Rampage Jackson moments before any dreams of a return to the UFC championship were smashed. (Photo via UFC.com)
UFC 135 got off to a fun start on the Facebook preliminary stream. James Te Huna left Ricardo Romero out cold on the mat, punishing him for lazy, long-distance takedown attempts. Next came the fight that should have won fight of the night, a fun scrap between Takeya Mizugaki and Cole Escovedo. Mizugaki's boxing was on full display as he survived a close first round only to turn up the heat in the second round and get a TKO win.
But then the pay-per-view hit and the event seemed to stall out.
Nate Diaz put on a show against Takanori Gomi, but I couldn't help but feel like I was watching a bit of a pointless fight. The once dangerous Gomi was looking at the floor, flailing with hooks while Diaz drubbed him. While Joe Rogan screamed that Diaz had arrived, I felt hollow as my brain couldn't get past thinking "no, Gomi has gone."
Then the heavyweights hit and the show legitimately got bad for a sustained period. Travis Browne was clearly being overhyped even before stepping into the cage. His UFC career consisted of beating a sub-UFC quality fighter in James McSweeney, getting a draw via a point deduction of Cheick Kongo and knocking out the fragile chinned Stefan Struve. Being intrigued by Browne's future is one thing, but he hadn't shown enough potential for the push the UFC crew was giving him. Basically being set up to fail, Browne labored to a one sided but uninspired and quite hard to watch decision win over Rob Broughton.
Mark Hunt and Ben Rothwell put on a fight that was certainly not as bad as the Browne/Broughton affair but featured much flailing about and an eventual complete failure of cardio for both men. It's easy to blame the altitude and talk about them being heavyweights, but there were points where it looked like Rothwell might honestly pass out. The end of the second round saw Rothwell's corner run out and carry him back to his corner. In the fight world I live in, a guy who can't make it back to his corner under his own power loses by TKO.
Now, I'm not saying Hunt/Rothwell was terrible. But it was a fight that you were effectively paying to watch, and it featured two very borderline UFC level fighters who could hardly make it to the final bell.
Josh Koscheck and Matt Hughes put on a decent one round affair that seemed to get the event back on track. Back and forth for one round before Koscheck left Hughes out cold on the mat, it was a good way to lead into the main event.
But that main event saw Quinton Jackson dominated by Jon Jones. I was talking to Scott Christ of Bad Left Hookduring the event and talked about how much it felt like Manny Pacquiao vs. Shane Mosley. Pacquiao/Mosley led to a lot of complaining that Mosley simply had nothing for Manny and stood hoping to land the occasional power hook, and that's really all Jackson had. Rampage was yesterday, a fighter who has not evolved his game for years and paid the price.
Jones is a special fighter, and like Pacquiao he is so dynamic and ahead of the majority of his opponents that it actually can make for bad fights. Your entertainment in the main event had to come from watching Jones leave Rampage looking lost and ineffective.
And that begs the question, do fight fans want to pay to watch a brilliant fighter or a brilliant fight?
Jones should not be faulted, he reduced a legendary fighter to little more than a punching bag. But I'm left feeling a little like paying the rather hefty PPV price tag should get you more than gassed heavyweights and fighters from the last era being pounded on by the new breed.