What worked, didn't work on Saturday
Below are paraphrased reactions I received (and disagree with) during Saturday night's live chat of UFC's first attempt on Fox:
1. Cain Velasquez can't take a punch.
This is ridiculous. Velasquez fought one of the hardest punchers in the UFC and took a shot behind the ear -- a shot that would rattle anyone. How fighters like Roy Nelson and Shane Carwin managed to stay on their feet for as long as they did under the onslaught of new champion Junior dos Santos, I do not know. But their ability to do so does not and should not enter into the discussion regarding Velasquez.
2. Velasquez was apprehensive against dos Santos.
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3. Referee "Big" John McCarthy's decision to stop the UFC heavyweight title fight when he did was poor.
No it wasn't. Velasquez took a punch, lost his balance, went to the ground, absorbed a couple of heavy shots, turned to his side -- involuntarily or not, I don't know -- and maintained the body language of someone who no longer wanted to fight. Simple as that. Velasquez was incapable of defending himself, and McCarthy did the right thing. Saying anything else diminishes what dos Santos accomplished in the cage, and that's unfair.
4. The UFC is damaged by a hyped fight that lasted just 64 seconds.
I got into this in a big way here, but here's the gist: Take a breath, relax and realize this was but a taste of the seven-year relationship the UFC has entered into with Fox. Ratings suggest, on the whole, that executives in both companies have something to feel good about. Did the show, as some predicted it would, blow everything out of the water on Saturday night? Nope. MMA and the UFC are niche sports in this country, and on some level I believe that will always be the case. Give it time, people. UFC president Dana White was consistent throughout the promotion of this card: The main event could last 40 seconds or 25 minutes. Anything was possible, and of course, he was correct. They UFC hype was in full effect, but it also maintained an air of reality that two big heavyweights could deliver a fast finish.
5. White playing analyst on Fox served viewers well.
White's appearances on pre- and postfight shows for Fox were necessary. He represented the voice of the company. But his role went too far when he turned into an analyst. He's not an analyst. He's a promoter with a vested interest. This would be like Roger Goodell or David Stern handling the role of impartial observer during a Super Bowl or NBA Finals. There's no way anyone can be expected to serve that role considering his ties to the proceedings.
6. The heavyweight division has entered the JDS era.
For the same reasons people were claiming Velasquez, with all of nine fights to his name, is the best heavyweight of all time, or that Lyoto Machida represented some new dynasty in MMA, let's not go overboard with the Brazilian champion. He'll have plenty of chances to prove his worth, and in time he may do so. But let's reserve words like "legend" and "great" and "era" for the fighters who deserve such accolades (namely, Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre).
Now for what I agree with:
1. Dos Santos has some Chuck Liddell in him.
He does. Dos Santos can stop a takedown, and you don't want to stand and bang with that guy. It's an apt comparison. In the Brazilian's favor: He's a superior athlete to Liddell.
2. Velasquez didn't look as though he was in great shape.
I don't know whether he was or wasn't, but he didn't look great on the scale Friday. Whether it was because of a yearlong layoff after surgery or complications as a result of having a major rotator cuff repair, Velasquez weighed too much on Friday. His team came off as unconcerned the night before the fight, but I have a hard time buying what it was selling. It's bad news when Velasquez hovers near 250 pounds.
3. Fans prefer Alistair Overeem over Brock Lesnar as the next UFC heavyweight challenger.
I'm with fans on this. An Overeem win over Lesnar solidifies his credentials, and the Dutchman provides a stylistic test against dos Santos that Lesnar cannot duplicate. The last K-1 grand prix champion against the best heavyweight boxer in the UFC. Sign me up.
4. Mistake: not airing Clay Guida versus Ben Henderson.
The decision was set in stone, and there was no way to change that on fight night, but you have to imagine that UFC and Fox executives are bummed that Guida's war with Henderson wasn't available to a nationwide television audience. One astute fan suggested a highlight package of undercard fights should have been included on the broadcast, and I certainly would have preferred that to listening to White lambaste Velasquez for his game plan.
5. Henderson is never in a dull fight.
Can you think of one? Frankie Edgar-Henderson promises great things.
6. Boxing supporters will attempt to diminish the importance of the UFC's debut on network TV.
They already have, and as I said on Saturday night, who cares? Promoter Bob Arum and people of his ilk can go after the UFC and MMA all they want. It doesn't matter. Each sport survives independent of the other. The shameful thing of it is, there's no reason they can't coexist save political power plays and inflated egos. I posed this question immediately after the Manny Pacquiao result, which drew mixed reviews from even boxing's most ardent supporters: What do you prefer, a 64-second knockout or another disputed decision?
Ponder that as you please. As for the fights themselves, here's how a select group of mixed martial artists fared as MMA entered the mainstream:
UFC on Fox grades
Junior dos Santos
This was good as it gets. New UFC heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos needed only a minute to find a feel for Cain Velasquez's movement and range. He took low kicks for his trouble, but when it came time to fire off a right hand, he was well within target distance to connect. And boy, did he ever. "Cigano" was measured and calm from the opening bell. He didn't try to force a finish. The idea was that Velasquez, because of the pressure he exudes in every fight, would come to him. As much as there is to like about dos Santos (14-1), let's take a lesson from Velasquez -- and others before him: There are no sure things in MMA. The emergence of dominant champions is as rare a phenomenon as you'll find in this sport, particularly at the heavyweight level, where the quality of opposition is consistently high. Dos Santos, 27, is affable and smart; he's picked up English exceedingly fast and is doing the same with Spanish. He seems to have all the ingredients of a star in his country -- all he has to do now is maintain consistency. Easy enough, right?
