Signal to Noise: UFC on FOX 8's best and worst

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

From the great main event between Demetrious Johnson and John Moraga to the great opener on FOX between Liz Carmouche and Jessica Andrade, there was much to love about UFC on FOX 8. Yet, there was also abhorrent judging, lackluster fights and not much star power.

It's time to separate Saturday's good from the bad, the best from the worst and the signal from the noise.

Star-divide

Least and Most Deserving of Context When It Comes to Bad Ratings: UFC

UFC on FOX 8 was the lowest-rated MMA event ever on network television (discounting IFL on MyNetworkTV nonsense), but mercifully there's not much hand wringing over it. Most believe, with good reason, ratings will rebound during NFL season. Besides, there weren't any major stars on the card. How good could the ratings have been?

And yet, let's provide some context. Here's what UFC President Dana White said about the ratings from the Strikeforce show on CBS where Fedor Emelianenko fought Bret Rogers:

"CBS made its biggest mistake partnering with a tiny, small show with a roster no one cares about," said Dana White. "Just because you read on MMA.TV that someone is a superstar doesn't make it true. This should prove that no one out there gives a [expletive] about Fedor."

"We're pulling those numbers on Spike," White said. "I mean, how the [expletive] is what they did considered any good in any way, shape or form? What kind of numbers do you think we would pull with a live show on CBS? I'll tell you. Huge. It would be significantly, significantly more than what they got with these idiots from Showtime."

Sounds brutal. They must've tanked in the numbers, right? Wrong. They averaged over 4 million viewers and pulled a 2.5 rating. The show peaked at 5.46 million viewers. Just so we're all on the same page, that's more than double the audience UFC pulled on FOX on Saturday night.

It's true MMA isn't quite the ratings and pay-per-view draw it was in 2009. The market for everyone has cooled. UFC on FOX 8 is also hardly the organization's best effort. If they want to put on a card to match Strikeforce's Fedor vs. Rogers event, they can.

The UFC also is closer to being a global brand than at any point in history. The letters UFC are synonymous with MMA, at least among the vernacular of the casual sports fan. And sports media cover UFC more substantively than ever. In some real measurements, the UFC brand is as alive, successful and entrenched as it's been.

Yet, it terms of creating interesting must-see events - event in, event out - the UFC brand has been incontestably watered down. Fans are picking and choosing which UFC events to watch more than ever. That isn't to say top quality UFC cards don't do well, but that consumers no longer view the UFC signifier as an indication any impending card is destination viewing. Many UFC cards are. Some are not. Last Saturday's card is a clear example of this. Without a major headliner or enough promotion, the UFC brand alone could not carry it to ratings success.

We shouldn't scoff at 2 million viewers tuning in to see a flyweight title fight. That, in and of itself, is a certain kind of achievement. But White probably shouldn't have scoffed at the 5 million Strikeforce was able to grab either. That was also pretty impressive, both then and now.

Slow But Steady Award: Demetrious Johnson

Saturday night wasn't a ratings blockbuster by any stretch of the imagination, but there is an important takeaway. UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson is quietly coming into his own. That's more true now in terms of being a premier-level fighter than a celebrated figure, but the latter is happening as well. His wide-ranging abilities are catching fans' eyes while they're slowly warming to his 'aww shucks' demeanor.

He still has quite a way to go. He's nowhere near ready for pay-per-view in terms of being sellable attraction. He's also a fighter and figure in motion, though, and with each successive fight is proving he's not just one of the UFC's best fighters or more unique talents, but a guy fans should carve out time to see.

Best Photo From The Event: Jorge Masvidal's wry smile

068_jorge_masvidal_vs_michael_chiesa_gallery_post_medium

Jorge Masvidal is literally in the midst of a victory lap while Michael Chiesa tries to reclaim himself in the foreground. I especially like Masvidal's smile because it isn't narcissistic, ghoulishly vindictive, wild behavior. It's slight, as much a failed attempt to camouflage his own feelings as it is to provoke the hometown crowd of the vanquished opposition on all fours on the mat. To see all of the pictures from Saturday, go here.

Most Underrated Technician: Jorge Masvidal

Speaking of the American Top Team fighter, his reputation needs some reconsidering. Yes, he is 'gamebred'. This is a kid who began fighting on lawn grass in the back yards of Miami homes for nothing more than bragging rights and demonstrating his version of manhood. But that's not who he is anymore. This is a fighter who not only does everything effectively, he does it with precision. He demonstrates technical mastery in virtually every facet of the game to an extent that makes it impossible to ignore.

He isn't the perfect fighter. He's a little more hittable than I like. He often hesitates too long during rounds. He's also a competitor whose meticulously tactical approach to the game both belies his 'gambred' branding as much as it compliments it.

Hilarious WTF Judging Award: Washington State's Department of Licensing

The fail was strong with this group on Saturday night. I mean, just look at it. Multiple occasions of judges scoring it 30-27 for one fighter while another judge awards it 30-27 for the fighter who was supposed to be losing all three rounds according to their fellow judge. There were some 30-27 for X up against 29-28 for Y instances, too, which isn't much preferable. Throw in the reality all three judges in the Liz Carmouche-Jessica Andrade fight gave the Brazilian the first round and you can't help but laugh at those who suggest MMA judging isn't that bad.

It isn't 'that bad'. It's disastrously bad. It's true those who defend MMA judging have something of a point that the bad judging doesn't affect the actual outcome of contests as much as fans think. Saturday is a good example of that. Yet, it also feels like we're constantly skating by on the skin of our teeth. We're always moving from one nervous, precarious moment to the next, waiting for one fighter's night and even career to be badly affected because Donk Donkerson believes holding a guillotine choke that's submitting nobody is effective damage or control or both.

UFC President Dana White is right. It isn't getting better. I'm not sure it ever will. We're dealing with a volunteer army corralled by state regulators who don't want imperfect to be the enemy of the good. That's almost a textbook definition of mediocrity and inconsistency. Whatever it is, it's ours and isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

Best Reminder MMA Rules Often Don't Incentivize Excitement: Rory MacDonald vs. Jake Ellenberger

Who is at fault: MacDonald for not doing more or Ellenberger for doing much of anything? The answer: it's impossible to tell. The reality is both fighters responded to the set of various risks and incentives in front of them. Part of those are known. Many we can't be sure of from this distance. It's defensible to say MacDonald did all he had to and the onus is on Ellenberger to do more. It's also defensible to say MacDonald has more to gain with a more thorough, comprehensive effort.

The reality is both fighters made calculations about what they were and weren't willing to do in the name of various gains. Based on our own preferences, we can view those decisions negatively or admirably. The problem is we simply don't have a fuller perspective about what choices they made and why.

Here's what I do know: the rules of mixed martial arts and the incentives the UFC offers fighters does not always and cannot always create for excitement. There are factors competitors will view as superseding bonus money or early exists via submissions and TKOs. MMA is not always exciting and that's often the case not because fighters are scared or hurt or boring, but because they don't have enough incentive to be.

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