In more than 20 years of UFC events, only twice had a show featured nine decisions. The last two UFC shows, on events filled with newcomers, both had 10. Is this a statistical abnormality, or a harbinger of UFC in 2014?
As of the end of January, the UFC had put on more than 260 live events over more than 20 years. Only twice had a show had more than eight decisions.
In the company's next two events, UFC 169
on Feb. 1, and Saturday night's Fight Night, a record was first set with ten fights going to a decision, and tied the very next event.
The odds against that would seem to be astronomical. And while you can point to crazy changes all at once in longtime sports records and tie them into better equipment, new uniform inventions, freaky weather, changing rules and chemical enhancements, when it comes to UFC, there is nothing all that different from what was going on a few weeks ago.
Sure, there are obvious changes from years back. There are more lighter weight fighters than ever before, and on a percentage basis, the general rule is the lighter the fighter, the higher percentage of fights are going to a decision. But all the weight classes that were in place these last two shows have been there for a year. And there were no flyweight
or women's fights on Saturday night, and there was only one flyweight fight and no women's fights two weeks ago.
Decisions aren't an inherent evil by any means. The three fights most talked about clashes in the running for fight of the year in 2013, Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson
, Gilbert Melendez
vs. Diego Sanchez
and Mark Hunt
vs. Antonio Silva, all went to decisions, as did the Georges St-Pierre
vs. Johny Hendricks classic. But a multitude of them the same night can make for a long night.
Officially, in UFC history, none were longer than Saturday night in Jaragua do Sul, Santa Catarina, Brazil. The 12-fight card clocked in at 173 minutes and 32 seconds of fighting time. And it wasn't the more the merrier, because the next morning, it felt like a blur of new fighters, somewhat unknown fighters, and a few very skilled fighters, with a limited selection of highlights.
Were the last two shows odds-defying statistical abnormalities, or is there a change in the air?
With the increase in the number of shows, there have been more people making their debuts of late. Every fight but one involving a newcomer on the last two shows went to a decision. Is there a fear of losing and getting cut that's in place now? Is it, because with more fighters than ever on the roster, you are getting lower into the depth charts of the overall talent with the newcomers that the caliber of fighters are better at their surviving skills than their finishing skills? Have these last two shows just been freak occurrences, just like the last four months of 2013 were when it came to quality of high-end fights?
In the end, this is a subject that will have more answers a few more months down the road.
When the dust settled, Lyoto Machida
and Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza, the two name fighters on the show who were on the path for a middleweight
title fight, remained unscathed. Both men fight altogether different styles, and are gifted in different ways.
Machida is the Rubik's Cube of MMA. Jon Jones
and Mauricio "Shogun" Rua proved Rubik's Cube can be solved, but so far they are the only ones. Matches with Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Phil Davis
showed, that even when Machida is the better fighter, his nonaggressive style can sometimes beat himself.
In his move to middleweight, he's now 2-0, and is back to looking like the Machida that won his first 14 fights and then knocked out Rashad Evans
in 2009, when Joe Rogan
proclaimed that we were entering "The Era of Machida." That era didn't last long, as most felt he lost his next fight with Rua although judges felt differently, and Rua left no doubt in the rematch, putting Machida's lights out.
Souza is a rare combination of freaky reflexes, explosive striking and a level of ground work that's not just won ten different world championships in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and submission wrestling, but he's transferred well into MMA combat. Over the last five years, he's lost once, a decision to Luke Rockhold.
As far as where they, and the division goes, much will depend on health. Machida believed he broke his foot in the third round against Gegard Mousasi. Souza came in with an arm injury that limited his training and caused his to consider pulling out of his fight with Francis Carmont
. He talked of needing minor surgery after the fight.
If both are healthy, there are two obvious decisions that can be made. One is put them against each other to determine who faces the winner of the Chris Weidman vs. Vitor Belfort
championship fight scheduled for May 24 in Las Vegas.
The other is to earmark one for the shot, and put the other against a top contender, for a shot that could be almost a year down the road.
If one or the other isn't healthy enough to fight in a normal next rotation, what happens next may be both more frustrating, but in actuality, would be easier to plan out.
