Though it drew a record crowd in Montreal, the Ultimate Fighting Championship did not come out of its second voyage into Canada with much in the way of momentum. One of the company's top pay-per-view and box office draws, Chuck Liddell, is out of action for the foreseeable future, and the fighter the company has promoted as the best in the world, Anderson Silva, touched off a cacophony of backlash with his uninspiring main event performance.
Silva worked through a painstaking five-round decision over Thales Leites to retain his middleweight title, offering little more than odd-angle leg kicks in the final bout of UFC 97 from the Bell Centre. The Brazilian’s performance was widely panned by fans, much like his passive approach against Patrick Cote at UFC 90 last October. For his part, Leites, after scoring one takedown in round two, failed to do anything to mix up the fight, dropping to his back several times in a fruitless effort to get Silva into a jiu-jitsu standoff.
UFC President Dana White branded the fight “embarrassing.” The action slowed so much that at points fans rang out in chants of "GSP," even though the welterweight king wasn't on the card and was only shown once on camera. A potential fight between Georges St. Pierre and Silva was alluded to several times on commentary. White said at a post-fight press conference that it might be time to look at a 205-pound fight for Silva next, and that a fight with GSP should be saved for the UFC’s debut in Toronto, one of its hottest markets. Silva’s manager, Ed Soares, told the Sherdog Radio Network’s “Jordan Breen Show” that he would like to see Silva matched next against someone with “more than one weapon.”
Another point of discussion came form Silva wiping his forehead and then his body after he'd had Vaseline applied outside the cage by a commission-approved cutman. Not seen on the telecast, referee Yves Lavigne told Sherdog.com that he toweled down Silva before the fight started to the point that Leites’ corner approved, and that Silva helped him with the wipe down.
By time the main event was over, there was little discussion of the fact that, with the win, Anderson Silva set the record for most consecutive wins in UFC history (nine) and tied the record for most title consecutive defenses (five). The virtuoso fighter was unapologetic in his post-fight remarks, arguing that a fight simply can’t always play out like the public wishes it would and that he needs to fight conservatively at this point in his career. In the cage after the fight, Silva did not say he hopes to come back better next time, though Soares did tell the Montreal crowd that he did in translating.
It was a strange way to send home the 21,451 on hand, the largest crowd in UFC history. The audience produced a $4.9 million gate for the UFC, just shy of the $5.08 million gate drawn for the UFC's first event in the arena, UFC 83 in April 2008 headlined by the St. Pierre vs. Matt Serra rematch. That show had 21,390 in attendance.
The main event came after Chuck Liddell's possible swan song in the Octagon, a first-round knockout to Mauricio "Shogun" Rua. Liddell managed some competent flurries and squirmed out of a Rua takedown and leglock attempt, even taking Rua down himself at one point. But Rua used a characteristic lunging left to clip Liddell and followed up with a knockdown with hammerfists for the referee stoppage. Rua earned a $70,000 bonus for “Knockout of the Night,” the highest performance bonus the UFC has ever paid publicly. Liddell came up unsure of what had transpired.
A dejected Liddell received a loud ovation from the live crowd but struggled to find words in his post-fight interviews. He attributed his loss to things not "firing right" in the fight. Asked if he would retire, the UFC’s top draw said he would have to go back and talk to friends about it, but conceded that it was likely. Interviewer Joe Rogan thanked Liddell for all of his fights in the cage after the loss, and the crowed exploded.
Dana White said post-fight that he’d wanted Liddell, his close friend, to retire after his loss to Rashad Evans, but granted Liddell the opportunity to fight Rua before forcing him to step down. White called Liddell’s loss the "end of an era." With the loss, Liddell set the record for most fights in the UFC at 22.
Also at UFC 97, Luis Arthur Cane used powerful punching combinations to hand Steve Cantwell his first loss since March 2007. In earning the unanimous decision, Cane went past the second round for the first time in his career. Heavyweight Cheick Kongo took down Antoni Hardonk and scored the TKO victory in the second round. Because of the hefty 12-fight card, neither Kongo nor Cane was afforded post-fight interview time.
Picking up wins in the preliminaries were Denis Kang, Ed Herman, Mark Bocek, T.J. Grant, Eliot Marshall and Nate Quarry.