What a great fight card! The undercard was amazing and the main card was very, very solid. Let me break down my thoughts on each fight (sorry for the numbering system, I wanted to use bullet points but couldn't figure out how to make them look good in this formatting):
1. I realized last night that Henderson is basically a more fun version of GSP. He's a big, strong, athletic guy who's great but not spectacular in all three phases of MMA. GSP has his long moments of indeterminable top control, and Henderson spends about half of his fights smothering his opponents up against the cage- but Henderson also offers a little more sizzle and pizazz in between his moments of control. His dazzling kicks and almost Munoz-like ground and pound are a great reflection of that. It's been cool to see how much he's improved since the WEC, and especially with his boxing- I don't think Henderson really likes being in boxing range, but recently he he's flashed powerful and effective striking in that phase. Knocking a Diaz down twice is certainly an impressive accomplishment.
2. While we're at it, let's have a realistic conversation about size and strength. I've seen articles by two Bloody Elbow staff members already that try to play down the importance of these attributes in an MMA bout. That's just silly. Size, strength, reach and athleticism all play a large role in professional athletics- this is an accepted and normal part of other pro sports like football and basketball. Only in MMA is there this large contingent of commentators who pretend that physical attributes don't matter, and break down fights solely on martial arts technique. I guess LeBron's ability to drive to the basket is just his superior technique, right? And not his incredible size, strength, and explosive ability to cut on a dime. Similarly Adrian Peterson isn't running NFL defenses over because he's absurdly fast for an unusually large running back, right? It must be his running technique, or something. One writer said that size was not a factor in the Penn-MacDonald bout, but instead the issue was Penn's technical flaws. Please. I don't disagree with that writer's analysis of the flaws of Penn's boxing style- but that's only magnified when you're getting hit by an opponent two weight classes larger than yourself.
A huge part of Henderson's game is his large size and ability to smother opponents up against the cage. If you don't see that, I question whether you're watching the same fights that I am. It doesn't take away from his considerable skills to say that natural attributes are a part of his fighting style- the same as Aldo and Dos Santos' speed, Silva's reflexes, and Jones' reach. You're not fully understanding MMA if you only break fights down by kickboxing or grappling technique, and pretend that genetic advantages don't play an equally large role. This is the reality of professional sports at the highest levels- we're not watching Royce Gracie steamroll unskilled brawlers on technique alone anymore.
(Also, strength explains why Bendo's two Edgar fights were so close. In spite of his small size, Frankie Edgar is unusually strong for a lightweight, and Henderson had very little success holding him up against the cage. This forced the fight out in the open, where they were much more evenly matched. Strength, by the way, is a big part of why Edgar will easily dominate Aldo in a 5 round decision- but that's a subject for another fanpost).
3. While I was sad to watch Shogun and Penn lose, at least the former acquitted himself much much better. It probably helps a lot that Shogun is at least fighting opponents in his own weight division.... I don't have anything to add, that hasn't already been said, about how hittable Gustafsson his, or how solid his chin is. It was cool, however, to see both guys at least try to use some wrestling techniques. I really like when fighters try to branch out, learn new skills and become more well-rounded, and you can tell that a few years in American training camps has rubbed off on both non-wrestlers. Coach Riordan commented during the fight that Gustafsson, unlike a lot of others who don't come from a wrestling background, at least understands how to use a whizzer properly.
Still, I agree with a lot of the commentary that Gustafsson's takedown defense has a ways to go. I think being tall and lanky, unless you're a genetic freak like Jon Jones, is always going to make one more suspectible to takedowns. Gustafsson hasn't solved that riddle yet. But dat chin..... goddamn. He ate multiple shots that would have flattened three-quarters of light heavyweights out there. I think the general takeaway from the fight- and I realize a lot of other people are saying this as well- is that Gustafsson is a top 6 light heavyweight, but with some serious flaws to his game too.
4. Time for Rory MacDonald to fight some real contenders at welterweight, I'm still not convinced he's the real deal because he beat up a much smaller, washed up fighter. I'm actually opposed to the Condit rematch right now for one simple reason- if he's going to be a real contender at 170, he has to fight an actual wrestler. Welterweight is the UFC's most wrestler-heavy division, and the state of current MMA is such that no matter how good a prospect looks, they have to answer the 'can I deal a strong MMA wrestler' question. (By the way, Condit has also totally ducked wrestlers in his UFC stint, unless you want to somehow count Don-Hyung Kim as one). MacDonald looked a little susceptible to Penn's takedowns before the latter just bailed on them. I can't imagine the UFC is incredibly psyched about MacDonald's rise in the division. He's simply a weird, awkward dude with a monotone delivery, and the modern UFC is very much a personality-driven sport. I'm not really a fan of the guy, personally.
5. The UFC has taken a lot of criticism over the years for insisting on total control over the production- but when they gave some control up to Fox, what happens? Fox dropped the ball numerous times, their weird choice to blur out any Diaz middle fingers being only the most prominent example. One of their most incredible mistakes- and I can't believe that no one else is writing more about this- was to focus on and film Matt Brown's angry reaction to not getting an interview. The whole sequence was so long and awkward! I could understand if they accidentally focused on him for a bit, then realized it shouldn't be part of the broadcast and cut away- but instead, they kept on filming Brown and his camp's angry demands for Joe Rogan.... just bizarre. It seemed like total amateur hour. Their response to Diaz flipping the bird was so weird to me as well. I guess the producers can't blur out middle fingers in real time, the way they do for realty shows, so they just chose to cut away instead.... I understand these networks live in fear of the FCC's arbitrary and Puritanical rules, but there's gotta be a more elegant solution.
Overall, a fantastic card with a few production flaws. It'll be interesting to see what kind of ratings it does, I'd imagine pretty solid ones with all the push it received. UFC on Fox 4 ratings would be pretty devastating, really.