It was the first of (allegedly) many UFC superfights in 2013 and it was a whopper. If you're a Frankie Edgar fan, there's a lot to not love about Saturday night's UFC 156, but the near peerless talent on display by both fighters in the main event is not one of them.
And that wasn't the only thing to admire. The entire event gave something to almost every fan, especially for those who root for the underdog. Yet, there was plenty to dislike as well, not least of which is one of the most baffling choices made by a referee this year in the sport.
It's time to break down the winners from the losers, the best and the worst and the signal from the noise at UFC 156: Aldo vs. Edgar.
Hottest Hot Streak in MMA: UFC
A hot streak is as much about dumb as it is engineered luck. When the two work in tandem is when the magic happens. That's precisely what's happening in the UFC right now. UFC 156 is simply yet another example of this trend.
Clearly, the UFC is creating their own opportunities for success. They're booking better fights between contenders and interesting personalities that fans crave. At least on FOX, they're getting the right kind of promotion to give the right kind of fighters the exposure they deserve and need.
But part of what's happening is serendipity. Fighters brought over from Strikeforce are outperforming expectations. So far, events aren't falling through due to injury like they were in 2012. Match-ups of expected greatness, e.g. Anthony Pettis vs. Donald Cerrone from last weekend, are delivering in every way possible. In short, things that need to happen to create the stars and unforgettable moments that launched the UFC to success in the first place are, for now, back in full swing.
There are challenges that remain for world's top MMA promoter. The FOX deal is by no means working as fluidly as it should. We're also only in February. Things could change pretty rapidly. But is there cause for optimism and plenty of top-shelf MMA for everyone to enjoy? Feel free to bet your bottom dollar.
Least Imaginative Way to Promote a Superfight: UFC
I noted this on Saturday, but it bears repeating: if you're the UFC and you're publicly wondering why some are suggesting a bout between Frankie Edgar and Jose Aldo isn't a superfight just days prior to the bout, something probably could've been tweaked in the promotion leading up to the event.
I'm not suggesting the promotion of the fight was bad. I'm also not suggesting the event was a live gate or pay-per-view failure (we'll have to wait on the numbers of the latter to be sure, though). We also have to give credit to the UFC for making such a spectacular bout happen in the first place. What I am suggesting is aside from its proximity to a FOX event, there didn't appear to be any particularly special effort to promote what is and was a very, very special fight. The UFC prides itself on being experimental and aggressive. On balance, their business strategy reflects these attributes. But it's also true portions of their promotional repertoire are in desperate need of innovation.
Most Likely to Resemble a Strikeforce Event: UFC 156
This is easy enough to argue since the card's matriculating Strikeforce veterans ran the table on UFC veterans Saturday night. But that would only materially make it something of a Strikeforce event. I'm talking more about the spirit of Strikeforce show, namely, surprising violence, chaos and unpredictability.
One of the most interesting things about MMA events (particularly UFC) is that they re-write the rules of the MMA universe every time they happen. Each event is a little laboratory for testing. How good we think a fighter is or how much of a contender they are or what fights are possible are all either denied or confirmed each time. On Saturday, though, we didn't just have change; we went through an upheaval. The unknown, seemingly outmatched and often overlooked did everything we thought they wouldn't or couldn't. The impossible became the inevitable.
Strikeforce is dead and gone, and probably for the better. But if there's any legacy they left, it's that a wild night of MMA may cause promotional headaches, but the invisible hand of MMA re-organization is a ton of fun to watch.
Best Argument for Being Dubbed MMA's Most Talented Lighter Weight Fighter: Jose Aldo's victory Saturday
Let me be clear: there's no certainty about this, but it is worth opening the conversation. Jose Aldo put on the performance against a fellow pound-for-pound all-star that indicates the differential in pure fighting talent is fairly significant. It's the sort of performance that did less to tell us about Aldo's ceiling and more to whet our appetite about what is still possible for him to achieve.
