|An enthusiastic, sold-out crowd of 15,575 turned out catch UFC 118 at TD Garden Saturday. “Boston has always been a big fight town,’’ said UFC president Dana White. Frankie Edgar (below, right) provided some thunder when he knocked around BJ Penn once again. (Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff)|
Night in cage all the rage
Success means UFC won’t be one and done
UFC 118 is now a part of history.
Boston’s first event highlighting the world’s elite in mixed martial arts was an unqualified success for UFC president Dana White Saturday night. TD Garden was sold out, with a crowd of 15,575 and a $3 million gate, the fan expo at the Hynes Convention Center was a smash, and for days leading up to the event White and his passion for the sport were the talk of the town.
In addition, White announced that the UFC has signed a deal to expand its brand in Asia, where MMA is rooted. What was learned from the fight card was both good and bad. In the heavyweight co-main event, veteran Randy Couture welcomed James Toney to MMA with masterful zeal, and, in just 3 minutes 19 seconds, embarrassed the former championship boxer.
Lightweight champion Frankie Edgar proved that beating BJ Penn for the belt the first time in a unanimous decision in April was no aberration. On Saturday, Edgar put an exclamation point on his defense, knocking around Penn with ease.
Penn was not at the postfight news conference, and White speculated Penn might have had to go to the hospital for medical care.
“BJ took some big shots,’’ said White. “Some big right hands, some big left hooks, he got hit to the body hard a lot, kicked to the body hard a lot. He went down to the ground and got slammed, he’d get the top position and tried to get the mount and [Edgar] got out of the mount and [Edgar] absolutely dominated this guy.’’
It was a mixed bag for the two local lightweights on the card. Bridgewater’s Joe Lauzon turned in an outstanding performance against Gabe Ruediger, winning at 2:01 of the first round with a submission by arm bar. That earned the 26-year-old a $60,000 bonus for submission of the night. For Dover native Kenny Florian, his bout against Gray Maynard was an exercise in frustration, as Maynard earned a unanimous decision.
As usual, White didn’t mince any words in his evaluation.
“Listen, I love Kenny Florian,’’ said White. “I’ve known him since Season 1 of ‘The Ultimate Fighter.’ He’s one of the best fighters in the world. Man, with the big fights, again, he chokes in the big fights, man. He’s there in front of his hometown, another shot at the title and he stood in front of Gray Maynard for three rounds and didn’t let anything go. Gray Maynard basically fought his fight and did what he wanted to do and dominated him.’’
Florian disagreed with White’s assessment of how he has fared in important fights.
“I think that’s dead wrong,’’ said Florian, who prior to Saturday had won eight of his last nine outings. “I’ve been in a lot of main events, I’ve been in a lot of different fights for the organization. I don’t think that’s the case at all. Every fight in the UFC is a big fight. The [Takanori] Gomi fight wasn’t a big fight? The [Joe] Stevenson fight wasn’t a big fight? The Lauzon fight wasn’t a big fight? They were all main events, top of the card. That really doesn’t make any sense. I was outwrestled in a match, in one fight. I had to get to the title before and those had to be big fights, beating the best fighters in the world. He’s really seeing it from one perspective.’’
That doesn’t mean the loss didn’t have a heavy impact on Florian, considering the huge following he has in Boston.
“I feel like I let down a lot of people,’’ said the 34-year-old. “I feel like I let down a city in many ways.’’
Had Florian won, he would have been next to face Edgar, which would have been his third shot at the title. Instead, it will be Maynard. White was asked where Penn goes from here after consecutive losses.
“I don’t know, that’s an interesting question and I was thinking about that myself,’’ he said. “I don’t know, we’ll figure it out.’’
Ask the same question of Florian and he says he’s going back to the gym to work on his wrestling, which Maynard used so effectively against him.
“I need to get my wrestling to the point where I give the guys no option but to stand up with me,’’ said Florian. “It’s an easy solution, just get your wrestling better. The guy didn’t pick me apart on my feet, he didn’t get me in a bunch of submission holds, he didn’t outposition me. He outwrestled me and that’s one thing I really need to fix.’’
Florian said he felt if he had more time in the fight he could have turned it around.
“I feel like the fight was over before I knew it,’’ he said. “I actually feel fine. I have a cut over my eye but I feel like I just trained. It’s very, very frustrating. I feel like I wasn’t even in a fight.’’
Maynard disrupted any strategy Florian had by keeping him pinned against the cage for long periods.
“That’s where he took away my sprawl,’’ said Florian. “As soon as my head was away from the fence, I was able to get him in submission holds. It was just very frustrating. I’m sure that was 100 percent what his game plan was.’’
White is enthusiastic about the momentum he believes UFC 118 will generate in Massachusetts.
“Boston has always been a big fight town,’’ he said. “We’re going to take some of our TV fights to some of these different cities, whether it’s Springfield or Worcester. We’re going to travel this thing around. The answer is yes, we will be back.’’
Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.