And with that, let's look at how Fortunes Changes for Five stars from Saturday night.
LYOTO MACHIDA -
Machida (21-4) came into Saturday night's fight with the statement from Dana White
that should he win, he'll get the next title shot at the Weidmen-Belfort winner. Machida won, handily, in a fight mostly on his feet, against someone who had never been out struck in MMA competition previously.
There is the issue that Machida fights can be dull, but because of his being mostly a headliner for five years, his name recognition trumps that of Souza. At 35, for a fighter whose game plan depends so much on speed and reflexes, one has to question his longevity. But on the positive side, few are better at not being hit, and that's a trait that usually extends a fighter's shelf life on top.
GEGARD MOUSASI -
Unlike Machida, whose drop from light heavyweight
came largely because of losses and needing to start fresh, Mousasi (34-4-2) didn't have that pressure.
Mousasi knocked out Souza in 2008 to become Dream middleweight king in a tournament final in Japan. He immediately vacated the title citing his difficulty in making weight.
He went 8-1-1 as a light heavyweight
and 2-0 as a heavyweight in the interim. The draw was a fight he clearly should have won against Keith Jardine. The loss was due to a wrestling weakness that King Mo Lawal took advantage of to ground him for five rounds. His wrestling seemed improved but for the first time in his career, he came out on the short end of a mostly standing fight.
Machida is such a difficult opponent that this fight gives little indication of where Mousasi stands in the division, past that there now looks to be a long road to a title shot. Logical next opponents could include Mark Munoz
, Thales Leites
or Francis Carmont, who would test his wrestling defense, and all of whom he would appear to have a striking advantage with.
RONALDO "JACARE" SOUZA -
Although new to the UFC, Souza (20-3, 1 no contest), is 34 and very clearly has the skill set to be in the top mix. If he doesn't face Machida next, what would seem to make sense would be to face the most impressive winner out of these two upcoming--Luke Rockhold vs. Tim Boetsch
(April 26, Baltimore) or Michael Bisping
vs. Tim Kennedy (April 16, Quebec City).
Rockhold, who would be favored against Boetsch, defeated Souza to win the Strikeforce middleweight title in 2011. Even though it was his last defeat, Souza wasn't thrilled when the prospect of facing Rockhold was brought up, saying that he remembers Rockhold being on the wrong end of a Vitor Belfort
ERICK SILVA -
The star of Saturday's show, Silva (16-4, 1 no contest) has fought seven times in the UFC, with four of those fights lasting less than 71 seconds.
Silva actually lost one of those via DQ for strikes to the back of the head of Carlo Prater
, in a fight it appeared he had won quickly. In his previous fight, a knockout loss to Dong Hyun Kim
, it was one of those things that happens in MMA. Kim, a judo guy, in theory was going to want the takedown to avoid Silva's power standing. But it became clear he couldn't take Silva down, and was getting destroyed standing. Suddenly, in the second round, Kim knocked Silva cold. It came across like one of those lightning strike finishes that probably wouldn't happen again and Silva on the verge of his highest profile win.
Because Silva looks so young, people think of him as a kid on the rise. In actuality, he turns 30 this summer. He's one of the sport's most exciting fighters, and has the charisma to be a bona fide top level star in the Brazilian market if he can break into the upper echelon. But he has yet to prove he can beat a top star. Nate Marquardt
is coming off a loss, but would be a solid test for Silva at this stage. Depending on Matt Brown's
back injury situation, that could have the makings of a tremendous fight. Or he could face the winner of either Rick Story
vs. Kelvin Gastelum
(March 15, Dallas) or Tarec Saffiedine vs. Jake Ellenberger
(April 26, Baltimore). Either way, the next fight should be a test to see if he has top ten ability.
At 24, Oliveira is the youngest of the company's featherweight stars. But he's no longer that 21-year-old prodigy. He's had losses every time he's faced a top name, and dropped from lightweight
to featherweight. He'd make a great opponent for Conor McGregor or Dustin Poirier
, in as much as the matches would be interesting battles both standing and on the ground. And both are the level of tests to gauge whether he's going to be someone to watch out for going forward.