Saturday, March 3, 2012
First chapter of flies in UFC full of surprises
By Josh Gross
Borrowing from Demetrious Johnson's clear analysis, "it sucks" that the first flyweight card in UFC history went from epic to tragic to comic because a local bureaucrat wrote down the wrong score.
Listen to Joseph Benavidez, though, and you could get the impression that a draw marking one of the worst regulatory failings in MMA history isn't such a bad thing. That was his upbeat take after news broke that Johnson's majority decision over Ian McCall was really a majority draw. So went half of the UFC flyweight championship tournament Friday in Sydney.
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With a one-way ticket to the final literally punched during an opening round drubbing of Yasuhiro Urushitani, Benavidez was free to sum up his outlook on the unexpected one-bout, undetermined-length extension. This is a paraphrase. He earned his way into the final, and so should his next opponent. McCall and Johnson have unfinished business that needs resolving as soon as possible. And then it's time to name the No. 1 flyweight in MMA.
When Johnson and McCall tangle again, they’ll walk to the cage hardened by a 15-minute battle. As anticipated, action was furious, highly competitive, with hints of danger the entire way. Then this whole process took on its own against-the-grain story when a score of "8" was mistaken for a "9."
Another round or three between Ian McCall, facing, and Demetrious Johnson isn't such a bad thing for fight fans.
While everyone commiserated with UFC president Dana White in wanting that extra round guaranteed under the rules of the tournament in event of a draw, the mistake wasn’t found until far too late. Both fighters cooled down and digested the result before they were told what really happened.
"Human error," White put it.
Five minutes of "sudden victory" sounds too good to be true. If you dare to dwell on how it goes down, the best moments of McCall-Johnson play like a highlight reel. At least, that’s the case for me.
In that respect watching Rounds 4 through 6 doesn’t seem so bad, either. The important thing, Benavidez again reminds us, is the notion that two worthwhile fighters meet in the final. The UFC has one locked in place. We’re a couple months and 15 (maybe 20) minutes from knowing the second. Probably. Do yourself a favor and scribble this episode down as a highlight of the opening chapter for flyweights and the UFC.
Think of it this way -- if surprise proves to be a hallmark of UFC's 125-pound division, we'll know how far to trace that back to.
Before last night's wrong was righted, I was almost ready to suggest that, in spite of the apparent result and all it seemed to cost him, McCall should leave Australia feeling like winner. Why? (For starters, he didn't lose.) But apropos to my point, he made a name for himself. Results are in; fans dig Uncle Creepy.
Johnson-McCall By The Numbers
Total Strikes Landed/Att
Shortly after Benavidez smoked Urushitani, I tweeted a simple poll question: "Benavidez or Johnson?" McCall finished a strong second. His heart was broken in Sydney and people saw that happen. Dreams of becoming the first 125-pound UFC champion were dashed. McCall's hurried exit from the cage indicated everything you needed to know about what he was feeling.
An hour spent absorbing difficult facts meant nothing after the regulatory commission admitted to screwing up the decision. From tragedy to comedy to who knows what's next. Surprisingly, McCall's protagonist role in front of the media afterward was decidedly less dramatic than what it probably called for.
"Things happen," he said. "Shoot, we get to fight again. You guys had a good time, right? So we'll put on another show. Whatever. I'm happy because I got a little vindicated, but we get to do it again and that's awesome."
At least White didn't allow McCall to get away with playing it too cool, chiming in about a less subdued reaction backstage. Hey, McCall has no reason to hide his excitement. An immediate rematch represents the best-case scenario for the 27-year-old Californian. He'll enjoy another payday as soon the pair are ready. And, most important, he remains in the running to be the first UFC flyweight champion.
For the division itself, a storybook start gave way to reality. From time to time, those things aren’t so far apart.