Commentary

UFC hits it big with smaller card

Originally Published: February 16, 2012
By Josh Gross | ESPN.com

Not sure how you feel about it, fight fans, but I could get used to quality midweek MMA cards. The UFC's first foray on Fuel TV went well Wednesday, highlighted by a terrific main event between determined welterweights.

The Omaha, Neb., event was packaged much like last month's debut for the UFC on FX: a mix of young prospects, familiar names and a relevant, potentially exciting headliner. Though it was seen in far fewer households, Jake Ellenberger versus Diego Sanchez and the undercard that proceeded it was, as will happen, better than FX's first attempt.

In person, per ESPN's Brett Okamoto, the compacted feel of the crowd and venue was excellent. That passion of a smaller venue, drawn primarily to watch Ellenberger, one of Omaha's own, translated very well on television. Not that this is some sort of news flash, but the UFC would be smart to take advantage of this formula for future Fuel or FX cards. Doing a ballroom show or two wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. One of the most exciting cards I ever covered in person was UFC 37.5, which happened to be Zuffa's first live televised fight on Fox Sports headlined by Chuck Liddell and Vitor Belfor at, of all places, a ballroom in the Bellagio in Las Vegas.

Done right, that setup always works.

While Ellenberger locked down big plans for 2012 with his points win (we just don't know who, what, where or when yet), the event provided renewal for Stefan Struve, T.J. Dillashaw and Jonathan Brookins. Unfortunately for Dave Herman, Walel Watson and Vagner Rocha, the opposite rang true.

These smaller UFC events have become proving grounds for UFC-signed fighters, and that's a good thing.

From A- to D, here's how things shaped up Wednesday night.

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