This was a can't miss weekend for the mixed martial arts world, what with Frank Shamrock (Pictures) fighting Phil Baroni (Pictures) on pay-per-view and the "The Ultimate Fighter" finale on SpikeTV the following night.
There were some scattered shows across the world as well but it's always the big ones which garner the most attention.
There was an explosive return of an all-time great; a crowning of another reality television champ; and a brilliant competitor exacting revenge against a bitter rival.
With just those three examples of how splendid last Friday and Saturday were, what more could a fight fan ask for besides King Fedor fighting on a more frequent basis?
For starters, B.J. Penn (Pictures) demonstrated why he has always been one of the most hyped fighters in the short history of mixed martial arts, as he thoroughly dominated one of the sport's better fighters.
Penn's systematic execution of rival Jens Pulver (Pictures) was a sight to behold for more reasons than just the exemplary rear-naked choke he applied to "Little Evil" that forced a tapout. He showcased his magnificent arsenal of weaponry, displayed the killer instinct needed in certain individuals to become living legends and he also proved that he can carry his stamina into the second round, unlike his previous two outings.
Penn has been one of those amorphous figures within the sport as his focus has shifted more than the San Andreas Fault. Starting off as a lightweight before jumping up as high as Fedor Emelianenko (Pictures)'s division, Penn has always been regarded as one of the sport's finest fighters. However, not only did a lack of focus in recent contests cost him sweet victories, it also caused some to question if his heart is truly in the fight sport.
It seemed for a little while there that Penn was slowly squandering his talents and would possibly never achieve all that fistic glory and wind up as that all-too-rare coulda been in the fight game. But that all changed Saturday night as he nullified everything Pulver threw his way, punished his adversary and eventually secured one of the slickest rear-naked chokes in recent memory.
The win was emphatic for "The Prodigy" but before the entire legion of fight fans climb aboard the Penn Wagon, I must forewarn everybody: don't get too carried away just yet.
Even though I was impressed at how easily Penn defeated Pulver, I'll have to wait and see what the Hawaiian does two fights from now. It's a cinch to shower Penn with all the praise known to mankind, but we collectively must understand that the Jens Pulver (Pictures) Penn submitted was not the same lightweight who handed the Prodigy his first loss some five year previous.
Pulver has had a tumultuous personal and professional life since his greatest triumph and it's somewhat safe to say that "Little Evil" may never again regain that lost luster that made him the first 155-pound champion in the history of the UFC.
Furthermore, I'm skeptical as to how far Penn will go before he loses his focus again and doesn't take an opponent seriously enough to become that all-time great that he is more capable of becoming than virtually anybody else in the sport.
The way he gave the fight away when he fought Georges St. Pierre (Pictures) and how his stamina was depleted early in the second round in his rematch with Matt Hughes (Pictures) irks me to this day.
Penn has been too inconsistent throughout his career so I'm playing it safe and will refrain from both proclaiming his full return to form as well as expecting him to finally live up to the hype. I know what he's capable of and when Penn is fully trained and hungrier than one of those starving kids Sally Struthers tries to make you adopt, he's as close to unbeatable as anyone in the history of MMA.
So until Hawaii's greatest fighter proves me wrong and makes me eat every word of harsh criticism, I'll just pretend that I know what I'm talking about.
Shamrock steamrolls Baroni and that means…
…hardly anything until Shamrock fully commits to being a professional fighter with a goal of becoming a legitimate world champion.
It's easy to cheer for Shamrock after he pummeled Phil Baroni (Pictures) in the manner that he did Friday night, but before everybody hops onto the new Shamrock Wagon, like Penn, I won't be holding my breath for Shamrock to face someone the caliber of Anderson Silva, Matt Lindland (Pictures) or even David Loiseau (Pictures).
Until then, it'll be very hard for me to include Frank among the top 10 middleweights in the world. He's very close, but in my opinion he isn't in that exclusive group. My e-mail inbox has been flooded with messages claiming that Shamrock is back and it's just a matter of time before he cleans up the UFC. Well, I have news for those fans: it's not going to happen.
If anybody has read the material I have written on Shamrock, it's quite obvious that I think the world of his talent and I have always maintained that he could have been the greatest fighter in the history of the sport.
When he was at his best, he was nearly invincible. His skillset was as close to perfect as one could find and his talent was far and away more gifted than anybody else in the sport at that time.
But like Jim Brown and Barry Sanders, he opted out of his sport too early. He came back and toiled with the possibility of actually continuing his dominance, but it was all smoke and mirrors. I'd delve deeper into that saga, but I've done it too many times so I'll save you, the reader, tedium.
So now Shamrock is back in the fold and if what he told me is true about him staying in this sport full time, who knows? Maybe he will fulfill the destiny that he laid forth many years ago when he ripped through the UFC. However, I still am cynical about his full-time return.
In order for Shamrock to come full circle and reclaim the title of the best "artist" on the planet, he has to start fighting elite fighters and not just rugged tough guys like Baroni. But in order for that to happen, he would have to sign with Zuffa and since he literally hates Dana White, that'll probably never happen.
Hopefully I'm wrong and Frank Shamrock (Pictures) is serious about this comeback and he does start locking horns with top ranked fighters, but something deep within me tells me he won't. My gut feeling is that Shamrock will electrify the fans with sensational victories over popular, albeit hand-picked, opponents designed solely to make us all wonder if he really is the best.
So here's to both B.J. and Frank: please prove me wrong!
Nate Diaz, in my opinion, lucked out in his win over Manvel Gamburyan (Pictures) Saturday night. He was getting dominated from the start and it appeared as though he had no answers for the bullish Armenian.
I'm not saying Diaz wouldn't have won, but he didn't actually beat Manny. It sucks when fights end with injuries; hopefully Zuffa does the right thing by setting up an immediate rematch once Gamburyan is fully recovered, provided that is in a timely manner. …
Roger Huerta (Pictures) will be a mega-star in the sport of MMA -- mark those words. His fighting style is as exciting as they come and it's just a matter of time before the a group of rabid fight fans (the Latino community) start worshipping this sport. I truly believe Huerta is that guy to do it. …
The Gray Maynard (Pictures) debacle was something else, huh? That fight, as crazy as it ended, should been ruled a submission win for Maynard because Steve Mazzagatti stopped the fight after Rob Emerson tapped out. Mazzagatti, one of the best refs in the sport, said so himself. Even though Gray was knocked out, he should have been awarded the win. The only solution? Immediate rematch. …
Can Wiman be the next De La Hoya? I think so, just not in the same aspect of being able to walk away with $20 million per fight. He's a talented young fighter and in due time he'll be a worthy contender. But more importantly, the women love him. Virtually every woman inside the Palms' Pearl concert hall was ready to undress as they shrieked for him during the intros and his fight. I haven't seen that sort of female response to a fighter since, well, Oscar De La Hoya. If the UFC plays it smart like I think they will, they'll match and market him intelligently where they can capitalize on how the women covet him. …
Kimbo Slice (Pictures) beat former boxing title holder Ray Mercer on Saturday. Does anybody really care? …
Cung Le (Pictures) has thus far proven the critics wrong. He looked sensational on Friday against Tony Fryklund (Pictures) as his tricky kicks were things of beauty. I don't think he's ready for anybody of elite caliber but he clearly has the talent to make a lot of noise in this sport. It'll be interesting to see just how far he'll go in MMA.
Hit me up at www.myspace.com/sherdogsloan