silvaThe UFC traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio, for the first time last night, where native Rich Franklin vied for the middleweight championship belt and Joe Rogan didn’t pass up a single chance to say the phrase “Hostile Territory” or to refer to Cincinnati as The Queen City. The stakes were high in The Queen City (now I’m doing it), and in my living room, the snacks were plentiful. Here are the highlights, according to me.

The Good

The highlight of the night for me wasn’t so much watching Anderson Silva and Rich Franklin fight so much as it was just watching Anderson Silva fight. Although Franklin looked much improved since their last meeting, Silva looked wonderful – technical, patient, creative, and with a huge bag of tricks to work with. Some of his high kicks and knees were so powerful they made me cringe, and his bobbing and weaving was, at times, Matrix-like. There were times, especially toward the end, when he looked like he was doing some rare combination move from Tekken 3, complete with spinning back fist.

Franklin was almost knocked out at the end of the first round, but made it into the first minutes of the second before Big John stopped the beating. Despite a lot of booing for Silva due to the hometown crowd, Franklin was surprisingly classy and respectful of Silva.

Silva was nothing less than a pleasure to watch and left me wondering who could possibly be a threat to him in his weight class right now. Perhaps if someone dropped down – perhaps by the name of “Han Denderson” — we could have a fight on our hands.

The Bad

I usually don’t like when a crowd boos a fight – it mostly happens because the two fighters are doing some serious groundwork that the crowd doesn’t recognize as exciting or interesting. But last night, as Tim Sylvia and Brandon Vera spent fourteen minutes hugging against a fence and one minute wildly swinging at each other, I had to agree with the jeers. Or, that is, I would have agreed with the jeers if I hadn’t been asleep during the third round and had to be shaken awake for the judges’ decision.

Too bad they couldn’t have decided that everyone lost, audience and the UFC included, because that’s what it felt like.

I’m not sure who to blame this one on. In between rounds you could hear Sylvia’s corner telling him to keep Vera up against the cage, more or less admitting that they were looking for a judges decision based on the lamest of the scoring aspects: octagon control.

But, on the other hand, the few times that Vera was given a chance to get something done outside of a boring, endless clinch, he didn’t take advantage of the opportunity. He seemed slower than before his break from fighting, and also, at least from the position of his hands, looked terrified of getting knocked out.

I suppose it goes back to a question I often wonder about in MMA: is being an entertaining fighter as important as winning fights? Is it shameful for Sylvia to win a fight by throwing his weight against a guy and not doing much else, or is he just playing safe and smart? I’m not sure, but I am sure that my already-low opinion of Sylvia went way, way down. I’m also sure that Vera should stop hitting the ice cream (as Goldberg suggested during a weirder moment) and drop down a weight class where he belongs.

The Ugly

One of the better fights was the non-stop brawl between Kalib Starnes and Alan Belcher – at least until a doctor stoppage in round two, due a cut on Starnes’ forehead that was one of the grossest I’ve seen. I’m pretty sure that while he was examining it, the ringside doctor made a “Yucky!” face. And, when Starnes had a little outburst after the fight was stopped, he said, “The doctor said he saw my skull.” Yes, that is indeed yucky. It’s one of those moments when you are simply glad not to be bleeding profusely from a gaping gash in your head.

The only thing in UFC 77 that I found more visually disturbing than Starnes’ wound (that you could probably drive a compact car through) was the silly black and white knee braces that Sylvia was sporting. The more I see him fight, the more I think that he’s trying to be a more exciting fighter through haircut and wardrobe choices than through, I don’t know, actually punching and kicking people. He looked like a hugging, fence-pushing zebra, or, better yet, like he might expect a house to drop onto him.

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