UFC Fight Night: Ryan Bader vs Ovince Saint Preux delivered an entertaining night of fights, but it was a card that commanded very little hype despite the comparatively large UFC layoff. The ticket sales in Maine were not impressive in the days leading up to the event. The Fox Sports 2 prelims were difficult for American sports fans to come by due to cable deals, and in the UK the sports channel BT aired a trophy ceremony of a rained out Caribbean Primer League Cricket match in the place of the fights, all while the UK UFC twitter account acted as if the fighters were actually being aired on the channel.
The number of UFC cards this year has been driven into the ground, but the UFC is going to face stiff competition in North America for both eyeballs and time slots on the Fox networks as college football, an immensely popular sport is getting ready to kick off. Fox Sports is very much in the college football business and as a result from the start of the season on August 30th to New Years the UFC will only hold three events on free TV. The UFC will be turning heavily to Fight Pass and back to PPVs to help fill the breach.
The UFC 180 and 181 cards are likely to draw attention, but with the current state of UFC cards it is hard to imagine them in anyway competing for average North American fans attention being behind pay walls while a wildly popular and more easily accessible sport starts a new playoff format. The UFC's global push as yet to yield real fruit; the numbers in Brazil have been solid but declining from 2011 explosion of interest. Continued efforts to reinvigorate Japan and crack both China and Europe have had success in spots, but little consistency. And domestically it has been a rough year as injury and lackluster match making has lead to some historic lows when it comes to PPV buys in some cases, but the UFC has also had its strong showings as well.
The final third of 2014 will be very interesting to see how much interest the UFC can generate and if they close out the year with a bang or a whimper.
On to thoughts on the fights:
- Ryan Bader really showed the difference between a D-1 All-American and a High School State Champion, as he manhandled Saint Preux in the wrestling department. Saint Preux's length gave Bader some issues. This fight really demonstrated that while Saint Preux has improved as a fighter, his strongest performances came against very weak opposition, and that his game still has too many holes into compete on the upper level right now.
- Gray Maynard looked very sharp in round one, his footwork looked much improved and his boxing as well. Sadly he was still very hittable and in round two Ross Pearson was able to put his hands on Maynard and put him down. It was a loss that drives home that Maynard is a far cry from the title contender he used to be.
- Power allows a fighter to be less than perfect, and that has been Tim Boetsch's saving grace in his UFC career, getting him the two clearest wins in his recent 4-3 run. Brad Tavares was dominating the fight until getting caught with a pair of hard punches that put him on the mat. It is a win that allows Boetsch to cling to relevance at Middleweight and a devastating loss for Tavares looking to take that big step forward.
- Alan Jouban make his entrance to the UFC known with a shovel hook knockout of welterweight keep of gates Seth Baczynski. Jouban got tagged early but took over the fight in the clinch and with in-fighting, getting the eventual finish. One would be hard pressed to call the 31-year-old Jouban a prospect, but he certainly has a skill set that demands some attention, if not necessarily elite level competition.
- Shawn Jordan got a TKO win over Jack May that took much longer than expected. Jordan seemed content to strike at long range with the much taller May for the first round, but but then took the fight over when he began to utilize his superior grappling. May looked overwhelmed on the ground and succumbed to strikes late in the third.
- Thiago Tavares kicked off his featherweight career by blowing the doors off of Robbie Peralta. It was an dominant showing, but it is hard to get a reasonable sense of where Tavares fits into the division because Peralta made some extremely fundamental mistakes on the ground that a black belt like Tavares couldn't miss. It was an easy win for Tavares who looked very physically good at 145-pounds.
- Jussier Formiga got a pretty clean two round win over Zach Makovsky, the Brazilian was able to out strike Makovsky and catch his back several times on the mat. This fight was a prime reminder that before Ian McCall beat him in 2011 he was the class of the Flyweight division. Makovsky is a highly technical wrestler, but does not really have the ability to finish high level fights, which leaves him with no room for error and he was far from flawless in his execution.
- Sara McMann rebounded from her loss to Ronda Rousey with a split decision over Lauren Murphy, but it was not the performance expected for someone looking to get back into title contention. McMann looked very content to simply hold Murphy down in guard, using her low posture controlling top game. McMann's takedown game looked on point, but she had none of the aggression she used to introduce herself to UFC fans back at UFC 159. It might be McMann just going back to basics as she attempts to build her game back up, but it sure looked like a regression.