After experiencing a night (Sat., July 27, 2013) filled with split decisions, tactical but irritating performances, knockout artists living up to their reputations and a commercial for the most anticipated season of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) to date, UFC on FOX 8: "Johnson vs. Moraga" was not the most memorable mixed martial arts (MMA) event.
But, it had its moments.
It would be irksome to complain about a show that was given to the public for free; however, MMA is a sport that is expected to deliver at all times, especially for a company that strives for the best product possible.
Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has had some forgetful FOX cards over a relationship that has always been on solid terms, but was this card as boring as it seemed? Sure, the high-profile fights such as Rory MacDonald vs. Jake Ellenberger were not exactly dynamic, but they comprised impressive and decisive performances from the odds-on favorites.
There were even three (of four) fights that did not go the distance on the main card broadcast, which is always a pleasure for the viewers.
Commencing from opposite order of appearance, the main event saw Flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson put on a master class performance by utilizing the same weapon his challenger, John Moraga, was believed to have as a primary threat. For nearly four full rounds after a feeling-out process in the first, Johnson utilized a wrestling-based gameplan to counter the power for which his challenger was known.
Indeed, Moraga did not have a chance to showcase his wrestling either, succumbing to a fifth-round submission, the latest stoppage in the history of the UFC, at 3:43 in the final championship round.
Johnson was tagged by Moraga as well, as the challenger clipped the "Submission of the Night" victor at the end of the fourth round, briefly staggering his opponent and breaking his nose before he fell victim to another takedown. Johnson's fighting spirit is constantly overlooked and many use the fact that he gets rocked in almost all of his fights to say he isn't a trustworthy champion.
"Mighty Mouse" showed his true championship colors last night, taking a severe shot that could have turned it around for Moraga and finishing his counterpart in the fifth round, while he was way ahead on the scorecards. He is a target his fellow compatriots cannot pinpoint more often than not and bolsters through round after round with a pace nobody has been able to keep up with in his brief, but impressive, title reign.
As for the constant criticism geared toward Flyweight and Bantamweight fighters, there is no reason as to why some believe the lower weight class fights are not that entertaining. It is a thoughtless assumption, especially if one calls themselves a fight fan.
With talk of Johnson moving up the weight ladder, he should stick to his weight class to prove the naysayers wrong. If some feel like the 125-pound division is the weakest in terms of its lack of fighters and possible match ups then Johnson should clean it up thoroughly and close up shop when he feels there is no work left to complete.
As Johnson said himself, there are flyweights out there he has not yet met inside the cage. "Super" Bantamweights, too.
Chants of "boring" also ensued throughout the Key Arena in Seattle, Wash., (ironically, the city where Johnson calls home) and maybe it was because they had just witnessed a co-main event that did not live up to the hype.
"My job in the gym is to train, and to train and finish," declared Johnson at the post-fight press conference (watch full replay here). "Finishes kept coming and arising ... in the fifth round, even though I was ahead on the scorecards, I'm never just relaxing."
The boo-birds may have summoned themselves throughout the co-main event and it was somewhat understandable. MacDonald and Ellenberger were supposed to collide and deliver a war from the opening bell with Welterweight title implications written all over it. The No. 3- and No. 4-ranked 170-pound fighters in the UFC's official ranking system shared the spoils when it comes to excitement, as MacDonald walked away with the win in a technical performance that only he could have been happy with.
UFC President Dana White certainly wasn't (more details here).
Efficiently using his jab and footwork to bring home the win, MacDonald did not give his opponent a chance to capitalize on any account. Ellenberger never landed a shot that troubled the Canadian, but eventually brought him to the floor in the third round. Harsh criticism followed for both fighters, however, MacDonald stressed that at the end of the day, he had a job to do and he got it done:
"I did exactly what I was supposed to do -- I kept up my end", a blunt MacDonald told the press after his fight. "He wasn't engaging. I was playing my angles and waiting for the opportunity like I always do".
