UFC on FOX 10 offered the fight fan much to love and much to abhor. The card featured a series of scintillating knockouts, a come from behind victory and largely compelling main event. Yet, the card overall was only so-so, the headlining bout result less than fulfilling and the event overall somewhat tepid.
It's time we separate the good from the bad, the winners from the losers and the signal from the noise at UFC on FOX 10 from Saturday night.
Most Disturbing Takeaway: The General Creep of Misunderstanding Grappling
Fun to Watch Award: Daron Cruickshank
At 28 years of age and having considerable if limited overall mixed martial arts ability, I wouldn't put The Detroit Superstar on the shortlist of title contenders. I'm also tired of trying to define fighters as a function of which side of the fence they're on when it comes to title contention (yes, I'm guilty of keeping that measurement in play).
Cruickshank is a joy to watch. When he's over matched, not so much. Like anyone else out of their depth, what makes them interesting is extinguished by a superior opponent. He's very much feast or famine in that regard. Yet, when he's given room to let his artistry breathe, how shiny his craft becomes. It's unusual, athletic and instantly lethal. He uses techniques designed as much for termination as their beautiful aesthetics. I'm not suggesting we only match him up with fighters where we artificially let this dynamic play out, but it'd be a mistake to not carve out a little space to give it a chance to grow either.
Best Photo of the Event: Josh Thomson Stages His Own Pep Rally
I don't know about you, but does this look like a fighter who thinks he's losing? Get all of the UFC on FOX 10 photos from Esther Lin here.
Least Compelling in Victory: Stipe Miocic
Miocic is a hugely talented heavyweight. Earning a victory of Gabriel Gonzaga - and doing so by studiously shutting down the power striking or ground game of the hulking Brazilian - is worthy of applause. Yet, if we're being candid with ourselves and each other, did we walk away with renewed confidence about his upside? We certainly did after the Roy Nelson bout. Miocic demonstrated strong fight IQ as well as a diligent and effective jab, something we hadn't seen put together in one comprehensive effort before. Certainly not against a foe as formidable as Nelson. Against Gonzaga, however, we were reminded of his shortcomings just as much as his strengths we already knew existed. Perhaps having our memories refreshed and finding that ordinary is unfair, but it takes the extraordinary to capture the imagination. It certainly takes that to defeat or even compete with the truly elite of that division. I'm not advocating any argument that Miocic can't or won't get there, but he didn't do much to re-write the heavyweight division as we understand it short of climbing the ranks on a few media members' ranking ballots.
Most Compelling in Entertainment: Donald Cerrone
I've previously written Donald Cerrone is not in line for a title shot or even a title shot run. He's indubitably an elite MMA lightweight, but is a known commodity. That is, we've seen his best and while superb, it's also not enough to measure up against the division's very best.
Still, with a figure as talented as Cerrone who holds skill and blind courage in equal regard, there's very little to not adore. He routinely employs techniques that are heavy on devastation if not accuracy. When facing opposition not up to snuff, they land or score with all of their intended ferocity.
Perhaps most importantly, Cerrone cannot be thought of as merely a competitor. His life outside of the Octagon defines his presence and decision making in it. He is 'Cowboy' as much as he is 'Donald'. The one cannot be separated from the other. They often also can't be distinguished from one another. He presents himself as candidly to the world as he does his opposition. He fights hard, he lives hard, he celebrates hard (empty Budweiser cans at the post-fight presser were a nice touch). It's who he is take it or leave it, for better or worse. The shelf life on that isn't long, so it's something worth taking a moment to appreciate while we have the opportunity to do so.
Biggest Lesson About FOX Events: They're Going to Look a Lot Like This
Look, I've spoken about this topic ad nauseum. I admire the UFC's ambition and am curious to see if they can pull off their goal of global hegemony, but I have a number of concerns about the feasibility of the plan, not least of which is how the schedule drains their roster. If you don't want to accept these concerns from me as a media figure, then do so as if this is a consumer review, which may carry more weight depending on your perspective.
In either case, that reality of the UFC's business plan is not likely to change any time in the near future. UFC is locked in. So, if we accept it as inevitable, then we have to ask the question without prejudice: what will the shows look like?
I don't take UFC Fight Night 35's main event as any standard or at least not the high end of what the Fight Night series will offer. But I don't take it as aberrant either. Two top-ranked middleweights in an otherwise unremarkable contest on top of a card that was as good as it was bad is what the UFC can afford to place in that slot. They'll still need talent for other FOX shows, pay-per-view events or some other event on the schedule. Cards cannot always made to be great, but can always be made to be as great as possible given the circumstances.
There was some bellyaching UFC on FOX 10's card was the weakest of any in the series. Some of that may be true, some of it was unfair. What is true, however, is that going forward, FOX events, when not featuring title fights as headliners, are going to be somewhat indistinguishable from better Fight Night cards. Stated plainly, there isn't the roster depth to consistently offer a product that's superior to the better Fight Night cards but less than a pay-per-view event. The middle ground there is not expansive enough to claim it's own identity.
The key word here is a consistent difference between FOX and Fight Night cards. I'm sure the UFC will go back to offering title fights for FOX cards that will be excellent and demonstrably superior to the Fight Night franchise. What I would caution against is presuming FOX 10 is unusual. As the UFC continues to feed their schedule or suffer from just one injury withdrawal, avoiding a good if unspectacular FOX card that isn't uniquely different from a Fight Night main event is going to become harder to manage.
Least Deserving of Headlining Another FOX Card: Ben Henderson
Henderson's resume is about as sterling as they come. He's so far experienced a career most MMA fighters would dream of having. He's headlined pay-per-views, fought the toughest his division has to offer, held and defended a UFC title and received a substantial promotional push from his contractors at the UFC. For me, however, that's enough.
In other words, Henderson is too talented and too accomplished to not score big fights against highly-ranked opposition in bouts of consequence. If UFC wishes to place him on a pay-per-view main card in a non-headlining role, I'm all in favor. My issue is with FOX main events. I think it's time to call it quits on Henderson as a headliner for the franchise.
If we examine where Henderson has been, how much promotion he's received, how many high-profile events he's headlined on FOX and pay-per-view and then realize the ratings for FOX events where he headlines have consistently dipped over the three where he's filled that spot, it's time to reevaluate where UFC and FOX should do with selecting headliners (FYI, overnights for Henderson are 3.41 million for the first event, 3.3 for the second and most recently, 2.55 for the third). If we've come this far and the enthusiasm is this staid, isn't it at least worth considering that spending additional resources pushing Henderson as a headliner in this format isn't likely to yield strong returns?
It's not Henderson's fault fights are judged the way they are, but it might behoove UFC to pick a headliner who could benefit from exposure, yet more organically generates enthusiasm. Henderson has a growing body of fans, but has a fair share of detractors or those who are simply uninterested in his contests. Again, I am not advocating banishing him to Fight Pass prelims or removal from FOX altogether. What I am saying is whether as a product for casuals - which is what FOX shows are - it makes sense to most prominently feature a fighter who cannot sustain fan interest amidst controversial fights that leaves audiences unsatisfied despite substantial promotion.