The Ultimate Fighting Championship came into UFC 112: Invincible firing on all cylinders thus far in 2010. The organization was riding a string of successes that had mixed martial arts rocketing along the athletic landscape.
B.J. "The Prodigy" Penn had quite a bit more momentum behind him when he entered the cage in Abu Dhabi due to his eight-year reign over the lightweight division.
Both rides came to an unceremonious end on Saturday night.
As for the parent company, it had seen show after show advance the sport up the twin ladders of popularity and legitimacy.
A much-maligned UFC 108 opened the New Year with two bangs and a battle. Junior "Cigano" dos Santos and Paul "Semtex" Daley provided the explosives while Sam "Hands of Stone" Stout and Joe "J-Lau" Lauzon ferociously went the distance.
Randy "The Natural" Couture and Mark "The Hammer" Coleman headlined UFC 109: Relentless in a bout that saw Couture delight his legions with a thorough trouncing of his fellow Hall of Famer. It also featured fireworks courtesy of Paulo Thiago and Matt "The Terror" Serra.
Nevertheless, an Octagon war between Chael Sonnen and Nate "The Great" Marquardt stole the show.
In the Land Down Under, UFC 110 made a smashing first impression on the Aussies.
Cain Velasquez continued his savage assault on the heavyweight division by nearly decapitating Antonio "Minotauro" Rodrigo Nogueira in the main event. Also contributing to the fun were Wanderlei "The Axe Murderer" Silva, who dispatched heel Michael "The Count" Bisping, and Ryan "Darth" Bader, who KO'd "The Dean of Mean" Keith Jardine in the Battle of Horrifying Nicknames.
President Dana White, et al., went back to American soil for UFC 111 to see a typically unassailable Georges "Rush" St-Pierre defend his welterweight title against Dan "The Outlaw" Hardy.
Not only did Hardy prove an incredibly game and entertaining foil to GSP's resplendent mixed martial artistry, Shane "The Engineer" Carwin (really?) steamrolled Frank Mir in impressive fashion.
In between were Fight Nights and the UFC's debut on the Versus network. These beauties gave us Jon "Bones" Jones' latest masterpiece, additional nuclear warfare from dos Santos, and more.
UFC 112: Invincible was supposed to be the crowning moment, to date.
It was the UFC's first foray into the Middle East—a different kind of mecca for grapplers—and the first outdoor event in the company's history. Furthermore, two of its most glittering jewels were on display in middleweight champion Anderson "The Spider" Silva and Penn, who entered as lightweight champion.
These are two of the best fighters in the world and in the history of the sport; the setup was perfect.
Except it all went horribly awry despite an event that witnessed six tremendous stoppages in the eight fantastic non-title bouts.
The earlier action simply won't matter compared to the larceny perpetrated against Baby J and the shameful antics of the Spider in the co-main event.
No disrespect to new lightweight champion Frankie "The Answer" Edgar, but whatever happened to the notion that you must BEAT the champion to dethrone him?
This seemed to be the hue and cry in the wake of Lyoto "The Dragon" Machida's narrowly successfully title defense against Mauricio "Shogun" Rua. In that fracas, Machida's ownership of the light heavyweight belt seemed to give him the benefit of the doubt in a tooth-'n'-nail affair—and rightfully so.
Walking into the cage wearing the belt should carry that privilege in honor of the sacrifice and dedication required to become champion.
It's not that Edgar performed poorly or even well—he put together an excellent game plan and executed it flawlessly. His effort was beyond reproach.
The Answer became such by using a blur of activity for the whole 25 minutes, bouncing from side to side in front of Penn and working the periphery of his range. The New Jersey native repeatedly found a home for his lightning jabs as the contest wore on, but even his power punches seemed more like irritations than sincere threats.
Meanwhile, the Hawaiian spent the first three rounds effectively counterpunching and landing more numerous/more powerful strikes. Each close encounter—admittedly initiated by the new champ—seemed to end with Edgar getting spat out from the fray via a thudding prodigal fist.
While Edgar did shock the MMA world by securing a takedown in the early going, it literally lasted for a moment, and he was easily stuffed for the rest of the first three.
The new lightweight champion most definitely took the fifth round and—although it was much closer, probably a draw—let's give Edgar the fourth as well. That's two rounds, and neither included a knockdown or was an utter domination, i.e. both were 10-9 for the new champ.
Consequently, the Answer had to win one of the first three to take the decision (insanely, one judge gave ALL the rounds to Edgar, which is absurd).
So the judges must've rewarded all that activity as well as what was essentially a Nick/Nate Diaz routine—just peppering the adversary to score points and antagonize for openings—with a championship belt.
That's all well and good because rules are rules, but is that really how the sport wants one of its best and brightest unseated? Just hop in front of the king while launching basically harmless attacks?
What about that championship edge that seemed to help Machida? Shouldn't B.J. Penn—who hadn't lost at 155 pounds since 2002—have earned the same measure of respect?
Plus, that's assuming the first three rounds were close enough to consider giving to Edgar in the first place, which is—in my opinion—a stretch.
Ultimately, the blame is on the vanquished for not recognizing Edgar's speed was creating a striking problem as the rounds got deeper. Likewise, Penn deserves some heat for failing to realize his grappling advantage.
Still, it says here that B.J. Penn got robbed.
Once the visuals start filtering out of tape-delayed purgatory, I'm betting more and more partisan voices of protest will be heard on the Hilo Kid's behalf. If this had happened to a universally beloved warrior like St-Pierre, the sport would be freaking out.
Of course, both would be secondary controversies thanks to the mindlessly juvenile display by Silva in the finale.
For those of you who haven't seen it, consider yourself lucky, because this was far beyond any of the Spider's previous gamesmanship. This was, as White said, embarrassing, and I'll add repugnant (for the record, Silva is one of my top three favorite fighters).
A genuine class act in Demian Maia should've received much better (for the record, Maia's in my top 10).
Better would've been a knee or elbow to the cranium, but the life of a combat athlete is not for the faint of heart...or head.
Instead, you got foolish showboating and psychotic screaming to place alongside the earlier nonsense as the enduring memory from what should've been a grand experience.
Not what you'd expect from an event featuring Anderson Silva and B.J. Penn.
And not the way the UFC wanted to introduce itself to the Middle East.