There are shortcomings to his game, most notably he seems to fade late. He also faced in Edgar someone he's still larger than, which makes potential lightweight fights intriguing but bigger (no pun intended) challenges. Still, what he did on Saturday should not be discounted. Putting the screws to Edgar in the manner he did (admittedly more so early than late) requires a supreme talent who maximizes athleticism and tactics in a way few possess.
As for Edgar, watching him lose a third consecutive time was gut wrenching. He's an affable, salt of the earth guy with extraordinary ability who recently hasn't been able to shine in convincing ways. Candidly speaking, part of that is bad luck, but part of it is that he fights everyone too closely. He's having constant rematches for a reason. I'm not sure what the solution is and there's no denying the murderer's row of fighters he's faced makes finishing borderline impossible. Still, he can't regain the position he once held in MMA continuing to be on the unfortunate side of close judging contests.
Most Indefensible Performance by a Commission Representative: Kim Winslow
It didn't end up affecting the outcome (mercifully), but referee Kim Winslow standing up Bobby Green when he was on top of Jacob Volkmann in the second round of their bout is utterly indefensible. One can only wonder what possible criteria she relied on to make the decision to stand up the pair while Green was unmistakably striking with sufficient frequency in a very, very effective maner.
Was he not advancing position quickly enough? Did she believe the strikes were relatively insignificant? Did she warn Green to do more or she'd be left with no choice but to put the bout back on the feet? Who cares? Those considerations aren't even fair to bring up in this context and if she feels otherwise, then the insane stand up of Green and Volkmann are merely the beginning of her problems.
Best Serving of Humble Pie: Antonio Silva dishing it to Alistair Overeem
It is endlessly intriguing to me the two fighters who the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix were built around - Fedor Emelianenko and Alistair Overeem - were both defeated by the guy who was the betting underdog headed into the Travis Browne fight.
Antonio Silva's story is about as good as it's going to get for a non-champion in MMA. Not only does he get to keep the scalps of two of MMA's former and current elite heavyweights, he also gets to do so while making use of the rage and frustration he's probably experienced in being dismissed, overlooked and passed by among members of the MMA community.
I can't speak for anyone else and I'm no achiever of truly great accolades, but as good as success feels, the euphoria is heightened that much more when it's mixed with a healthy dose of 'I told you so'.
Most Inspiring Comeback After Devastating Loss: Tyron Woodley
There's an interesting divide between MMA and boxing when it comes to discussion about fighters being knocked out and how it affects them psychologically. Perhaps it is my imagination, but boxing circles seem to treat bad knockouts as greater indictments of a fighter's future or ability than MMA circles. Neither regards them as negligible developments, but the MMA community doesn't seem to share the same sense of irreversible psychological change that one hears after a boxer is folded to the canvas.
I'm not sure why this is. Perhaps it's because many MMA spectators are first-generation fight fans. They came to MMA on their own without the language of boxing handed down to them. Maybe it's that MMA gives life to wrestling and therefore doesn't trap fighters into the corner of striking combative arts. I don't know what the cause is.
What I do know, however, is the more time passes, the more I tend to think the boxing community gets this a bit wrong. Take the case of Tyron Woodley. His last loss was the only knockout of his professional career, but it was particularly devastating. Nate Marquardt uppercutted him into unconsciousness, but only after Woodley ate a barrage of crushing hooks against the fence. I was curious and worried to see how this would affect him heading into Saturday's bout with Jay Hieron.
Answer: not at all. Hieron isn't necessarily a super elite welterweight, but he's good at everything and bad at nothing. That, though, isn't the point. Woodley's game plan from the outset was to move forward and pressure Hieron. For a fighter to come back from a soul-snatching KO to do some soul snatching of his own challenges the idea a knockout loss - even a violent one - can have lasting effects in a fighter with the sort of grit and determination Woodley possesses.