On paper, the UFC's latest Fox event offered easily the best card to date. It didn't quite live up to my lofty expectations, but it was still a good show. Part of the problem was the inclusion of Shogun and BJ Penn. This isn't to criticize the matchmaking. As I said, these were all great fights (on paper). The problem is that Shogun and Penn aren't the same fighters anymore, which makes them a gamble. There's no way of knowing how the fighters are going to show up. Is it going to be the Shogun from the Dan Henderson/Machida fights or the Shogun from the Vera fight? Because Shogun is so hit or miss, it makes it hard to judge Gustafsson's performance. Did he pick him apart because he's just better or because the underwhelming Shogun showed up? It was still an impressive performance from Gustafsson, but not as much as it could've been, if we could tell for sure that it was the good Shogun that he dominated.
Penn's case is more extreme than Shogun's. Obviously questions of his preparedness and endurance have surrounded him virtually his whole career. But as the fight was going on, I started thinking less about how those questions pertained to this fight and more about how they pertained to his career; which led me to this question: has any athlete ever achieved so much while simultaneously leaving so much on the table? He's the greatest Lightweight fighter of all-time and only the second person in UFC history to hold a title in multiple weight classes, yet it still feels like he greatly underachieved. If only he had trained with a real trainer and was in shape for every fight, he probably would have beaten GSP the first time, Hughes the second time, Edgar both times, and Fitch. Could you imagine if BJ had the stamina that Ben Henderson has? He would've been virtually unbeatable. Instead, he might be the most accomplished underachiever ever.
In my review of UFC's last Fox event, I mentioned how the UFC is in a tough place because all of their previous superstars are fading. That continued with this show, as the doors closed more and more for Shogun and Penn. However, I had also mentioned some new fighters that were becoming must-see (Jon Jones, Junior Dos Santos, Cain Velasquez, and Jose Aldo). The big positive from this event? Add Benson Henderson to that list. On the heels of his fights with Clay Guida and Frankie Edgar, Henderson put together another stellar performance on Saturday night. He's now what I would call the most entertaining "decision fighter" in the sport. He's so active and aggressive; it doesn't feel like he's just trying to outpoint his opponent or play it safe. Great showing from the champ.
In total, the show was a mixed bag. Swick-Brown was pretty good and Henderson-Diaz was great, but Shogun-Gustafsson and Penn-MacDonald felt more like two stars falling than it did two stars rising; which is a shame. Hopefully their next fights will be against more consistent fighters (like Machida and Condit, respectively), where potentially dominant performances would say more about them than it would their opponents. And thankfully there's a quick turnaround to the next Fox event, where two of the three fights (Johnson-Dodson and Pettis-Cerrone) won't be subject to "declining superstar sabotage". Should be good.