It is hard to fault the TriStar-trained product, but he may now have a difficult decision to make if the title pursuit is a part of his near future, as he currently trains with UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St. Pierre. As for the unhappy members of the audience, who felt displeased with the outcome of the fight?
"I didn't pay too much attention to it ... I was focused on the task at hand".
It is also an all-too-familiar scenario when title talk surrounds a fight. sometimes it is not the do-or-die, hunger-strike performance one would expect. Even the boss, Dana White, was a dissatisfied with the match up.
"When you get these fights where guys talk shit, a lot of stuff goes back and forth ... those fights always suck, they really do. In my opinion, Rory didn't do anything to try and finish him, put a stamp on it. Not only to the world, but to the guys that are in that division."
Staying on the subject of that same division, there are times when fighters live up to their expectations and even surprises us in the process. Robbie Lawler may have put on a classic performance for those who know his style, but he showed how versatile he has become over the course of his career.
As UFC announcer Mike Goldberg put it, the "darkhorse at 170" looked like a legit contender who could pose a threat to anyone in his division. He kept Bobby Voelker at bay with a striking game that included headkicks, bringing forth the action and bullying his opponent from the beginning of the fight until he scored a spectacular headkick knockout early in the second round (watch it here).
Lawler could be considered for a near-term title shot -- some wouldn't have a problem with it, while others would complain that he is still several fights away. Lawler is as dangerous as they come and although he owns two straight back-to-back knockout victories in his second Octagon stint, the Welterweight division is constantly producing emerging contenders and the former Miletich Fighting Systems standout is even (5-5) in his last 10 fights.
He may need another devastating performance or two to stand above the rest. However, the fact remains "Ruthless" made a major statement and possesses the power to frighten anyone with one blow, but he can't exactly jump the line either.
Commencing the main card action was a performance that Liz Carmouche needed over 21-year-old newcomer Jessica Andrade. The Brazilian showed promise in the first round, catching Carmouche off-guard with a big slam off her shoulders, which led to a guillotine that had the former women's Bantamweight title contender in a bit of trouble.
However "Girlrilla" lived up to her moniker and pummeled Andrade in the second round, taking her back whilst dishing out some patented ground-and-pound, eventually giving Herb Dean no option but to step in.
Carmouche proclaimed that a victory should award her with an immediate title shot, but many linger in the Bantamweight division, including Cat Zingano. That would be a perfect pairing for Joe Silva to consider in a No. 1 contender elimination bout (that is, if Zingano is not awarded an immediate title shot upon her return from injury, forcing her out of one in the first place).
There's also another contender who emerged on Saturday night, Germaine De Randamie, the lanky Muay Thai-based 135-pound bruiser who beat 10-year veteran Julie Kedzie in a bout where both fighters had good moments with Randamie earning the split decision.
The "Prelims" portion of the card (full recap here) was filled with split decisions and a "Fight of the Year" candidate, as Ed Herman got the nod over Trevor Smith in the "Fight of The Night." Both athletes amazed the crowd in a slugfest that was worthy of a main card slot.
Ultimately Herman got the victory, getting the better of the broken-handed Smith with his punches, which leads us to wonder how each fighter earned a 30-27 scorecard.
Another mind-boggling decision to award each fighter that same scorecard was a battle between Daron Cruickshank and Yves Edwards. Cruickshank did better with his counter-attacks, while Edwards pushed the pace the entire fight, but "Thugjitsu Master" came up short.
It becomes a matter of opinion for someone who is judging the fight, since there is no clear winner if one follows the unified rules when scoring a bout.
Melvin Guillard scored the "Knockout of The Night" over Mac Danzig through harsh times (more on those here) and immediately climbed back into the Lightweight division conversation. Danzig never seemed to trouble "The Young Assassin," as Guillard blasted him in the second round as his opponent lunged forward. Danzig scarily moaned on the canvas, and to make matters worse, that was his seventh loss in 10 outings, facing a possible pink slip from the company.
