Nathan Denette / AP
Sunday, May 1, 2011 | 2:25 a.m.
TORONTO — Their build-ups were the same and, in the end, so were their results.
Both the championship fights headlining UFC 129 at the Rogers Centre on Saturday featured a pound-for-pound great as a 5-to-1 favorite over a challenger who was extremely proficient in one area and swore he was underestimated.
Although neither Mark Hominick nor Jake Shields could unseat Jose Aldo or Georges St. Pierre, respectively, they pushed the champions harder than expected. St. Pierre and Aldo each grabbed unanimous-decision title defenses after having to survive a relentless 25 minutes.
“I think this fight showed tonight that I’m not only a guy who can knock people out quick,” Aldo said through a translator, “but I have the heart to go all five rounds and still hold on.”
For only the second time since fighting for Zuffa — the parent company of the UFC and formerly the WEC — Aldo didn’t finish an opponent. He also endured the toughest round of that stretch in the fifth against Hominick.
Hominick, who had a hematoma the size of two hockey pucks stacked on top of each other on his forehead, got top position on Aldo and used ground-and-pound to dominate the champion for most of the round.
All three judges agreed that it was the only round Aldo lost, but the hometown product Hominick got his point across. Those who didn’t respect him as a legitimate threat to the featherweight title before Saturday are forced to reconsider.
“He’s a tiny guy with a huge heart,” UFC President Dana White said. “It was an awesome performance.”
As for St. Pierre, all it took to realize what a war he had been through after the fight was where he ended up. Instead of sitting with a belt and microphone in front of him at the press conference, the welterweight champion was in a hospital.
One of Shields’ punches early in the fight caught St. Pierre in the eye and blurred his vision. St. Pierre said he couldn’t see out of it after the bout.
Although he still won comfortably — by scores of 50-45, 48-47 and 48-47 — no one had hurt St. Pierre like that in a half decade.
“Standing up, I was expecting to beat him with more ease, and then put him down later in the rounds,” St. Pierre said in the octagon following his win. “But I couldn’t deliver. I’m sorry to the fans. I wanted a knockout or submission tonight.”
It was St. Pierre’s fourth straight decision victory, which disappointed the crowd of 55,000 at the Rogers Centre. The loyal St. Pierre supporters were ready for a finish.
Even though Shields became the first fighter in nearly four years to as much as win a round against St. Pierre, it wasn’t enough.
“I know Georges is going to be the one that catches all the stuff that he didn’t finish another fight,” White said. “But Georges is fighting the absolute best guys in the world.”
Shields further proved his name was in that category by staying with St. Pierre on his feet, where he was supposed to not stand a chance.
Shields bloodied St. Pierre’s face halfway through the bout and started to land more combinations as time passed.
“Georges is a great fighter,” Shields said. “He fought great. He was so evasive. I couldn’t get in on him. He had a great game plan.”
That game plan was to keep the fight standing and force Shields, an elite grappler, to stand and trade strikes. It didn’t go as well as many would have thought, but St. Pierre’s advantage in the area was too much for Shields to overcome.
Aldo’s strategy was exactly the same, just flipped. Hominick is a first-rate striker with questionable ground skills. So Aldo executed successful takedown attempts in three of the first four rounds to gain control on the mat.
The strategy kept Hominick off-guard and let Aldo dictate where he wanted the fight for the opening 20 minutes.
“I never underestimated Mark Hominick,” Aldo said. “I knew he was a tough guy. I knew he had heavy hands. If either one of us made the wrong move, either one of us could have gotten knocked out.”
But Aldo persevered through the tough stretches the same way St. Pierre did. According to those two, that’s as much as being a champion as orchestrating dramatic stoppages.