Last November, when the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) made its network television debut with an abridged, one-hour show that featured a heavyweight title bout between then-champion Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos, it was seen as a watershed moment, a game changer for the fight promotion and the sport as a whole.
When the fight ended in 64 seconds, the result of a dos Santos knockout, even the most hardcore of mixed martial arts (MMA) fans shrugged their shoulders, wondering if that was it. You can imagine what the unwashed, collective public thought after barely a minute of action.
When the promotion returned to Fox in January, it was a three-fight card, one more indicative of what fans could expect in the future. One light heavyweight bout -- a fight between Rashad Evans and Phil Davis in the main event -- and two middleweight clashes were scheduled and each went to a decision. The 185-pound tilts were 15 minutes a piece while the headliner, subject to the newly instated five round main event rule, took nearly half an hour to get sorted out.
Again, the general public watched and were left wondering if MMA had anything to offer in between sudden, quick knockouts and drawn out, plodding affairs.
Thankfully, UFC on Fox 3: "Diaz vs. Miller" was exactly the card everyone -- fans, Fox and UFC President Dana White -- has wanted since announcing the landmark Fox deal last year. It was, from top to bottom, an exciting affair punctuated by slugfests, excellent grappling, tests of attrition and a young fighter coming into his own.
Let's take a closer look at it:
Before the opening bout, a heavyweight fight between heavy-handed knockout artists Pat Barry and Lavar Johnson, I tweeted the sneaking suspicion I had someone might end up getting knocked out. Facetious, for sure, but my mind couldn't process an ending to this fight that didn't end with one man either asleep or at the very least in a punch-induced daze.
Sure enough, Johnson delivered and worked Barry against the cage, brutalizing him without mercy until "HD" slumped down onto the canvas, forcing the referee to step in. On paper, it promised to be a slugfest and in reality, it was exactly just that. It surprises me UFC matchmaker Joe Silva hasn't put similar fights on each and every Fox card.
The next fight, a middleweight bout between Alan Belcher and submission genie Rousimar Palhares, was the most surprising. Each and every person who knows anything about the fight game knew if the Brazilian grabbed hold of one of Belcher's legs, it wouldn't take long for him to elicit a tap or snap something in two.
Belcher had other plans.
He dove into shark-infest waters, swam with a starving Great White and came out with a big, dead fish to put on his mantle. "The Talent" weathered the submission storm, ended up on top of his opponent and pounded him out in vicious, beautiful fashion.
A welterweight showdown between perennial villain Josh Koscheck and Johny Hendricks came next. The only fight on the main card to go the distance, it helped add some star power to "Bigg Rigg" as he defeated a top five welterweight and a former title contender with a ton of name recognition. Hated as he is, Koscheck is a tough nut to crack and the Oklahoma native likely gained a new fanbase thanks to his victory.
Finally, in the main event, Nate Diaz not only defeated Jim Miller but submitted him with seconds to spare in the second round. After one main event which lasted less time than it takes to microwave a burrito and another which seemed to drag on into infinity, this was exactly the kind of fight needed to headlined a Fox card.
Both lightweights went toe to toe in the opening round but as the second stanza began, it was Diaz who started to pull away until finally securing the fight ending choke near the end of the round.
Fun fights, good knockouts, great submissions.
UFC on Fox 3 was everything the fight promotion promised to be when the promotion signed its landmark deal with Rupert Murdoch's company last August.
Sure, it took nearly a year to come around, but better late than never, they always say.