It was business as usual for Team Alpha Male's Danny Castillo, who used his strong wrestling pedigree to outlast Tim Means in another technical scrap. Castillo kept it on the feet as long as he had to before he brought down Means and smothered him over and over again for the unanimous decision victory.
Jorge Masvidal backed up the bickering as he survived Michael Chiesa's onslaught in the first round to tap out TUF 15 winner with one second remaining in the second round. Masvidal could now challenge Guillard, which would be a great fight between two men who were at crossroads before and have bounced back in a big way, respectively.
The Facebook "Prelims" (full recap here) started with an intriguing match up between Yaotzin Meza and John Albert -- a true back-and-forth chess game of Brazilian jiu-jitsu and dominant positions until Meza delivered Albert his fourth submission loss in a row.
Justin Salas got the win over 45-fight veteran Aaron Riley, after the latter was away from the cage for two years and called it a day after the loss (more on his retirement here). This was the night's first split decision (which could have been too kind to Riley), where Riley's bloodiness and Salas' flashiness could have swayed the judges in his favor, adding flying knees and frontkicks to his arsenal.
Riley walks away from the sport with a record of 30-14-1.
Finally, a commercial for the upcoming season of TUF 18 (watch it here), which has bitter rivals Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate competing against one another in the coaching gig and eventual UFC 168 co-headlining title fight, proved that the brass has changed the overused and exhaustive model of the show. This season will showcase both men and women in the household and the promo consisted of clips where Rousey's face was showered with tears along with confrontations where the challenger looked more composed than her foe.
When looking back at performances like those of Johnson, MacDonald, Castillo and even Cruickshank (even though he may have lost some fantasy scorecards), this is definitely the future of fighting. When a fighter has so much talent, he tends to fight smart, cautiously and so definitive he doesn't need to take risks to please the fans.
Both Johnson and MacDonald provided masterful performances, but they weren't for everyone. It must be stressed that MMA isn't always about finishes, knockouts or the most entertaining blood-gushing fights; just like any other sport, we view and analyze the athlete, whether he or she is bringing forth a reckless, exciting style or a carefully constructed plan to break down their opponents is up to them.
Maybe the spectators are not fully amused, but that's not the athlete's problem and it does not mean we should turn our backs on MMA any time soon.
The days of having a fight card where we know two fighters will be going in there until someone drops isn't entirely gone, but it is becoming a distant memory. The sport has evolved immensely for anyone to expect a slugfest like Don Frye vs. Tank Abbott or a chess match like Nick Diaz vs. Karo Parysian on every card.
However from time to time, those types of fights are still around (Ed Herman vs. Trevor Smith), but are just harder to come by.
It seems like a road followers of the sport have gone down before -- a night filled with questionable decisions and cautious fighting styles, which to many, are killing the sport. There are days where pundits endlessly brainstorm the possibilities of fixing these issues, but there isn't an answer.
And this is how the sport will remain.
Fighters are becoming intensely proficient and it is pointless for someone to throw caution to the wind if they feel it could cost them dearly. There are those fighters who still want to entertain the fans and put on a show, but for every fighter with that mentality, there is also a fighter who finds it more important to get the win for his career.
It's a cross between what the brass expects to earn you a title shot (being exciting so the fans will urge to see you fight for the championship) versus the man who keeps winning so dominantly that there will come a time where it is inevitable you are the next in line.
Johnson's finishing rate, along with his critical championship analysis and MacDonald's cautious display go hand-in-hand with another champion. For example, if we look at the current Welterweight champion, St. Pierre, it is apparent that he faces backlash for not finishing a fight in over three years; however, when a competitor is so talented and gets the job done efficiently, whose fault is it when the fans aren't satisfied?
Definitely not the fighter who keeps doing what he needs to do, remaining successful and more dominant time after time.
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