EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- UFC president Dana White still gets miffed if you try to suggest the first two UFC on FOX events were anything other than masterpieces. He was at it again at the UFC on FOX 3 postfight press conference Saturday night, sending out zingers when asked to compare the event at the Izod Center to the previous two cards.
"On the previous FOX cards, I know people were [expletive] about it, they've got nothing to [expletive] about," said White. "It's free, and they were great fights, so shut up."
Regardless of what you might have thought of the first two events, there's no disputing the UFC hit an artistic home run in their third live network television event.
The matches were designed, stylistically, to produce maximum action. But they also weren't just haphazardly thrown together for sake of a thrillfest.
Each main-card bout had significance in its division: Nate Diaz-Jim Miller was there to put someone on the short list for a title shot; Josh Koscheck-Johny Hendricks was a classic "cagey veteran vs. up-and-coming star" meeting; Alan Belcher-Rousimar Palhares had major middleweight ramifications; and Pat Barry-Lavar Johnson ... OK, that one was probably put together simply for the sake of a thrillfest. But it still served to boost Johnson's profile as a heavyweight on the rise.
According the the overnight ratings, the event drew an average of 2.25 million viewers, down from the first two FOX cards. But regardless of the numbers, there's no doubt that with the third event, the UFC got the format down pat, and the fighters delivered the goods.
"You know, when you put on live fights or live sporting events, you never know how the fight is going to go," said White. "Tonight was one of those nights when, if you looked at the card, you knew the fights were going to be exciting, and these guys delivered."
UFC on FOX 3 Notes
*Excuse me for stating the obvious, but how gutsy was Belcher's performance in defeating Palhares? Not only did Belcher escape the sort of deep leg lock that has sent previous opponents home on crutches, but after escaping, rather than try to get back to his feet, he stayed in the danger zone and put Palhares out.
"My game plan was to stay out of a grappling situation and stay safe," said Belcher. "I did the best with what was given to me. I was forced to get into a grappling situation, I messed up a little bit and I was in a leglock, but I got out and I just went with what was there."
That's the sort of fortitude that makes future champions. At this stage, Belcher should be no more than one win away from a crack at the gold.
*I'm coming around on the notion Nate Diaz deserves a lightweight title shot ahead of Anthony Pettis. Yes, Pettis owns a win over champion Ben Henderson. But title shots are based on who most deserves it now. Pettis' past three fights include a loss to Clay Guida and a split decision over Jeremy Stephens. Diaz, since going down to lightweight, has dominated an aging Takanori Gomi, derailed the runaway Donald Cerrone hype train, and defied conventional wisdom by manhandling Jim Miller in front of his hometown crowd. If you're looking at who most deserves a title shot at 155 pounds as of May 6, 2012, and not based on what happened in 2010, Diaz simply has a stronger case.
*Speaking of Diaz, he's closing in on Chris Lytle's UFC record of 10 postfight awards. His submission of the night against was his ninth bonus: he has four subs of the night and five best fights.
UFC on FOX 3 Quotes
"They're both tough fighters. I feel very blessed just to be in the same Octagon as them." -- Johny Hendricks, on what it's like to defeat both Jon Fitch and Josh Koscheck, a feat only equalled by Georges St. Pierre
"I don't think I can compete with these guys at 135, especially at the highest level. Some of them in the cage are 165, 170, it's like I'm fighting a welterweight. I never thought I'd be in the UFC, this is crazy, this is surreal, just sitting at this press conference." -- Louis Gaudinot on life in the UFC flyweight division.
To referee Kevin Mulhall, who called Koscheck vs. Hendricks. Several times over the course of the fight, the action slowed as the fighters clinched, usually with Hendricks pinning Koscheck along the fence. Mulhall put on a clinic in how to handle these situations which aspiring officials should follow: He gave both fighters ample time to make something happen, but as soon as it became crystal-clear there was a stalemate, he re-set the fighters in the middle of the cage. Mulhall's sense of judgment on when to pull the trigger was key to keeping Koscheck-Hendricks an intriguing, back-and-forth fight.
You know what? There really wasn't anything that happened over the course of the night that you could flat-out call a bad call, so I'm not going to name a bad call of the night just for the sake of having one. There were no bad stoppages, no bad restarts, and no judging robberies. The closest thing to a controversy was the Koscheck-Hendricks decision. I personally had Koscheck winning rounds one and three, the latter via a slim margin. But the fight was close enough that I can't complain about Hendricks getting the nod, or much of anything else. And nor should you, because we don't have nearly enough nights like this in mixed martial arts.
Louis Gaudinot and John Dodson. In case the first round of the UFC flyweight title tourney wasn't enough of an indicator, Gaudinot and Dodson proved once again that the time is right for a 125-pound weight class. Both fighters were gutsy but undersized bantamweights competing on The Ultimate Fighter 14. Both fighters impressed at flyweight Saturday night: Gaudinot in rallying for a submission win over John Linkeker in the Fight of the Night, and Dodson for toughing out a broken hand in a unanimous decision win over Tim Elliott. Both the winners and losers in these fights proved there's plenty of depth at 125 pounds.
Pat Barry. Look, everyone loves Pat Barry, and for good reason: He's a funny, engaging, gregarious guy. But he's also pretty clearly regressing as a fighter, and he's taking a lot of damage from guys who are in some cases significantly larger. If Barry's serious about progressing as a fighter, it might be in his best interest to cut him from the UFC and let him work his way back against lesser competition.
Fight I want to see next
Lavar Johnson vs. Shane Carwin. After watching the slugfest between Johnson and Barry, the first thought that popped into my head was that it would be great to see "Big" and Mark Hunt exchange haymakers. And while the inner lover of pure violence deep down inside me would still love to see that one, realistically, it's time to find out where Johnson stands in the heavyweight division. His fights with Barry and Joey Beltran before him showed Johnson's more than capable of holding his own against fellow sluggers. Now it's time to see how he fares against fighters with more tools in their kit. Of course, Carwin has heavy hands as well, but he also has a wrestling base like no fighter Johnson has faced. And a fighter on the upswing like Johnson would make for a good first fight back for Carwin after back surgery and coming off consecutive losses. Carwin-Johnson seems a win-win proposition.