UFC on FUEL TV 7 on Saturday from Wembley Arena in London, United Kingdom was another fun, mostly meaningful UFC events as part of the FUEL franchise. There was lots to love, including a superb main and co-main event as well as the progression of blue chip prospects. There was also, regrettably, lots to hate, including a disaster of a judging scorecard and fights that could've and should've gone longer. There were also a record amount of decisions for a UFC card.
Let's separate the winners from the losers, the best from the worst and the signal from the noise.
One of the Best Octagon Entrances Ever: James Te Huna
The routine was short, understated (by theatrical standards), well-rehearsed and best of all, a pleasant surprise. That's what I like most about it: not merely that it was well orchestrated, but the person who orchestrated it took me aback. What I'd known of Te Huna was mostly defined by his bulk and ferocity as a competitor. I'd interviewed him in person at UFC 135 and found him to be pleasant, although somewhat unremarkable from a personality perspective. It appears I'm guilty of judging a book by its cover. Te Huna has a surprising entertainer's streak and one I'm glad we discovered by what feels like an accident.
Most Indefensible Judging: Aaron Chatfield
Chatfield may be a nice guy personally, but on Saturday he was professionally clueless and a borderline danger to the careers of competing fighters. Words fail me on this scorecard. I don't even know where to begin.
It only gets worse when you examine the rest of his resume. He didn't give Ulysses Gomez a single round in his loss to Phil Harris and scored round one of Sass vs. Castillo for the Brit. Those aren't the worst calls in the world, but on the back of a completely insane scoring of Mills over Riddle, one begins to wonder what Chatfield is looking for when he is evaluating fights. In 2012, Chatfield somehow managed to avert his eyes from whatever version of Angry Birds he was playing to score all three rounds of the bout between Cristiano Marcello and Reza Madadi to the Brazilian.
The UFC and Dana White are allowed to have conniption fits when judges like these are allowed to work in Las Vegas or Newark. They don't, however, in the UK. UFC essentially self-governs there by selecting which judges to use at the events. If they bring in Chatfield again without him having the benefit of more seasoning on local or other small shows, they are begging for disaster.
Best Evidence of Upside Against Known Veteran: Gunnar Nelson
There were two prospects to watch on Saturday's card to monitor development: Nelson and Jimi Manuwa. Neither looked bad, although both have issues to address. But if you had to ask yourself which prospect has the better upside, Nelson is your undisputed winner.
For starters, we didn't see enough of Manuwa as his opponent, Cyrille Diabate, injured himself and couldn't continue after the first round. Second, and more troubling, I didn't see the kind of control on the ground or defensive priority standing from Manuwa to inspire long-term confidence. Manuwa allowed Diabate, not particularly known for being an adept ground operator, the space to move rather freely underneath. Standing, he offered up vulnerabilities to gain a positional or strategic advantage.
I'm not in the business of telling fighters what they should or shouldn't do, but at age 32 and with deep technical issues to resolve, I'm unable to express as much confidence in Manuwa as I can for Nelson. Despite his inability to express emotion and having his own development hurdles, Nelson showed a much more well-rounded game. He's also only 24 years old and incontestably the one to watch.
Bout Most in Need of Two Additional Rounds: Swanson vs. Poirier
The trajectory of the bout by the end of the third round seemed obvious (namely, Swanson's direction), but I wouldn't have hated see their excellent featherweight scrap go into 'championship round' territory. We knew the bout was going to be competitive and it was, but made it fun was how the two matched up. Poirier's surprisingly precise striking forced Swanson to adapt on the fly. And Swanson's power and shockingly good scrambling skills created for exciting struggles along the cage and floor. Swanson got the nod he earned and maybe the three round fight saved Poirier unnecessary punishment, but a fight scheduled for five rounds would've let the fight come to the natural boil it was headed towards.
Saddest Decline of Once-Promising Talent: Josh Grispi
It's hard to know what's caused the precipitous decline of Grispi. One could point to injuries that sidelined his momentum. Perhaps the ease with which he achieved all but one of his victories is another. Winning virtually all of your bouts in the first round is both an indication the fighter is incredibly good and that they haven't faced enough of the sturdiest opposition. I don't think either of those fully explanatory, though. Something else is amiss, as evidenced by what appears to be listless, robotic performances against opponents he should be putting up better fights against. Grispi is utterly uninspired, which is arguably the worst thing any fighter can be. It's downright tragic when they're as talented as he is. It's one thing to be submitted by Rani Yahya or decisioned by Dustin Poirier. It's another to be outhustled by Andy Ogle. Grispi wants it until he doesn't and the switch between the two seems to happen faster and faster.
No one really knows what happens next for him, but it's likely to take place outside of the UFC. If he doesn't want it or have it anymore, that's fine. He should do what is appropriate for his health and future. What I simply can't wrap my head around is the process or reason by which something like this can happen. It will forever remain a mystery to me how a person can have all the ingredients of success, demonstrate their viability and then lose them without explanation or warning. Here's to hoping Grispi can move forward in the most productive way and capture again the enthusiasm that lnce catapulted him to the forefront of the featherweight division.
Clearest Proof FUEL Shows Belong Overseas: UFC on FUEL TV 7
I've written about this previously, namely, the challenge of doing FUEL shows. If there's been any lesson in the evolution of this franchise since the UFC began staging them, it's that staging them internationally has too many benefits to ignore.
With limited exception, North American UFC fans are more interested in the big show than any ol' UFC show that shows up in their town. In other words, there is evidence to suggest if the UFC brings a stacked card with stars in the main event to town, the town will more often than not rally behind it. But just bringing any UFC show? That's not going to cut it anymore.
That isn't to say the FUEL shows aren't good. Relative to your better pay-per-view event, however, the two are leagues apart. The difference is that there's significant international demand for UFC product, which means it's easier to bring a lesser card to places like Macau or even London. That enthusiasm is reflected in a number of ways, not least of which is the dramatically better live gate receipts UFC enjoys when it takes its FUEL show on the road. The London Olympics also proved tape-delayed sports can still draw key ratings and international FUEL cards on replay have done just that.
As the UFC continues it's mission for international expansion, talent recruitment and meeting the high demands of a busy FOX schedule, FUEL shows are proving to be a very valuable asset...when they take place overseas.
Best Vigilante Act: Tom Watson for Calling Out Fighters on TRT
"People can disagree with me all they want. I'm in the industry. I fight, and I see it. I don't know if it's me, but I look at guys and you can see which guys are on it. It's a problem that we're trying to deal with. That's why I said if you want to do it, you can't put it into your chin, and you certainly can't put it into your heart...That's the type of fighter I am - I've got a big heart. If you want to take drugs and you want to be a cheat, let me fight you and let's see what happens." - Tom Watson