Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
From the beginning, this card was cursed. UFC 149 was supposed to have Jose Aldo and Mauricio Rua, Yoshihiro Akiyama and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, but they and many others never made it to showtime. The hex, it seems, carried right into the Scotiabank Saddledome, and sat right in the middle of the octagon for most of the event.
There were good things that came out of UFC 149. Surely, there were, but it was difficult to separate any positives from the mostly lackluster main card that will create the impressions on most.
How bad was it? Well, you can accuse UFC president Dana White of being a one-man promotional machine, but when something is bad, he doesn't bite his tongue, even if it's at the expense of his own company. It was no different on Saturday night in the hours after the show, when White acknowledged his own disappointment at what had transpired.
"I said this the other day and it's true: We make money," he said. "This company makes money, and I like breaking records. We broke the gate record tonight and I'm embarrassed by it. I was excited when I heard and now I’m embarrassed. The undercard delivered -- they were awesome -- and the main card did not."
UFC 149 drew an arena record $4.1 million in ticket purchases from 16,089, and most fans probably left with mixed feelings. The event had some early impressive performances including a stunning seven-second knockout by the debuting Ryan Jimmo and a spirited back-and-forth battle between Bryan Caraway and Mitch Gagnon. The main card started off well with Matt Riddle and Chris Clements engaging in a fairly entertaining bout that ended in the third round with a Riddle arm-triangle choke submission win.
But that was the end of the UFC's good fortune as the curse returned with a vengeance. Brian Ebersole seemed flat against James Head, then Cheick Kongo and Shawn Jordan spent most of their 15 minutes locked in a clinch against the fence.
Hector Lombard figured to liven up the proceedings in his UFC debut, but instead, he shelved his aggressive approach and fought a reserved style against Tim Boetsch, leading to an upset split-decision win for Boetsch. Urijah Faber and Renan Barao then went five rounds, but the bout was long on technical fighting and short on fireworks, and given what had come before it, it was booed often.
In the end, the strong start and poor finish to the event was just as unsatisfying as a thriller with an anti-climactic conclusion.
For his part, White seemed most angered by the Kongo-Jordan fight, calling its execution as well as the officiating of the match "disgusting."
"This isn’t the ultimate clinching championship," he said. "It’s the 'Fighting Championship.' And when you see two guys just clinching for three rounds, and then in the third round, they clinch for the entire five minutes, and this idiot [referee] is standing around looking at them. As a referee, your job is to enforce the rules and make sure that these guys fight. And if they're not fighting, you break them up and you make them fight. And we're talking about guys that are experienced. Experienced guys who have done enough fights by now. Yves Lavigne was horrendous tonight. If the officiating in this sport doesn't change, and I'm not just talking about this sport, I'm talking about combat sports in general, they're going to kill it."
White also expressed disappointment in Lombard saying, "I thought it was going to be a real war."
White said before the fight began, he was thankful Lombard and Boetsch were about to fight, thinking there was no chance the fight would be unentertaining. Instead, he got a Lombard the MMA fight world hadn't really seen before: cautious and conservative.
While he did say that any negativity around the Faber-Barao main event was misplaced or redirected from the rest of the card, he certainly wasn't leaving Calgary with good feelings about the show he had just produced. Even if they left with millions in revenue and a new arena record, it wasn't enough to put a smile on his face.
"I’m bummed out about it, I don't know what else to say," he said. "I'm pretty honest about it. I'm not out here saying that's the greatest show you've ever seen. It wasn't. When you buy tickets, we come into a market like this, we break the record and do the kind of gate we did because people believe in us. People believe in the UFC, and that when we come to town, we're going to bring you the best fights possible. And then our guys go out and they deliver. Like I said, this is a partnership between us and the fighters. We do our part and they always do theirs. Unfortunately, I was so excited to stick this one up everybody's a-- that said this card sucked, and we didn't."
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