The Ultimate Fighter 18 Finale was a fairly miserable event from the viewer's perspective, but it wasn't all bad. The main event featured a classic performance from one of the UFC's most colorful personalities, intriguing post-fight content and the debut of an interesting prospect. Yet, the event also featured lifeless action, questionable talent and blowout performances against over matched opponents.
It's time we look at the winners and the losers, the best and the worst and separate the signal from the noise.
Worst UFC Event of the Year: The Ultimate Fighter 18 Finale
Look, this card was terrible and the best thing that can be said about the event was that it was largely unremarkable. Far and away, this is the worst live event UFC has put on television in 2013. It's also probably one of the worst UFC events of the modern era.
I'm not going to say much more about it than that. It's beyond clear no one in the Zuffa offices cares what I or other journalists believe with respect to the argument that too much of a good thing is, well, not a good thing. Me trying to complain about over saturation in this space is akin to Don Quijote attacking windmills.
I also recognize UFC will be putting a much better foot forward with UFC on Fox 9 and the sensational UFC 168 to cap off the year. There's quite a bit to look forward to as the year closes. Noting just how bad this finale was is no referendum on the kind of quality UFC events are, generally. Saturday's show, however, was as close to unwatchable as UFC can get.
Best Photo of the Event: Triumphant Diaz, Finished Maynard
This isn't quite as good as Diaz giving the double middle finger after locking up the triangle choke on Kurt Pellegrino, but it is still rather satisfying and vintage Diaz. What more can one ask for? See the rest of the night's photos here from MMA Fighting's Esther Lin.
Best Return to Competitive Form: Nate Diaz
I was a little worried prior to the event Diaz might've been slipping a tad. Worried, mind you, not convinced. After Saturday's fights, I'm not even the least bit concerned. Now, I'm not suggesting he's going to rocket up to No. 1 contender status with a string of impressive wins in his next four fights. That's certainly possible, but I'm not making a prediction, exactly. What I am suggesting is that Diaz has plenty of life left in him as a professional MMA fighter. I'd prefer to see him stay at lightweight, but he'll probably have some measure of success at welterweight, too.
Sometimes a losing streak or inconsistent performances can be the precursor to overall career decline. Other times it can just be a rough stretch. It's comforting to see Diaz rebound and demonstrate he's still there, ready to knuckle up with the best of them.
Coolest Experiment Attempted: Post-Fight Fox Sports 1 Coverage
Saturday was one of the best college football nights this season, certainly, and perhaps in years. The finish of the Iron Bowl alone was worthy of dedicated coverage. Yet, as TUF 18 finale ended, Fox Sports 1 didn't change over to Fox Sports Live to show highlights. Instead, they had a live interview session with Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate, Chris Holdsworth and Julianna Pena.
Speaking candidly, the event wasn't really deserving of that kind of treatment, but it's understandable why Fox Sports 1 would want to offer that sort of treatment. After all, the season was historic given the inclusion of women. This was also, of course, a Fox Sports 1 property.
The point is in a night where ESPN was probably chomping at the bit to show Iron Bowl highlights on SportsCenter, Fox Sports 1 kept their commitment to UFC and the show with a deeper post-fight dive. I admire that. If they can do this on shows of greater mixed martial arts significance, they might have something here.
Elephant in the Room Award: Ben Askren
Let's establish something from the outset: the idea that Ben Askren isn't deserving of a UFC contract because of meritocratic issues is plainly laughable. There might be other reasons for keeping Askren out of the UFC. Perhaps UFC brass aren't in love with his style of fighting. Perhaps they want to use Askren to position World Series of Fighting as a superior choice to Bellator for up and coming talent. There are any number of plausible theories. And ultimately, it's their company. They can sign and cut whoever they please. All I'm telling you is trying to portray Askren's situation as one of being a fighter not vetted enough for UFC entry is more a punchline than an argument.
There are any number of ways to demonstrate that, but one need look no further than TUF 18 finale fight card. In fact, the timing of the news that UFC was passing on Askren happening so close to the TUF 18 finale actually highlighted how absurd the meritorious argument is with respect to Askren.
With the exception of the main event, there wasn't a single fighter who competed who has better credentials than Askren. One of them, a TUF finalist, is now 1-4-1 in professional MMA. On what planet of logic is this a fighter who is meritoriously ahead of Askren for a UFC contract even if we account for divisional development?
No, Askren isn't a female bantamweight, but he's certainly worthy of consideration along with the other 84 welterweights already on the UFC roster. And no, I'm not suggesting Askren costs the same as a 1-4-1 bantamweight fighter or middle of the road welterweight. But has anyone heard UFC brass complain the reason Askren isn't in the UFC is because he's too expensive? Not once has that even been suggested. Nor could it be. Askren has virtually no leverage over the UFC to make them budge on price. Anyway, what they've said is he doesn't have the resume to rate a contract, which is flatly nonsensical. The TUF 18 finale fight card was just a parade of evidence that Askren may be kept out of the UFC, but it has nothing to do with whether what he's accomplished is enough to earn a fight contract.
Bright Spot Award: Rani Yahya vs. Tom Niinimaki
Outside of the headliner, this was the only fight on the card at a level of what used to be known as 'UFC caliber' and what a sensational scrap it was. Yahya is limited and has a lopsided skill set, but Niimimaki engaged Yahya on those terms and largely beat him at that game. For a UFC debut against a proven, experienced competitor, Niinimaki couldn't have done much better than that. He was prepared and proactive, never letting the Octagon lights diminish his ability to perform. Hats off to the Finn for adding to the UFC's featherweight division.