It finally happened for the UFC last night. After a run of bad luck on network TV the UFC finally had a night of nonstop action with just the right amount of star power, live on Fox for all to see. The rating might not be through the roof considering it was up against the last night of Olympic swimming, but it was a great night of fights.
There has been a lot of handwringing about the UFC and Fox deal, but thus far it has been a success, at least for Fox. In the past year Fuel ratings have climbed, FX has increased in young male demos, and the UFC on Fox events have been on par with other sporting events on TV. The problem has been that the UFC has not represented itself well in the process, partly due to injuries and partly due to poor fights. Last night, however, was a great showcasing of what makes MMA great.
This is a fantastic card to build on for the both the UFC and Fox as the next UFC on Fox card is perfectly positioned to be a massive card. Set for December, Fox will have all of football season to advertise the fight and then the UFC will have a college football free Saturday to put on their card. Expect the UFC to put a major fight on this card, and honestly it should be a title fight.
Ok enough looking forward, lets take a look back at last night after the jump...
- I think we can all agree that under the perimeters the UFC set for themselves going into this card that Lyoto Machida was the correct choice to get the next title shot after Dan Henderson. Ryan Bader got stuck on the outside and just did not have the footwork or the technique to close the distance on Machida, who was content to kick Bader until he got impatient. In the first round Bader tried to leap in and Machida caught him hard with a knee to the body and it is very possible that knee convinced Bader changing levels was a bad idea the next time he tried to leap in to clinch. That was a mistake, because Machida caught the right hand lead by Bader and crushed him with a straight counter-right. Not sure if we saw anything all that different from Machida or what changed in terms of how he matches up with Jones, but it was a fun fight.
- Brandon Vera surprised a lot of people by how game he was against Mauricio "Shogun" Rua. Vera was not only just able to survive a few rounds, he was clearly winning at times. In the end the victory went to Shogun, but this fight is a prime example that once in the cage past performances and records do not matter. Each time a fighter steps into the cage in MMA, he is a different rendition of himself. Yes the fighter is the same person, but each camp, gameplan, opponent skill set, and mentality heading into each match all factor into the type of performance that a fighter is able to put on in the cage. I won't say that the Brandon Vera we saw last night was the best we've ever seen, but it was a very determined Brandon Vera. He worked through punishment and adversity that might have caused him to quit in the past.
- On the flip side of the coin, this rendition of Shogun was not overly impressive. He is known for having questionable conditioning, but he faded badly even by his standards. What was so worrying about how badly Shogun gassed was how early in the fight it occurred. We know Shogun can make it through a fight without gassing, he cruised through five rounds with Lyoto Machida with his cardio never becoming an issue. He gutted out five rounds with Dan Henderson, and took over the fight late as he outlasted the current number one contender. However this time around Shogun barely made it out of the second round without being totally out of gas. I would be very wary of taking a fight with any top 205 lb fighter if I was Shogun, because he would be in big trouble against an elite Light Heavyweight if he gassed like that. I think Phil Davis might be a good match for him if Davis is content to wait for Shogun to recover from this latest effort.
- While Vera and Shogun was great, the clear Fight of the Night for me was Jamie Varner and Joe Lauzon. Things looked all Varner early on as he was negating Lauzon's submission offense and was tagging Lauzon on the feet. Lauzon caught the back once in the second round and things looked pretty dire but Varner escaped. At that point I thought Varner had the upset in the bag but then in the third round Lauzon again got a dominant position and this time locked on an excellent triangle in a transition, which will be Judo Chopped. Varner and Lauzon fully deserved the Fight of the Night bonus they were awarded.
- Mike Swick had some shaky moments, but he pulled out an awesome knockout to put away DaMarques Johnson. Swick landed an amazing punch in transition, in a perfect example where experience pays off in MMA as it was a perfectly placed strike. Swick knew exactly where Johnson's head would be and when it would be there and had zero hesitation. Transition striking is one of the biggest x-factors in an MMA match and it won Swick that fight.
- Cole Miller and Nam Phan turned in a good scrap to cap off the Fuel TV portion of the card. I will be the first to admit I clearly undervalued Phan's boxing as he used that to clearly win the first and third rounds of this fight. Miller used his length well and was able to work some straight punches in the second round, but his best assets, his grappling, went unused. Miller has a "I'll go where ever the fight takes me" kind of approach and he might benefit from trying to impose where the fight takes place on his opponent.
- Obviously Phil Davis and Wagner Prado was a huge let down. This was one of the matches I personally was really looking forward to on the undercard and to have end due to an accidental eye poke was devastating for Prado. It was clearly the right call by the doctor, but still it is impossible not to feel for Prado.
- I've commented before on eye pokes, but I will go on record again saying I don't think there is an equipment solution to this problem. Any glove that fully covers the finger tips will impede grappling, so the solution has to be to make fighters work to prevent eye pokes. Right now the only incentive for a fighter to not 'accidently' poke the other fighter in the eye is common decency. Eye pokes can have a huge impact on the fight, so there are fighters who will use them to gain an edge, like Josh Koscheck is accused of doing. To prevent this all eye pokes should result in penalties, regardless if they appear to be accidental or not. This means to protect themselves from losing points, fighters will be responsible for making sure their hands are closed when they extend their arms. Also instant replay should be allowed to determine if a fighter was poked in the eye, to prevent fighters from faking being the victim of an illegal blow to gain an advantage. Oddly enough we come again to Josh Koscheck as our example.
- Rani Yahya hit a sweet North-South choke to win his match over Josh Grispi. It is a submission not often seen in MMA if Jeff Monson isn't fighting but it is a very effective choke. Marcelo Garcia has stated he feels that is as high percentage move as the rear naked choke in no-gi grappling if done correctly.