Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
UFC 157: Rousey vs. Carmouche was, generally speaking, an excellent event. We all bore witness to an historic moment with women making their way to the UFC, a thrilling preliminary card and much more. Not everything was perfect, though. We all were forced also had to sit through a dreadful co-main event, not all of the referee stoppages were as good as they could be among other problems.
Let's separate the winners from the losers, the best from the worst and the signal from the noise at UFC 157: Rousey vs. Carmouche.
Most UFC Move: Putting Rousey on Pay-Per-View Before FOX
I'll cop to being wrong. I was one of those who argued Rousey should've been put on free television (FOX) before headlining a pay-per-view card. I believed while she was clearly a popular attraction and one capable of great heights, it would take a more developmental, manicured process to get there. I was wrong.
For better or worse, UFC brass are aggressive. Sometimes that leads them into thinking their brand power is greater than it is. When they face setback, they occasionally have difficulty acknowledging their own judgment errors. When they faced poor reception and bad ticket sales at UFC on FX 3, UFC President Dana White blamed the tough Miami market, one he said has historically always been so. That necessitates the question; if it's so tough, why bother going in with a very watered-down card? And that requires a follow-up, candid query as well: isn't the watered-down card that'd have difficulty being received with strong demand anywhere in North America the bigger culprit than a market that was only referred to as difficult when poor financial returns and low fan enthusiasm were on display?
On the other hand, UFC 157 was a clear case where their aggressiveness paid huge dividends. Zuffa brass forged ahead with a hunch Rousey could do big business even in an area where UFC often faces box office difficulty. They didn't listen to critics who suggested a more measured approach was appropriate a) because Rousey wasn't a proven box office draw and b) if Rousey didn't sell pay-per-views her first time out, she'd be labeled a promotional dud (even if such a conclusion was unfair). The result? The sell-out gate, enormous if not unprecedented media attention and the most high-profile women's combat sports fight arguably of all time. Not too shabby.
We'll have to wait to see the pay-per-view buyrate returns, but it's hard to fathom a scenario where they underperform modest expectations, e.g. 300,000 buys. Whatever the case, UFC accomplished something beyond proving critics wrong: they made Rousey's big stage introduction as big and successful as it could possibly be. Promoters get one opportunity to make an introduction count. You'd be had pressed to argue they left any stone unturned and they did so at a time when the mainstream media and casual observers were willing to look at what was under the rocks UFC turned over.
Biggest Winner: Everyone
Arguing this event on Saturday was on any meaningful level a failure can only happen from the mind of someone deranged or paid to say as much. Saturday was an unmitigated success. Fans benefit by having a diversified and arguably more energized product, UFC benefits on similar terms, women benefit by having additional opportunities (and proving they are capable of competing and being compelling in combat sports), and the sport benefits by making a portion of the game more robust as well as have it humanized it, insofar as women force the sport to be viewed in a new light. It's true the inclusion of women means roster cuts of some men, but the UFC already employs far too many fighters. We cannot complain fight cards are too thin and then lament the loss of those fighters who likely aren't UFC caliber.
Best Representation of What's Possible in Good Refereeing: Herb Dean
For starters, referee Herb Dean deserves acknowledgement for not pulling the trigger too early in the chaotic Dennis Bermudez vs. Matt Grice affair. Frankly speaking, I don't know if anyone would've been overly upset if he had. There were moments in the third round where Grice's connection to conscious thought was tenuous. No clear line was crossed in the pitched battle, though. Dean acted reservedly and therefore appropriately by letting the combatants have every fair opportunity to compete on their own terms.
What's noteworthy is the controversy about Dean's stoppage of the Josh Koscheck vs. Robbie Lawler bout. Some suggest it was premature as Koscheck was neither unconscious nor unable to immediately react once the bout was halted. At first glance, I believed Dean erred. After a few more viewings, however, I noticed Koscheck, while not entirely asleep, was doing nothing to stop Lawler. There were no meaningful defensive postures taken. He was poised to take more abuse and to do so without any kind of bulwark.
