In a night of firsts, the UFC’s new European commentary team of John Gooden (play-by-play), Dan Hardy (color) and Andy Friedlander (the alternative voice of the Octagon) performed with sedative calm. Where Joe Rogan likes to get the veins in his forehead involved off the top, Hardy and Gooden felt like a symphony at teatime. It was a refreshing change-up from what we’ve come to expect in the blaring "Face the Pain" world of the UFC.
That all this went down on the Internet for Americans -- and for most everyone else -- ultimately felt like no big deal. For March anyway, $9.99 felt like a steal.
And realistically, the UFC’s first "big" Fight Pass card (dubbed UFC Fight Night 37 officially) was pretty damn good overall. Ilir Latifi choked out Cyrille Diabate in the Frenchman’s farewell fight, Neil Seery surprised everyone outside of Ireland with his performance against Brad Pickett, and Luke Barnatt looked pretty impressive in finishing Swedish fighter Mats Nilsson with knees and fists.
But it was the other Swedish fighter, Alexander Gustafsson, who stole the show. Whole planeloads of Swedes -- two official charters according to Dana White -- dropped into Heathrow to watch Gustafsson in the main event against England’s own Jimi Manuwa. The drama heading into this weekend could be found in the "implications" for the UFC’s No. 1 contender, who was forced into a stay busy fight while Glover Teixeira got his chance at Jon Jones.
If he won, title shot. If he lost, a view of Daniel Cormier’s rear-end. The stakes were just that dire.
So when Manuwa was finished in the second round, plenty of people heaved a sigh of relief. Unofficially, it’s not that the UFC wanted Manuwa to lose, it’s just that…you know, they didn’t want Gustafsson to not win.
And if ever there was a trap fight -- which we’ve seen fighters fall victim to more than once over the years -- it was this one. Manuwa, a hungry opportunist with punching power, was going up against a man with everything to lose. With the fight happening in Manuwa’s backyard of London, there was some tension in the air.
Turns out there was no reason to worry. Gustafsson was poised and took the fight to Manuwa, showing some new wrinkles in his ground game in the process. Now he’s next in line for Jon Jones. Or, as Dana White was quick to point out in the post-fight press conference at O2 Arena, Glover Teixeira. That possibility does exist, but Jones will enter the fight as the heavy favorite.
No offense to Manuwa, who was dealing in matters slightly over his head, but this brings us back to the sweet inevitable: A rematch between Gustafsson and Jon Jones. Gustafsson is the second coming of the great Ingemar Johansson, and right now is the one known foil to Jones. He’s coming back around just as the UFC could use a big event to set up on the horizon. For all intents and purposes, Gustafsson should have been booked into an immediate rematch with Jones after their beautiful first encounter back in September at UFC 165 in Toronto.
To see a previously invincible force like Jones look vulnerable for five rounds was enough for people to clamor for a playback. Fighters pushing each other to the brink is what the sport’s all about.
Well, Gustafsson has done what was asked of him to end up back in the contender’s seat. Now it falls to Jones to steer clear of the traps.