UFC on Fox 5 was my first live UFC event. After years of watching it was the first time I've both had the money and the location to be in attendance. As such I felt I ought to share a few thoughts about what it was like to be in the arena for what was a great night of fights.
First things first, I want to get it out of the way that despite having watched for years, and having seen every Pride, every (and I mean every) UFC event, and every Strikeforce, WEC and almost every Bellator event, I don't have a lot of favorite fighters. I really enjoy watching these people perform, I love watching the technique, the battle, and often the raw violence and emotion of MMA competition. I cheered slightly harder for BJ, Shogun, and Diaz than I did their counterparts, but only because I feel they've generally given me more, I wasn't terribly disappointing to see them all lose, and I've certainly fully embraced Henderson as a solid champion.
Anyway, I've lost the thread of my thoughts now... so, here's a few things that struck me in no particular order.
1.) It was interesting to see how heavily Rory MacDonald got booed. There was a heavy Hawaiian/pro-BJ crowd in attendance, but that doesn't entirely explain it. When the evening started the arena was split about 50/50, 50% loved BJ, 30% didn't care, 20% loved Rory. By the end of the night it was probably more like 75/10/15, and the reason was largely Rory's showboating. By the middle of the fight the crowd was largely silent, having realized that BJ was going to lose and Rory was dangerously dominant, his flurry of body shots and head kicks was every bit as impressive as it was painful.
As the fight wore on he appeared complacent to coast, and his showboating was a sign that he was confident that he was leagues ahead of BJ. But to showboat without engaging your opponent is a cardinal sin, and his showy/disengaged 3rd round turned a chance to bring fans to his camp against him. It was similar to many of the reactions fans had to Anderson Silva in his Leites/Maia fights. If you're good enough to dance you should be good enough to finish.
2.) I recently heard that one of the major Asian MMA orgs. is selling headsets at their fights that let you hear the commentary broadcast live. I can't tell you how much of a difference that could make for some of the more technical, and some of the more boring fights. My seats weren't terrible, I was more or less in the middle of Key Arena, but even from that distance it's hard to distinguish the fine footwork, head movement, or grappling on display. Sure you could watch the big screen, but if you wanted to watch fights on TV you could stay home.
Having somebody with a better view tell you what you might otherwise miss would go a long way to stop booing, restlessness, and maintain a high level of engagement for live fans.
3.) I still can't understand why scorecards aren't displayed on the jumbo-tron between rounds, fans and fighters would both be a lot more engaged if they knew exactly who was winning and losing all the way through. I was sitting next to someone for the Easton/Assunciao fight, who thought that Easton had won it because he was moving forward more. I was sure Assunciao had won because he landed two shots for every one Easton missed, but if Easton thought he was winning that fight it would certainly explain why he didn't actually appear to try and win at any point.
4.) Whatever the complaints one might have about the UFC's structure and practices and organization, it is a startlingly good live product. I spent a fair chunk of change to get two tickets for the event, but having gone I'd easily spend more next time to get better seats. The dynamic was fluid throughout, the live experience was engrossing; all told it's something I can't wait to do again. Just give me a set of headphones and it would be perfect.
5.)Gustafsson won, but he's no title challenger, and his post fight treatment showed it. The Gustafsson fight was exactly the kind of fight the crowd needed commentary for. Beyond the occasional hard shot and Shogun's leg-lock dives those in attendance were pretty dispassionate and most people were tuned out by the third round. The fact that the UFC didn't give Gustafsson a post fight interview, despite having Jon Jones in attendance, shows that he's probably still a fight away from actually getting his shot. It was a good win in the end, and looks great on paper, but the I'm sure the UFC saw first and foremost a crowd that couldn't care less about watching the Swede fight for the light heavyweight title.
All told it's a night I wont forget any time soon. And the next time the UFC's in town I'll be there and a lot closer to cage side. I love watching the fights, on-line, on pay per view, and on TV, but nothing beats being there in person.