CHICAGO -- There was some great action in the Octagon at the United Center on Saturday night. Unfortunately, all of it was over before the FOX show got started.
After a seven-fight preliminary card delivered one outstanding fight after another, the three-fight main card on the network was a disappointment. Between the three fights Fox broadcast on Saturday and the Junior dos Santos-Cain Velasquez fight in November (which was 59 minutes of talking surrounding one minute of fighting), there still hasn't been a really good UFC fight on network television yet.
That's a shame. If Fox had shown the Fight of the Night from Evan Dunham vs. Nik Lentz, or Lavar Johnson's knockout of Joey Beltran, or Charles Oliveira's brilliant submission, millions of Americans would have seen what the UFC at its best looks like. Instead, millions of Americans saw three mediocre battles.
The less said about Chris Weidman's decision win over Demian Maia, the better. That was simply not what anyone thinks of as a good MMA fight. Any curious newcomers to the UFC who turned the show on from the beginning probably changed the channel after the first round of that one.
Chael Sonnen's fight with Michael Bisping was better, and the pro-Sonnen crowd was energetic, but that fight wasn't much to look at, either: Sonnen showed how to use superior wrestling and clinch work to win a decision, but the new fans the UFC wants to draw on Fox probably didn't find that too entertaining, either.
And in the main event, Rashad Evans dominated Phil Davis for 25 minutes without ever coming close to finishing. If you know enough about MMA to appreciate that Davis is a very talented athlete, an NCAA champion wrestler and a rising star in the sport, you were probably impressed with how thoroughly Evans controlled him. But if you're new to MMA and had never seen Evans or Davis before, you probably figured at the end that you'd rather spend half an hour watching a Seinfeld rerun than watching a fight like that.
The UFC and FOX both say they're in this for the long haul, and that they plan to grow the sport together. That's good, because this is going to take time. The UFC and Spike got lucky when the first Ultimate Fighter Finale had a sensational battle between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar. So far, there's been no such luck for the UFC and FOX. Through four live, televised fights, the network television viewers haven't seen much action.
UFC on Fox 2 Notes
-- Charles Oliveira has a ton of talent, and he looked better than ever fighting at 145 pounds for the first time in the UFC. The 22-year-old Oliveira needed just 1 minute, 43 seconds to submit Eric Wisely with a calf slicer, and he could be a future featherweight title contender.
-- Mike Russow, a Chicago cop, got one of the best ovations I've ever heard before his fight with John-Olav Einemo. He also had one of the most surprising game plans I've ever seen when he repeatedly took Einemo down, even though Einemo is a world-class submission grappler. But it worked, as Russow stayed on top and out of trouble on the ground and won a decision. Russow isn't the prettiest fighter to watch, but he's 15-1 in his MMA career, including 4-0 in the Octagon. Think about this: If Alistair Overeem beats Junior dos Santos, Russow will have the longest winning streak in the UFC heavyweight division.
"I can't believe I'm 4-0 in the UFC right now," Russow said afterward. "It's unbelievable. To have this fight in my hometown of Chicago and to have the fans cheering for me like they did...I couldn't ask for anything better. "
-- Former Ultimate Fighter finalist Michael Johnson looked like he has improved both his striking and his submission defense since leaving Greg Jackson's gym and training full-time with the Blackzilians. The fans booed at times when Johnson clinched with Shane Roller and slowed down the pace of the fight, but it was good to see Johnson show some patience: In his last fight, against Paul Sass, he got a little too wild from the top and and was caught in a heel hook. This time Johnson fought safe and smart, and when Roller put him in a lot of trouble on the ground, Johnson kept his composure and got back to his feet. This was the best Johnson has looked.
UFC on Fox 2 Quotes
-- "This one sucks. You really hate to lose like this. I felt like I was doing alright and getting good back-and-forth with him. I felt like I had him, but I flat out got caught on this one."--Dustin Jacoby, following his third-round submission loss to Chris Carmozzi. Jacoby entered the UFC last year with a 6-0 record, but he's now 0-2 inside the Octagon and will probably be released.
-- "This win shows that the Strikeforce heavyweights belong here. We're all on the same level and now we're getting a chance to prove it. And the fans are the ones benefitting from it the most because they're getting to see action like this."--Lavar Johnson after his impressive first-round knockout of Joey Beltran. I'm not prepared to say the Strikeforce heavyweights are "all on the same level" as the UFC heavyweights, but I do think Johnson is a great addition from Strikeforce.
Referee Rob Madrigal stopped the Lavar Johnson-Joey Beltran fight at exactly the right time, just as Beltran was falling to the ground after repeated uppercuts from Johnson. Referees have a tough job when a fighter is taking a lot of punishment but still standing, and Madrigal stepped in just as Beltran lost the ability to defend himself. The Chicago Tribune ran a story last week questioning whether Madrigal was qualified enough to be refereeing a major card like UFC on Fox 2, but Madrigal acquitted himself nicely.
Referee Herb Dean demonstrated exactly what I focused on with my last Morning After: MMA refs are too inconsistent with the way they handle punches to the back of the head. Shane Roller landed several punches to the back of Michael Johnson's head, and all Dean did was warn Roller while allowing him to maintain his dominant position -- no point deduction, no stand-up, no time out to see if Johnson had been hurt by any of Roller's strikes, and certainly no disqualification, as Mario Yamasaki gave Erick Silva two weeks ago for punches to the back of the head that weren't as flagrant. The UFC and the state athletic commissions need to work together to get every ref on the same page on this rule.
Chris Camozzi had lost his last two UFC fights and needed a win to save his spot on the UFC roster Saturday night. He got it in impressive fashion against Dustin Jacoby, controlling the stand-up in the first couple rounds and forcing Jacoby to tap to a standing guillotine choke in the third.
George Roop had an opportunity to show he's a player in the featherweight division, but he was violently knocked out by Cub Swanson. Roop was looking up at the replay on the United Center big screen as he was walking back to the locker room, and he didn't seem to know what hit him. Roop has lost three of his last four.
Fights I Want to See Next
Jon Jones vs. Rashad Evans and Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen. Watching Evans and Sonnen on Saturday night, it's awfully tough for me to envision either one of them winning their upcoming title fights. But both men have won enough big fights in their weight classes that they've earned No. 1 contender status. I'm looking forward to seeing both of them get their title shots, even though both of them are going to be huge underdogs.