With all of the doom and gloom over the historically low buyrates and terrible events from the last three PPVs sans the Silva vs. Sonnen fight, there was every reason to assume last night's FOX event would fail in some way, shape or form. The main event was unappealing and lopsided on paper. Lyoto Machida was 1-3 in his last 4 and Ryan Bader was 2-2 with a loss to Tito Ortiz. Mike Swick was a last-minute main card fighter coming off a 28 month absence from fighting. The only fight on the main card that was expected to be competitive and entertaining was Joe Lauzon vs. Jamie Varner. Add that to Dana White's completely bonkers idea of awarding the next LHW title shot -- likely against Jon Jones, who has stopped all the main and co-main event fighters involved -- to the most impressive performer, and it was all set up for another potentially disastrous show.
But everything just went right for the UFC, and everything went right for the fans.
The card went so well for the UFC that even the two low points of the whole night ended up with positive outcomes for them. Philip De Fries vs. Oli Thompson was a poor fight but still brought us a finish in the 2nd round, and even though Phil Davis vs. Wagner Prado had an unfortunate ending, the rematch is set for UFC on FX 5, which almost certainly means Davis will be on the main card after all.
It was a night filled with quality, competitive fights from the opening prelim to the main event, incredible finishes, dramatic back-and-forth twists, and in the end several new storylines were created. Lyoto Machida will once again try to recapture the Light Heavyweight title after his demolition of Ryan Bader. Brandon Vera and Jamie Varner, both of whom lost in dramatic fashion, won over many fans with their gutsy performances after reaching low points in their respective careers in 2011. Mike Swick rebounded from ring rust and a shaky start and proved he still has the violent KO power he used to make a name for himself on TUF and during his rise towards welterweight contention. A hidden gem of the night was the potential new contender at 125 lbs with John Moraga's stunning KO over Ulysses Gomez to open the event.
UFC on FOX 4 had a bit of everything for every fight fan. If you wanted a highly technical destruction, Lyoto Machida provided that against Ryan Bader. It's the first time since he blasted Rashad Evans that Machida looked in vintage "Dragon" form against a top light-heavyweight, and he's rightly earned a title shot against either Jon Jones or Dan Henderson. If you wanted an incredible mix of good striking, wrestling, and wild grappling exchanges? Joe Lauzon vs. Jamie Varner may have been one of the best fights of 2012 and it deservedly won Fight of the Night. A dramatic knockout out of nowhere? Mike Swick provided that with a quick leg-kick catch and a follow-up right hand from hell. A somewhat sloppy brawl but a very entertaining scrap that outperformed all expectations of a mismatch? The main event between Shogun Rua and Brandon Vera was just a complete shock to me. Not so much Shogun's gas tank failing him again and not looking his best, but Brandon Vera fought like the guy who had the potential to be a UFC champion. His diverse striking clearly put Shogun off-guard and he showed the heart and chin of a warrior (as horrifically cliched as I've made it sound) to absorb multiple hard strikes from one of the hardest hitting fighters in the sport all the way up until he was finally beaten in the 4th round.
Even the post-fight interviews were entertaining and memorable. Mike Swick gave an emotional speech after sending DaMarques Johnson into unconsciousness, much to the Staples Center's approval, and Lyoto Machida shouted "THE DRAGON IS BACK!" when interviewed by Joe Rogan. It was just a sensational night of fights, including from ones where you least expected it.
In the last month fans have experienced the bizarre main event of Clay Guida vs. Gray Maynard, the underwhelming UFC 147, a mostly boring UFC 148, a slight reprieve with Chris Weidman vs. Mark Munoz, and a horrible UFC 149 main card. For me, this supplants UFC 144 as the best card of 2012. It delivered everything an MMA fan would possibly desire from 2 PM all the way to just after 7 PM.
The ratings might not have been spectacular, but this was an event FOX needed, the UFC needed, and most certainly the paying fans and viewing audience have desperately wanted and deserved. And what's in store next? Only a rematch of a FOTY candidate between Frankie Edgar and Ben Henderson, followed up by Jon Jones against Dan Henderson to start September. Hopefully what we witnessed last night was the start of a turnaround back to the routine excitement from the #1 fight promotion we've come to know and love.