The Fox Sports 1 debut of the UFC was a fantastic success. The ratings will be interesting and likely be the subject of debate, as they always are, but anyone who sat down and watched MMA for the first time last night will be most certainly coming back for seconds. First, the product in the cage was excellent all night. While some fights were slower paced than others, basically all of them delivered fun, technical, high action fights.
Secondly the Fox Sports 1 production was excellent. The new, gritty, mat level camera was brilliant, and the overall production and presentation was very good. It felt more like a legitimate sporting event and less like "Extreme TV" than anything that was presented on Spike, FX, or Fuel. FS1 and UFC could have a very good future together and last night was an exciting way to start things as this card was an Event of the Year kind of night.
Chael Sonnen had a very impressive performance in a very fun fight with Mauricio Rua. The grappling exchanges were exciting as they battled in the position both preferred, the half guard. Sonnen did a good job stopping many of Shogun's sweeps, but Shogun did a good job escaping to his feet, and he was actually able to reverse Sonnen and take the wrestler down a few times. And Sonnen showed game off his back, sweeping Shogun once and then dropping to guard for that guillotine choke off a failed Shogun take down attempt. Not the fight at all I expected, but very much a pleasant surprise as it was a fun fight to behold.
Other thoughts on the fights:
- Sonnen is a crafty grappler, he is very aggressive and that is more at the core of why he gets caught in submissions than anything else. While Shogun isn't an amazing grappler, he also has a fairly good grappling game to go with his striking set and does some things very well on the mat. It was a fun match to watch, and Shogun got sloppy with his takedown and Sonnen showed a fair amount of guts dropping to his guard to finish the choke.
- While I still don't assess Sonnen as top level Light Heavyweight, there are certainly fights he could win or be competitive at that weight. It seems he has picked himself out an easy one challenging Wanderlei Silva, who is even more shop worn than Shogun at this point. Vitor Belfort has called out Sonnen, and that would be an interesting fight, as would a Lyoto Machida match up.
- Sonnen remains a poster boy on why fighters should be getting TRT exemptions. While I don't personally like them, they are legal and Sonnen's career has taken a huge turn using it. Sonnen went from a failed Light Heavyweight with his biggest win being on a mentally check out Paulo Filho to being one of the best Middleweights in the world since getting on TRT. He has physically changed, becoming larger and larger, and at this point it wouldn't be shocking if Sonnen stayed at 205-pounds has he is become large enough for the cut to 185 to become difficult for him. It isn't a wonder drug that ensures success, but it certainly can help a fighter who just needs a little more time.
- Travis Browne survived an early storm Alistair Overeem, and a blatantly illegal knee that drew zero attention from referee Mario Yamasaki. Browne then turned survival into success with a front kick to the jaw that knocked out the former K-1 Champion. Yet again we visit the idea that MMA striking is a different game than pure striking, and success in one does mean success in another. Overeem gets tired easily and has defensive liabilities both technically and in terms of his chin.
- Urijah Faber and Yuri Alcantara put on a WEC all action Bantamweight throw back fight for UFC fans. Both are fantastic grapplers and both threw caution to the wind and went right at each other's strength. Alcantara had a chance to finish Faber really early in the first, and with a guy like Faber you only get one chance, if that. Faber might not be the most decorated grappler to ever enter MMA, but he has turned into one of the all-time best grapplers in an MMA context and he really showed it on with his scrambling and throwing massive elbows on the ground.
- It is pretty darn clear that Faber is the third best guy in Bantamweight behind long time injured Champion Dominick Cruz and Interim Champion Renan Barao. Faber has had several UFC title shots, but he keeps legitimately earning them with quality wins. I personally think Faber could get the better of Cruz as their second fight was razor close, but that Barao presents serious, stylistic problems for Faber that he may never overcome.
- Matt Brown dusted Mike Pyle and is now on a six fight winning streak. He isn't a title contender, but he is a damn good gatekeeper and entertaining performer.
- John Howard and Uriah Hall had a fight that was fun at points and dull at others. While there was a lot of talk about the athleticism and power each fighter possessed, the second round in particular featured some very fun tactical and technical striking. I liked the high five at the end of the fight. Anyone who has competed in anything likely has a match where an opponent matched them move for move, and in spite of the intensity and stakes involved, they enjoyed themselves. Those were two fighters who like fighting realizing they both were enjoying a fight.
- So the Uriah Hall hype train is truly dead with this loss. Things that happen in the TUF house are not true MMA results. Those two round fights, fought at ultra short notice between guys who have trained and lived to together aren't really great indicators of how fighters will fair after they leave the house. Any TUF prospect should get a serious wait-and-see attitude from fans.
- Joe Lauzon had one of the worst showings on the card. He looked very nervous and seemed to freeze up and allow Michael Johnson to use him as a heavy bag for the three rounds. Let's not take away from Johnson as it was very good showing from him, who never really gave Lauzon a way back into the fight, and big disappointment for Lauzon.
- Not sure enough can be said about Michael McDonald's performance or Brad Pickett's toughness. It was very much a one sided match as McDonald beat Pickett from pillar to post and that triangle finish was the cherry on top. Submissions from the guard are rare in MMA, and seeing a grappler at the level of Pickett getting caught while inside the guard is unicorn type rare. The speed with which McDonald slapped on the triangle and then the excellent follow up made for a real under-card treat.
- Conor McGregor didn't deliver a huge highlight finish, but his fight with Max Holloway likely was more beneficial for the young Irishman in the long run. McGregor got a chance to really work every aspect of his game and beat Holloway in every phase of MMA. A developmental, cage time fight like this is normal and expected and shouldn't blunt any expectations for McGregor.
- Steven Siler continues his domination of ATT fighters, and added on to what was a very rough night for the fighters from Coconut Creek.
- The Cole Miller and Manny Gamburyan fight was a failure of MMA officiating. The judging decision was one that could be seen coming, despite having almost not actual offense Gamburyan did the typical things an outmatched fighter will do to win a fight, pushing Miller into the cage and laying in Miller's guard trying like hell not to get swept.
- What was really shocking was the poor handling of the situation at end of the first round. Gamburyan complained of an elbow to the back of the head, but no foul was called and replay clearly agreed with the non-call. The doctor was called into check Gamburyan and the between round break went about a minute over time. That should have been a TKO ruling as a legal strike caused Gamburyan to be unable to answer the bell. Even if Gamburyan was trying to work a foul, the fact the doctor was called into assess if a fighter can continue due to being hurt by a legal strike demands the fight be stopped.
- Deigo Brandao survived gassing a bit to pick up a win and Ovince St. Preux dropped some nasty ground striking on Cody Donovan to win his fight.
All in all this one of the best fight cards I've watched in sometime and was an excellent introduction of FS1. To share thoughts go to the comment line below or reach out to T.P. Grant on Twitter or Facebook.