This was an odd night. After watching the Leafs take care of business by defeating the Canadiens in regulation, I settled in to catch the real highlight of the night: UFC 69.
Or so I thought.
The night started off well, with former Ultimate Fighter winner Kendall Grove (10-3) defeating Alan belcher (9-3) in impressive fashion.
But the first hiccup of the night came when hometown boy and former Ultimate Fighter participant Mike "Quick" Swick (10-2) laid an egg against Yushi Okami (21-3). Swick didn't seem to have his typical confidence (hometown nerves?) and couldn't overcome Okami's takedowns. It was frustrating to watch Swick hold back; when he did let his fists fly, he was really taking it to the Japanese newcomer. The unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 29-28) was closer than it should have been.
The next fight made up for things a little - it was actually the best fight of the night...sloppy, but exciting. Lightweights Roger Huerta (19-1) and Leonard Garcia (13-2) threw bombs from beginning to end - a rare sight for that weight class. The 30-27 unanimous decision did not do the fight justice; it was a pretty close fight, but Huerta squeezed out each round.
The night went to hell in the next fight, which was probably the most anticipated bout of the night: 19-0 Diego "Nightmare" Sanchez vs. 10-1 Josh Koscheck. These two obviously hate each other, exchanging words in interviews and punctuated by a Sanchez shove at the weigh-in. The fighters refused to touch gloves before the fight...and that was the end of the excitement. This was all hype, folks. The fighters came out in each of the three rounds just circling each other, with only the occasional jab. Koscheck won each round by connecting on one or two punches, while Sanchez did absolutely nothing. The fans in attendance clearly expressed their displeasure with a chorus of boos in each round. Boooooring. Worst fight of the year. This was a disaster for Sanchez. Much like the Griffin-Jardine bout, this fight should have never taken place. Koscheck simply hadn't earned it. He had lost to Sanchez during the first Ultimate Fighter and Sanchez had gone undefeated since, taking out guys like Caro Parisyan, Joe Riggs and Nick Diaz. Koscheck, meanwhile, had amassed a very good record, mostly against meatheads. Sanchez suffered the same fate as Griffin, and instead of a much-deserved title fight, he now has to (unbelievably) "prove himself" with another couple of wins before he can jump to the front of the line.
But the topper on the night came in the main event as UFC Welterweight Champ Georges St-Pierre made his first title defense against Ultimate Fighter: The Comeback winner Matt "the Terror" Serra. St-Pierre was heavily favoured, but as soon as the fight started I asked myself: "Wait a minute...how is St-Pierre going to win"? Serra had heavier hands and was a world class Jiu-Jitsu fighter. It seemed Serra had the advantage whether it went to the ground or if they stayed on their feet. St-Pierre tried to establish his distinct height/reach advantage, but it didn't take long before Serra connnected on a couple of solid punches, knocking the Canadian silly. St-Pierre could not recover before Serra dropped a few more bombs and within seconds, it was all over. The little guy from Long Island had become the new UFC Welterweight Champion.
Don't get me wrong: I like Serra. I was cheering for him during the Ultimate Fighter, but this win does nothing for the welterweight division. Likeable or not, Serra will not last as champ. Matt Hughes will likely get the first shot at the belt and will be heavily favoured to win. Then what? Another rematch between Hughes and St-Pierre? Probably. But what if St-Pierre wins that fight? A rematch with Serra? Does the belt just go round and round? What about the other guys in the division (and there are lots of contenders)?
All in all, it was a pretty depressing/disappointing night. And it'll only get worse if (when?) the Islanders beat the Devils Sunday afternoon to eliminate the Leafs.
Then again, I hear miracles happen this time of year.