Nate Diaz applying a guillotine choke on Jim Miller. Photo by Esther Lin of MMA Fighting
A fantastic Cinco de Mayo filled with combat sports action has passed. Between Bellator, the Ultimate FIghter, MFC, UFC on Fox, and boxing action this was a very busy 48 hours for fight fans.
After two shows on Fox that fell short of expectations this was a clear effort by the UFC to get some action oriented fights on network TV. However, some fans said they did so at the sacrifice of star power, and initial numbers have shown that ratings were down.
The Fox production continues to be good and professional. I know parts of the production annoy fans, like the Fox trumpets, which makes me start salivating for football like Pavlov's dog at a bell, or the MMA fighting robots using a takedown that doesn't actually exist in real fighting. But, I feel that the Fox deal is moving the UFC towards being more professional in terms of broadcasting. Against that background the missteps of Mike Goldberg and the screaming of Joe Rogan just become that much more obvious.
At the end of the main event, when Rogan began screaming about how Jim Miller's tongue was sticking out of his mouth, this gap in professionalism and the understanding of the platform the UFC is on became very obvious. Saying that a fighter is biting his tongue off, yelling about how disgusting it is, and not being able to move on from that would get an eye roll from most fans on a Pay-Per-View broadcast; on Fox in prime time it is totally unprofessional. This is a stark contrast to when Johnny Knox of the Chicago Bears got his back broken in a NFL game on Fox last season, and announcers Chris Myers and Tim Ryan kept a calm, respectful demeanor in the face of a far more gruesome spectacle.
This isn't to say that Joe Rogan needs to be kicked off the UFC broadcast team, but perhaps his usual demeanor isn't the right fit for the Fox cards.
Thoughts on the fights this weekend are after the jump...
- Nate Diaz was excellent last night. At this point I consider Nate to be the better fighter of the Diaz brothers. His punches are a little straighter, crisper and harder than Nick's. Nate has moved beyond being a "volume" puncher and is just a great boxer. Nate's footwork is more fluid than Nick's flat footed stance, and seems more able to stick and move than his older brother. Both fighters are excellent on the mat, but again, I feel like Nate is slightly better in the clinch. At this point Nate is legitimately a title contender, and I think Joe Silva would be crazy not to get this Diaz brother in a UFC title shot.
- Jim Miller is a victim of the constant rematches of Frankie Edgar's title reign. Going into the this fight, Miller had won eight of his last nine fights, including a fight that was supposed to be a title eliminator with Melvin Gulliard. But as said so often in this sport, title shots are a matter of winning at the right time and the last two years have not been a good time to be a Top 10 Lightweight. Edgar has seemed unable to fight for the title without it turning into a two fight series and as a result the deepest division in the sport has basically been frozen for the last two years. And fighters like Jim Miller are paying the price.
- I had Johny Hendricks winning that fight but fully expected the judges to give the fight to Josh Koscheck based on the takedown towards the end of the third round. But, New Jersey is the home of the best and most progressive State Athletic Commissions in the nation, and the judges didn't fall into the classic traps of MMA judging. It was a very close fight, but I think the judges made the correct call in the end. It is a good sign that all MMA judging may indeed be able to catch up with the rest of the sport some day.
- Hendrick's win continues a trend at Welterweight of a surge of young talent that has been going on for the last two years. Along with Interm Welterweight Champion Carlos Condit, Jake Ellenberger, Rory MacDonald, and to a lesser extent Rick Story, Charlie Brenneman, Siyar Bahadurzada, John Maguire, and few others combined with Hendricks, are the future of that division. MMA fans are aware that the stars of 2005 have faded, but a fighter like Koscheck, who was an up-and-comer back in that era, has now past his contender-ship days. Koscheck will keep fighting and likely get big fights with young fighters, and will win some, but expect it to be in more of a gatekeeper or stepping stone role than as a contender.
- Speaking of Koscheck, he is consistently is caught up in eye poke controversy. This is mostly because he is always pushing on his opponent's face with his lead hand. I can't say he is aiming for the eye, but it seems like he is using the threat of the eye poke to keep opponents at bay. The amount of times Koscheck has poked opponents in the eye, and the impact it has had on fights cannot be ignored. It had a clear impact on the first round of his fight with Hendricks and something needs to be done before a fighter is able to weaponize the eye poke in the way that Bernard Hopkins has done with the head butt in boxing. Eye damage can have a lasting impact on careers, so perhaps quicker warnings for accidental eye pokes and serious consequences for repeat offenses, including fines, might help discourage the open lead hand to the face.
- I respect anyone, to a certain degree, who is willing to step into a cage, but Alan Belcher earned a whole new level of respect from me last night. He showed had no fear of Rousimar Palhares' leg lock game. Not only did Belcher survive the leg locks, he attacked it and eventually ended up on top. Palhares faded badly towards the end of the round, which isn't shocking and something we've seen in past fights. I don't think this exposes anything about Palhares we haven't known. If you survive the early leg lock assault, you can start to go to work against Toquinho. That said, Palhares' leg locking ability will mean he is never out of a fight and is still a very dangerous fighter moving froward.
- Fans were treated to some great grappling on this card. High points included Nate Diaz working a Marcleo-tine on Jim Miller, and Belcher working an excellent leg lock defense with classic escapes, a wrestling style guillotine, and even some 50/50 guard. It was fantastic to see high level grappling taking place on Fox, and it was a lot of fun to watch as a fan.
- Lavar Johnson and Pat Barry delivered the rock-em, sock-em action that was expected of them. In the end Barry was trapped on the fence and made no real effort to escape the position, as Johnson just unloaded heavy shots. This loss puts Pat Barry at 4-5 in his UFC career, and it is very possible the UFC will let him go at this point.
- John Hathaway got a much needed win. While just 24 years-old, and with a 16-1 record, his struggles with Mike Pyle and Kris McCray have tempered expectations since his win over Diego Sanchez. Hathaway still has skills, and with his youth could develop into a solid welterweight, but this was not an easy victory for Hathaway, and it will be interesting to see who the UFC gives him next.
- The Flyweight division got its second set of UFC fights last night, and the division continues to be exciting. Louis Gaudinot stopped hot prospect John Lineker, and John Dodson got a competitive win over Tim Elliot. It will be some time before we get a clear hierarchy at Flyweight, but it seems clear that the UFC intends Dodson to be the first challenger for the Flyweight title after the tournament is concluded, as he has an extremely marketable personality.
- The Floyd Mayweather and Miguel Cotto fight was a very entertaining match, and the most fun I've had watching boxing in a while.
- Bellator also had a good card. Bryan Baker looked excellent against a very game Ben Saunders, and Michael Chandler blew the doors off a shopworn Akihiro Gono.