo Gracie, a revenge fight for the Brazilian after Hughes had defeated his long time student and friend Matt Serra a year prior at UFC 98. The signing of the 43 year old Gracie came as a shock, until most realized his close relationship with the Royal Family, who had been teaching Renzo Gracie Jiu Jitsu since 1993. The fight ruined any momentum carried over from the prelims and left a bad taste in everyone's mouths. It would be the Main Event; however, that would kill any and all goodwill created during this card.

Anderson Silva vs Demian Maia was not the fight that the UFC wanted. Originally booked as Anderson Silva vs Vitor Belfort, the main event would undergo several changes before finally settling on Anderson vs the vaunted grappler. A shoulder injury forced Belfort off the card, his replacement was to be Chael Sonnen, who was riding high after his win against Nate Marquardt at UFC 109. Unfortunately, Sonnen had suffered a substantial cut and would be unable to compete, thus the booking with Maia. After two underwhelming performances against Patrick Cote and Thiales Leites, Anderson seemed to have gotten his grove back with a dominating win over Forrest Griffin. The fight at UFC 112 demonstrated why it's wrong to assume anything in MMA. Anderson would dominate the first two rounds before essentially giving up on the fight. He'd spend the final three rounds playing around and failing to put together any semblance of offense. The fight was awful and would be another black mark on Zuffa's MMA history. After the event Dana was quote as saying: 

I don't think I've been more embarrassed in the ten years of being in this business

He'd go on to promise to make it up to fans in some way and that he'd fire Anderson Silva if he'd ever put on a similar performance. Last night was finally Dana's chance to smile. As a fan of Japanese Mixed Martial Arts, I have missed the pageantry and big fight atmosphere we get from DREAM. I, in private conversation with the staff at HeadKickLegend.com, was concerned that the UFC would fail in their first large scale stadium show. In an unprecedented move, Zuffa decided to air every fight utilizing their Facebook page for prelims before switching the broadcast over to Spike TV, ultimately culminating in Pay Per View. It would be a risky move as there would be no leeway had any, if not all of the fights turned into a stinker. Instead, fans were treated to some of the most amazing finishes in UFC history. When Dana and Joe Rogan did their last minute hype job before the PPV broadcast started, there was an obvious electricity in the air. It would continue through the entire broadcast as each fight would be surpassed by the next. Ultimately, the main event failed to live up to the expectations set for the evening. But it was an impossible expectation. Fans expected a finish only to bear witness to a competitive decision victory for St. Pierre. There was absolutely no way that the fight could have concluded the broadcast without disappointing the fans who tuned into this historic card.

Last night, much was on the line. The UFC took a huge gamble in setting out to create its first stadium show. Joe Silva booked a card that on paper could have been a boring decision fest, which again would set up for another event in a long line of Zuffa failures. Now, ten hours later, there's still a buzz about the event. There are no longer questions of "if" Zuffa would ever promote another stadium show, instead fans are asking "when". There is hope for everyone, as with the announced October Fan Expo in Houston that coincides with the return of Heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez, I wouldn't be surprised if the UFC attempted another large scale show. Even if the show is a failure, at least we have the memory of UFC 129. It was a card that couldn't have impressed more and finally allowed Zuffa to take the big step forward that it so desperately needed. Whatever the future holds, it proved that there is enough interest in the sport to transition from arenas to stadiums without sacrificing the live experience. And that's a future I'm excited to be a part of.

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