Had Benson Henderson's all-out skirmish with Clay Guida been televised on Fox, he and the UFC surely would have been better off for it. Instead, the No. 1 contender lightweight bout was relegated to a Web stream or, if you have it, Fox Deportes. Nonetheless, as we move off the initial excitement from the event, Guida-Henderson will be the fight that's most remembered. Henderson was just awesome. His athleticism, intensity and uncommon physical attributes -- especially flexibility -- set him apart from the crowd, which is why when his fight with Frankie Edgar approaches in January, it will be one of the most anticipated contests in the history of the lightweight division. Henderson and Edgar seem tailor-made to deliver. Henderson (15-2) has room to improve in technical stand-up, but he's proved to be capable of standing in front of an opponent and trade shot for shot. He hasn't needed to be slick with a jab. Yet. And when Henderson, 27, says he can do better than he did on Saturday, it's hard at this point not to believe him.
"The Carpenter" went to work, as he always does, and was simply outgunned by a younger, stronger, faster opponent. Yet Guida's brilliance comes out the face of all those things. He will not stop; he will never quit. He sure didn't against Henderson. Guida (29-12) ceded a unanimous decision, but it's one of those point tallies that was hair-thin. A takedown here, another punch there, and he could just as easily be facing Edgar in Japan next year. I saw nothing in Guida's performance that suggests the 29-year-old fighter should consider a move down to featherweight. He's fine competing at the top level of the lightweight division and promised he will continue to do so. If you're looking to find fault with his performance on Saturday, you have to nitpick. I won't do that. He put on an excellent effort against a talented kid who had just a bit more. No shame in that.
Based on pure technique, young Dustin Poirier (11-1) put on a classy performance against Pablo Garza. His submission of the night effort is indicative of that. For some reason, the featherweight felt obliged to apologize for not finishing sooner than he did, which is, of course, ridiculous. The end early in Round 2 was excellent. Poirier, 22, is setting himself up to be a contender at 145 pounds. His aggression is pleasing for fans and dangerous for opponents. As for the D'Arce choke, he accomplished that with a perfect setup. Once it was cinched, that was the fight against a tall, crafty, mean opponent. Quite a nice win for the native Louisianan.
Getting the fight he always wanted in his UFC debut was fairytale stuff for Uyenoyama. The 32-year-old Californian made the most of it by outworking Norifumi Yamamoto. Uyenoyama was crisp and decisive on the floor, showcasing tremendous grappling ability and positional control en route to a unanimous decision. Some felt his effort was worth of a 30-26 scorecard (including one of the three judges assigned to work the bout), but I don't see how. Nevertheless, his movement, wrestling and especially submission grappling sequences were terrific. This comes as no surprise to anyone who's watched him fight before. Uyenoyama (7-3) is a scrambler, a fire plug. I'd love to see him fight Demetrious Johnson.
Pablo Garza (11-2) was just OK before sealing his fate by allowing an underhook to be manipulated into a D'Arce choke. He's as long and lanky a featherweight as you'll find in the sport, and with that come deficiencies in strength and grappling. It may help when he's striking or keeping distance, but once Garza finds himself entangled in a submission scenario, things can and have gone bad. Hoping to increase his profile with a win over Poirier, which would have meant three victories in a row inside the UFC, Garza, 27, must take stock of what he does well and what he doesn't. There's room to improve, but I'm not sure he'll ever be able to handle the kind of tests that await him at the top of the division.
Was he timid? Apprehensive? That's how some fans saw Velasquez's 64-second failed title defense. I'm not so sure. He came out striking, predominantly with leg attacks, and that may have been his mistake. I'm not sure that qualifies as timid. By kicking low, Velasquez narrowed the gap between himself and "Cigano," who showed his pedigree by quickly determining the defending champion's range and timing to haul off an equilibrium-displacing right hand. Velasquez was criticized by his promoter, Dana White, for not engaging in a grappling/wrestling game from the opening bell. That's not fair, and White shouldn't be in the business of second-guessing his fighter's approach in the cage. It's also not the kind of criticism that holds up. Velasquez was in the cage for one minute before getting caught. It's not as if he engaged in that plan over the course of a round or more. All fights start standing, right? Velasquez (9-1) carried himself like the mixed martial artist he is, not, on the flip side, a one-dimensional grappler. That's not something to criticize. Fortunately for Velasquez, all fighters, even the best fighters, lose from time to time in MMA. Surrendering the title to a fighter the caliber of dos Santos only suggests that keeping the belt is extremely difficult to do. He'll be back. And when he is, the 29-year-old heavyweight had better be closer to his optimal fighting weight of 240 pounds rather than the 250 he was this time around.
Four losses in five fights represents the end of the idea that Yamamoto, 34, is a threat in mixed martial arts. He's exposed in a significant way, and were it not for the UFC's pending trip to Japan, you'd have to think the organization would sign his walking papers. But because he's a known commodity in Japan, and because the UFC will travel there in January, I'd expect "Kid" to get another shot in the Octagon. This time it will be only about ratings and selling tickets, and if he still has some value there, it's best if the UFC can capitalize. Amazingly, it wasn't so long ago that many MMA followers felt a fight between Yamamoto (18-5) and Urijah Faber would make for one of the sport's top showcase fights. You don't hear that anymore.
Josh Gross covers MMA for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at JoshGrossESPN.
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