For just the second time since the switch became official in November, a UFC nontitle main event needed all five of its scheduled rounds on Saturday.
Unfortunately, unlike Dan Henderson’s thrilling win over Mauricio Rua at UFC 139, Rashad Evans versus Phil Davis was not an instant classic.
No, Evans-Davis isn’t likely to be featured on any “best of” highlight reels in the near future and doesn’t figure to be the kind of fight that fans will be buzzing about next week, or next month -- or ever. Evans won via clear-cut unanimous decision at UFC on Fox 2, but somehow undermined his own status as No. 1 contender to the light heavyweight title by showing precious little urgency, displaying no real desire to finish Davis even after it was clear he had him bested in all categories.
That’s fine. The UFC's main events can’t all be epics. At the same time, though, do they all really have to be 25 minutes long? I mean, really?
When the organization announced the decision to extend its featured bouts from three rounds to five last year, it was easy to be skeptical.
There was something strangely random about it all; determining the length of a fight according to whether matchmakers believed it was best attraction on a particular card. Was Chris Leben versus Mark Munoz somehow more worthy of five rounds than, say, Ben Henderson versus Clay Guida, just because Leben-Munoz was the best fight on a mediocre card, while Henderson-Guida had the misfortune of playing second fiddle on a stacked show? Would Henderson versus Guida have been five rounds if it took place seven days earlier at UFC 138 instead of on the undercard of the company’s first show on Fox?
Still trying to figure out how that makes sense.
In addition, was the problem with the average UFC fight (at least one that went to the judges) really that it wasn't long enough? How often did you watch two guys slog their way to a 15-minute decision and think, “Hey, what that fight needed was 10 more minutes!” Sometimes, sure, but decisions that begged for two more rounds seemed few and far between.
Lastly -- and perhaps most important -- making all main event fights five rounds took away from the uniqueness, the singular feeling you used to get from title bouts, which were previously the only fights deemed special and grueling enough to go five periods.
They didn’t call rounds four and five the “championship rounds” for nothing, right?
Now they don’t call them anything.
Those were the immediate gripes. Then Hendo versus Shogun happened and it blew them all out of the water. Their fight was such a blockbuster and so magical – the kind of magic where both magicians get really, really tired and sloppy at the end – that suddenly five-round main events didn’t just seem like a good idea, but a great one. Frankly, the only thing that was strange was that it took UFC brass this long to think of it.
And if every five-round fight was like Henderson-Rua, that’d still be my opinion. Sadly though, Evans-Davis came along and sent expectations for 25-minute main events crashing back to earth.
In their fight, the outcome appeared inevitable after the first five or six minutes. By the end of the third, Evans had clearly made his point; Davis had nothing for him. The final two rounds were superfluous, perhaps a good learning experience for the inexperienced Davis, but certainly a tedious one for fans. It felt like an unnecessary overtime tacked onto an evening where all three of the main card bouts went the distance.
Suddenly, five round main events appeared to be incredibly arbitrary again, especially when the fight that really needed 25-minutes – Chael Sonnen versus Michael Bisping – was proscribed only three rounds for no other reason than somebody, somewhere decided it wasn’t “the main event.”
Truth is, it’s impossible to tell beforehand which fights will need five rounds and which fights won’t, and that makes this a risky propostion. Bouts like Hendo-Rua -- while great -- are surely the exception to the rule and if Evans-Davis is the extreme opposite, it's at least one that's far more common.
At this point, I can’t help but wonder if great fights like Rua-Henderson will crop up often enough to make five-round main events seem worthwhile, or if Evans-Davis will be closer to the norm.