In Chicago, Illinois on Saturday evening, the mixed martial arts world enjoyed the very first flyweight main event at a UFC on FOX show, a rising lightweight contender showed off his incredible striking, another commission judged botched another decision and so much more.
Let's separate the best from the worst from UFC on FOX 6, the winners from the losers and the signal from the noise.
Best UFC on FOX Event to Date: UFC on FOX 6
It's a fully subjective assessment, but I'm sticking to it: UFC on FOX 6 was the best UFC event in the series to date. Here's why.
All of the other UFC events have featured both important and fun bouts. It's almost impossible for that not to happen on a UFC card at this point in the organization's development. But UFC on FOX 6 showcased important talent that needed additional exposure in bouts of significance, star making performances, importantly distinct versions of what a MMA fight looks like while remaining both fun and technical, and made best use of the network television platform.
MMA is a sport that looks and feels like a million different things. Other sports often allow one to watch them once or twice and basically grasp the gist of what's happening. That's not really true in mixed martial arts. It takes a while to understand it, to see all of the very different looks and realities of competition. More than any other event, UFC on FOX 6 underscored the open and spatial nature of MMA striking, the power of MMA wrestling, how size impacts performance, why title fights are critically important and so on.
UFC on FOX 6 also highlighted what is bad about MMA. Judging is inconsistent. Sometimes blood is a big part of a bout. Guys can get really, really hurt taking part.
If you had to pick one UFC on FOX event to teach the uninitiated about the joy of MMA, you'd be hard pressed to pick any other event that could success in teaching the right things. 1 was too short, 2 was too dull, 3 lacked star appeal, 4 was fun by too chaotic, 5 was great, but 6 was downright excellent. This porridge tasted just right.
Favorite photo from the event: Vladimir Matyushenko 'cowers' in 'fear'
I don't believe 'The Janitor' is actually cowering in fear, but it's hard to not gather that impression looking at the terror on his face. Matyushenko appears as if he's begging Ryan Bader to spare him his life. Our photographer Esther Lin has often said a real photo of an actual moment can nevertheless be a lie and this is a pretty stellar example of such. Matyushenko is hurt and grimacing, but he's also trying to protect himself and recover. Yet, the instant this photo was snapped, the Belorussian appears overcome with mortal fear.
Biggest Commission Failure at the Event: Gabriel Sabaitis
It's not that he scored the bout between Clay Guida and Hatsu Hioki for Guida. I scored it 29-28 for Hioki, but I suppose there's enough wiggle room to perhaps give the mustached warrior another round. Sabaitis' sin is that he somehow managed to give Guida all three rounds, scoring the bout 30-27. This is indefensible.
Guida was outstruck in all three rounds, for starters. But more importantly, by using his takedown for top control, he pushed the bout into a place where he was offensively muted and on the defensive from Hioki's considerable guard. How many of the submissions were close? Not many, but that's not the ultimate measure of the guard. The Unified Rules state full guard to be neutral from a scoring position. If we account for who was reacting to the other's offense more and who scored more points through accrued strikes, it is impossible to give Guida all three rounds.
This isn't college wrestling. You don't get credit for riding time. Time spent on top is nice provided one isn't fighting an octopus with a black belt in jiu-jitsu who is landing more punches and making his opponent react to his offensive advances. This isn't that hard to grasp, but then again, the current crop of MMA's judges aren't particularly good.
Fighter Leaving Most Viewers Gobsmacked: Anthony Pettis
The parkour acrobatics of Anthony Pettis are deserving of high praise, but I'm less interested in that than I am the totality of his (striking) game. The Showtime Kick and now Showtime Knee are fun for Nick The Face video highlights (which are great), but intense focus on the Cirque du Soleil aspects of his arsenal undermines what is sensational about him. No one makes better use of free or negative space striking than Pettis in MMA, save for perhaps Anderson Silva. That's not the same thing as saying Pettis is as good as Silva. Far from it. However, the creativity of his angles and set-ups, the lethality of his accuracy and the near cruelty in his finish ability make him something extraordinarily special. More than ever before, I'm curious to see how far he can go and what else he can do.
Rule Most in Need of Amendment: Knees to the Head of Downed Opponent
Let's say you're a fighter. You're caught in a front head lock. You're bent over at the waist. If you touch the ground with one hand, you can't be kneed in the head. If you don't, it's open season on that vulnerable target. Does this distinction in the rule really make sense? Positively not.
We aren't protecting fighters from that position. If a fighter doesn't touch the ground, that position from the front head lock is still good for kneeing. How on earth does that make sense? If we're banning strikes in certain positions, it's because they offer an untenable amount of risk. Soccer kicks? Too dangerous because of the lack of defense relative to the power of the offense. Stomps? Absurdly risky and unnecessary as the head has nowhere to recoil when struck.
Who are we really protecting by dictating all one needs to do to avoid knees in a particular instance is to touch the ground? Either strikes from that position are damaging or they aren't.
The entire thing creates an unfair advantage and invents a stall position without any real tip of the hat to the actual enforcement of safety. It's the consequence of improperly defined rules and needs changing. Immediately.
Best Proof Quinton Jackson May No Longer Be 'Rampage'
If Quinton Jackson didn't have a nickname, would you elect to call him Rampage today? I suspect not. I'm not suggesting Jackson isn't deserving of it. When he earned the moniker, it was as literary as it was accurate and descriptive. It's become part of his identity today even if it's anachronistic. Calling him 'Rampage' is as much homage as it is a middle name. And in fairness, part of being 'Rampage' has nothing to do with fighting. He's historically been a showman and jokester outside of competitive events.
But that was juxtaposed with the ferocious combatant we saw in the PRIDE ring and UFC Octagon. That dual identity is largely gone even on the non-athlete side of the coin. The affable class clown has given way to a bitter and resentful malcontent. Whether his sleights are perceived or real is impossible to tell at this distance, but here's what we know for sure: Rampage isn't himself anymore. That's ok, if we're being honest. It's impossible to fight as well as he has for eternity. All I'm suggesting is it's time to adjust our understanding both of what he's capable of and who he is.
Least Desirable Show Open: FOX
I hesitate to levy this criticism because the production crew at FOX is usually flawless. I also enjoy the UFC on FOX opens with Ving Rhames narration over Face the Pain nu-metal nauseating nonsense. If anything, FOX has elevated UFC's productions atmospherics by an order of several magnitudes.
That said, the clicking and popping that prevented the show from getting started properly is regrettable not simply because it botched the open, but also diminished the role and value of their very capable booth analysts.
Speaking of which, it appears FOX has substituted Randy Couture with Chael Sonnen. Whatever one makes of that, it's interesting to note that FOX is all in on the gangster from West Linn, Oregon. In 2013, Sonnen will be on UFC on FOX, 'The Ultimate Fighter' on FX, plenty of FUEL programming and possibly one of the biggest pay-per-view events of the year. If you thought Sonnen was done after his rematch loss to Anderson Silva, think again.