Commentary

What worked, didn't work on Saturday

Originally Published: November 14, 2011
By Josh Gross | ESPN.com

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.

Was he really? I'll get into this more below, but I didn't see an apprehensive fighter in there. It's a difficult thing to claim when a fight lasts only one minute. Sure, Velasquez criticized himself for not pressuring more, but I don't put much stock in a fighter saying that more could have been done. They all say that. I saw a fighter who attacked in a manner that allowed his opponent to get an early feel for distance. (Again, more on this below.)

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:

Josh Gross covers MMA for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at JoshGrossESPN.