All of this is to say that Dean's stoppage is at least defensible. What it doesn't mean is the Grice vs. Bermudez non-stoppage equates to giving Dean a mulligan. A bad stoppage is a bad stoppage and the last thing we want or need in MMA is an entirely inconsistent referee. Instead, Dean's actions demonstrate even when he isn't perfect, he's at least defensible. And for a job as difficult as his, isn't that really all we can reasonably expect?
Most Nauseating Aspect of Fight Week: Ronda Rousey hyperbole
Seriously, Rousey is an excellent fighter and as I've been saying in this space for the better part of six months, probably the UFC's next big, breakout star. That's one hell of an accomplishment, but it's not enough for members of the MMA and mainstream media. We are living in a strange age when the aforementioned accomplishments aren't enough to praise and magnify a fighting talent.
Headlines in every nook and corner of the print and digital media made bold declarations that Rousey wasn't merely the best women's fighter ever, but she belonged in or near the top of pound-for-pound rankings. I read one prediction she'd help usher in a new era where her accomplishments would teach us to love other women's sports that we previously disliked. I even came across articles asking if Rousey was the X of MMA where X is some highly accomplished male sports figure who did a lot more than whatever their sporting equivalent was than winning seven fights. One wondered if it was just a matter of time before we were rhetorically asked if Rousey was the judo Jesus come to save our souls and forgive the sins of combat sports.
Rousey is an important historical figure in MMA and one of the sport's new stars. That's plenty of accomplishment. We, the media, do not need to stroke our own egos and justify our existences by pretending we are the direct, living witnesses to events and moments that don't exist and aren't happening. The truth is plenty interesting.
Coolest 'New' Submission: Kenny Robertson's 'Suloev Stretch'
As it turns out, Robertson's submission over Brock Jardine on the preliminary card is not 'new', at least not to savvier MMA audiences. UFC veteran Amar Suloev has used it before (check out Bloody Elbow's fun breakdown of the maneuver, known as the 'Suloev Stretch'). Still, what a fun wrinkle to add to an already historical event and to more commonly known MMA submissions generally. People may crave knockouts, but there is an implicit acknowledgement submissions display greater creativity, thought and signature.
Least Inspiring as Future Title Contender: Lyoto Machida
I can't imagine after Saturday's dreadfully risk averse albeit successful performance from Machida that many are clamoring to see him rematch UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones. Typically when a contender has lost in a title bout and is looking for a second chance, they rebound by not only winning, but inspiring confidence with how they win. Machida didn't do that.
If anything, he solidified concerns that a second fight with Jones would be a waste of everyone's time. It's not to say the Brazilian isn't talented or defeating Dan Henderson is some easy feat. Rather, it's that there's nothing seemingly new, improved or novel about what Machida is doing in the cage to make one believe he'll be able to correct for what went went wrong the first time.
Surprisingly Inspiring as Future Title Contender: Urijah Faber
What's most remarkable about Faber's career isn't just that he's had some of the game's highest highs or considerable setback. It's that his fealty to happiness is both natural and helps his ability to rebound.
Faber's a former champion who has been repudiated in not one, but two weight classes and significantly so. Given the definitive nature of his loss combined with his age has forced many of us to wonder if this was the end for him, at least as a title challenger. And yet, every time we ponder as much, he storms back to prove us premature doubters.
Faber benefits from being marketable and competing in a relatively thin, developing division. But he also benefits from never letting setback define the course of reinvention, competitive spirit and his ability to execute in the Octagon. Many fighters would've let the gravity of loss and title shot rematch improbabilities psychologically derail them. Not Faber. I don't know if he can regain the title now or anytime in the future, but I have no choice but to take my hat off to a guy who was telling the truth when said he wasn't down or upset after losing key career fights. That's not just mental toughness or being stubborn. That's a commitment to a worldview that maximizes his own personal flourishing. It's also one he's demonstrated isn't crazy to believe in.
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