On a night that could be considered the UFC's Canadian coming-out party, the fight company got exactly what it needed from two of its biggest stars.
Both welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre and featherweight titlist Jose Aldo turned in workmanlike defenses of their crowns on Saturday night at UFC 129, each man emerging with a unanimous decision victory in front of more than 55,000 fans at the Rogers Centre in Toronto.
It was the largest crowd ever to watch an MMA event in North America and was the first major show in Ontario since that province voted to sanction the sport just a few months ago. With the card stacked with Canadian fighters - who went a combined 6-4 on the night - St. Pierre put an exclamation point on things with his lopsided win over former Strikeforce middleweight champ Jake Shields in the main event.
While the UFC went out of its way to bill Shields as the most dangerous threat yet to St. Pierre's continued dominance over the 170-pound division, the fight actually played out in similar fashion to the French Canadian phenom's previous bout against Josh Koscheck at UFC 124. In both, St. Pierre nullified his opponents' ground games, relying on an ever-evolving striking attack and his outstanding takedown defense to win the day.
Against Shields, St. Pierre utilized a crisp jab and a whipping overhand right to keep the talented jiu jitsu ace off-balance while building a lead in the early going. Though the champion slowed in the later stanzas - saying he suffered an eye injury in the second round -- he kept Shields out of his comfort zone by stuffing the challenger's takedown attempts and shrugging him off in clinching situations.
St. Pierre came closest to finishing the bout in the fourth, when he dropped Shields with a kick to the head. With the champion hesitant to follow him to the ground however, Shields was able to recover and hung until the final bell. All three judges scored the bout for the usually takedown-happy St. Pierre.
Likewise, Aldo showed off a different side to his game against talented kickboxer Mark Hominick. The 145-pound champion mixed up his attack, taking Hominick to the mat multiple times during the first four rounds, while peppering him with leg kicks and punching combinations on the feet.
Returning from a seven-month absence while rehabbing a neck injury, Aldo also faded in the final rounds. Hominick - sporting a large hematoma on his forehead from Aldo's earlier blows - saw his best chance to win come and go in the fifth, when he spent the final two minutes of the fight on top and battering an obviously exhausted Aldo. The champion weathered the storm however, salting away his own unanimous verdict from the ringside officials.
In the evening's other featured bout, 14-year UFC veteran Randy Couture saw his storied career come to a close when he fell victim to a highlight reel knockout by former light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida. After likely winning a competitive first round, Machida blasted Couture with a jumping front kick just a minute into the second and finished the former multidivisional champ with strikes on the ground.
The end was reminiscent of the front kick Machida's teammate Anderson Silva used to KO Vitor Belfort in a middleweight championship match at UFC 126. Both fighters credited action movie star Steven Seagal with helping them devise the kick. Like Silva, Seagal accompanied Machida to the cage on Saturday night.
Other televised action saw former WEC lightweight champion Ben Henderson take a unanimous decision over Mark Bocek and Vladimir Matyushenko score a 20-second knockout over Jason Brilz in a light heavyweight fight.
Complete UFC 129 results:
Georges St. Pierre def. Jake Shields via unanimous decision, round 5 (50-45, 48-47 x 2)
Jose Aldo def. Mark Hominick via unanimous decision, round 5 (50-43, 48-46, 49-46)
Lyoto Machida def. Randy Couture via KO (kick), 1:05, round 2
Vladimir Matyushenko def. Jason Brilz via KO (punches), 0:20, round 1
Ben Henderson def. Mark Bocek via unanimous decision, round 3 (30-27 x 3)
Rory MacDonald def. Nate Diaz via unanimous decision, round 3
Jake Ellenberger def. Sean Pierson via KO (punch), 2:42, round 1
Claude Patrick def. Daniel Roberts via unanimous decision, round 3
Ivan Menjivar def, Charlie Valencia via TKO (elbow), 1:30, round 1
Jason MacDonald def. Ryan Jenson via submission (triangle choke), 1:37, round 1
John Makdessi def. Kyle Watson via KO (spinning back fist), 1:27, round 3
Pablo Garza def. Yves Jabouin via submission (flying triangle choke), 4:31, round 1