Despite the bellyaching from fans in the U.K., UFC on FUEL TV 5 turned out to be a very commendable card that offered up exciting prospects, compelling action, parity among competitors and a host of other things to like. It also showcased extreme physical abuse and some so-so UFC rookies. Here is a look back at the best and worst from Saturday's event from Nottingham, England.
Most underrated show in MMA: UFC on FUEL
The UFC's move from the Spike to the various FOX platforms has not been without challenge. That's particularly true when it comes to filling out fight cards both fully and appropriately. To date, FUEL shows garner the least amount of attention (not without good reason), but seem deliver far more than their FOX and FX peers. Some of that is attributable to the lower expectations, but there's something else at play: the matchmaking and the fighters. FUEL cards are filled with rookie or generally inexperienced fighters looking to make statements about themselves. They also offer top contenders on their way a chance at glory against someone else in a similar position. Time after time, the result has been dynamic action, pitched battles and emerging talents putting on sensational performances.
No conversation about FUEL is complete without acknowledging the scarcity of the product. That problem needs to be fixed. One thing the major players get right, however, is the event itself. Alongside criticism about its availability, they deserve a bit of praise for the quality of the product.
Toughest S.O.B. in the land: Kyle Kingsbury
One never wants their chief claim to fame to be the ability to absorb abuse en route to a loss in sports. Certainly it's better than not having the capacity for damage, but it shouldn't be one's signature achievement. Still, after seeing what Kyle Kingsbury was able to walk through at the hands and feet and knee and shins and elbows of Jimi Manuwa, one can't help feel a sense of wonderment at Kingsbury's pain threshold. Ditto on his body's composition given that it didn't disintegrate or even go unconscious.
Manuwa acted as if he was part of a professional demolition team and a real estate developer was paying him to raze Kingsbury's face. The American was blasted with about every conceivably brain rattling and face shattering shot imaginable and plodded on without complaint or flinching. Kingsbury acted if it was business as usual and refused to surrender even when challenged to - and ultimately unable to - open his comically damaged eye.
Taking a beating like that won't keep you in the UFC and there are easier ways to earn everyone's respect, but if you want to see a fighter earn bonus points for durability, Kingsbury's performance Saturday is about as good as it gets.
If there's any criticism to levy, however, it's that Kingsbury's corner should rethink stopping a fight when their fighter is carrying such an extreme injury. His discretion is not your discretion. Override his courage when his safety is at risk.
Most 'improved': Dan Hardy
I use the word 'improved' here in quotations for a reason, namely, I'm not entirely convinced Hardy has reformed himself and his game. I still think he's somewhere in the middle to back of the pack at welterweight. That said, he's trying. He's really, really trying to produce a professional and personal reformation. That's an easy effort to dismiss to those with a fetishistic adherence to results and only results. But I admire Hardy for his struggle even if it ultimately fails. The truth is changing one's self isn't easy, either personally or professionally. If it were, it would reproduced with relative ease. It's arguably the most difficult alteration anyone can make and there's no guarantee of success.
I don't praise Hardy for winning two fights in a row, although there's nothing wrong with doing so. I applaud him for looking in the mirror, realizing he wasn't getting the reflection he wanted and choosing to put himself through fire on a quest for betterment that may never come. If you're looking for humility and courage, there it is.
Best UFC rookie debut: Gunnar Nelson
His personality, such that it exists, isn't particularly endearing, but who cares? He's the most exciting grappling talent to make his way to the UFC since Demian Maia in 2007. Beating DaMarques Johnson doesn't tell us a ton and unless he gets better - and quickly - we know how this proverbial movie is going to end. Still, he's young, athletic and absurdly talented in one if not two dimensions of the game.
Worst UFC rookie debut: Tom Watson
Watson's a colorful character and it should be noted he put on a very commendable performance against Brad Tavares. The problem is that while Tavares is no slouch and improving with each UFC appearance, he is no world-beater or even on a contender track. It's not the best sign Watson had difficulty dealing with a fighter at that level of the game. That's especially true given Watson's age of 30.
I'm not here to say it's all downhill for 'Kong'. Far from it. And again, it wasn't as if he showed up unprepared or out of his element. But on a card with Gunnar Nelson and Jimi Manuwa, both UFC rookies, throttled their more UFC-experienced competition, it's rather telling his fight was a moderately close but fairly clear fight for his opponent.
Top Brit on the card: Brad Pickett
American MMA fans like to deride and demean British fighters for their 'perceived' talent, which is to say: good enough to make it to the big show, but bad enough to essentially serve as fodder for much better U.S., Canadian and Brazilian fighters. It may not be the friendliest or most accurate portrayal of British MMA fighters, but there is a general lag between the U.K.'s best and that of North America. If there is any British fighter not named Michael Bisping who shatters that myth, it's Pickett. I suspected he was going to defeat Yves Jabouin by wrestling. After all, he's an excellent offensive MMA wrestler. But ol' boy can strike, too, can't he?
With an uppercut that began behind his back and surged upward like one half of a parabola until it made contact square into Jabouin's jaw, Pickett reminded everyone of his status as an elite bantamweight. He possesses a potent offense, admirable durability, strong defensive fundamentals and a willingness to seek a fight's ending throughout the course of a bout. In a country that produces strong boxing talent like Carl Froch, the once-great Ricky Hatton, Amir Khan and others, Pickett stands among his combat sports' cousins as a credit to the resolve and talent of the best fighters the U.K. has to offer.