This was what the UFC and FOX had in mind when they entered into a seven-year contract. The four-fight UFC on FOX 4 show was filled with drama, violence and intrigue. You had an underdog story, a comeback kid, title implications and a scrap for the ages. You had some brawling, a fair amount of technique, and copious displays of heart.
Basically, whatever you desire as an MMA fan, it was there for you at some point of UFC on FOX 4. Given the frequent criticisms of cards that don't deliver, we must offer credit where it is deserved. And the eight men on the main card delivered.
Here are the rest of my observations about the night's fights.
1. You can lose and still raise your stock
Both Brandon Vera and Jamie Varner are great examples of this. They might have ultimately added losses to their records, but ask yourself this, are you more or less likely to watch either guy the next time out? Are you more or less interested?
Vera was a game opponent for Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, fighting back from several difficult situations and putting Rua in trouble at times. Varner went to war with Joe Lauzon in a high-paced, high-energy fight.
The ironic thing is, both guys have been in need of jumpstarting their careers. Vera really hasn't put together a spirited performance since a close fight with Randy Couture in 2009. All of the sudden, he found the old spirit that years ago made him a UFC heavyweight title contender. Meanwhile, Varner launched himself back into the lightweight picture in May with an upset of Edson Barboza. While he lost to Lauzon, he had his moments, rocking Lauzon and putting the fight's conclusion in doubt.
Vera and Varner will both be back, and when they return, they'll arrive with more fans than they had before this weekend. And that means that for both, the weekend was a net positive.
2. Mike Swick is the best comeback story in years
It's impossible to try to understand the emotion that went through Swick in the moments after his win over DeMarques Johnson. Swick hadn't fought in 30 months. Last time he competed, B.J. Penn was the UFC lightweight champion, Fedor Emelianenko was still in the midst of his historic unbeaten streak, and the WEC was still in existence. Suffice it to say, a lot has changed in the time that Swick has battled illness and injury.
At 33 years old, Swick isn't ancient, but it was easy to wonder how so much time on the sidelines would impact him. As it turns out, not much. Swick's striking looked pretty crisp, and he brought the same wallop that he became famous for in his early UFC days.
After going through so much, it was nice to see Swick get the opportunity to make his return on FOX. It was even nicer to see him be as impressive as he was.
3. Varner vs. Lauzon is the new leader for Fight of The Year
I don't even think there's any debate about this, is there? Prior to this, the top contenders were fights like Chan Sung Jung vs. Dustin Poirier at UFC on FUEL 3, Ben Henderson vs. Frankie Edgar at UFC 144, and a host of others. But as far as I can remember, no fights in 2012 had as many momentum swings and so many thrills as this fight.
One second, Varner was rocking Lauzon, the next Lauzon was getting the fight to the ground and taking Varner's back. Every time it seemed like one man was getting it to a place where he could take command, the other would turn the tide. Just as impressively, the two showed good conditioning, fighting through the grueling pace to deliver a classic.
4. Lyoto Machida had a great win, but shouldn't be No. 1 contender
I've always had a deep appreciation for Machida's style, as well as the way he employs it. When he's on, his patience, timing and execution are something worthy of marvel, as he showed when he knocked out the charging Ryan Bader with a masterfully timed right hand.
That said, Machida hasn't done enough to earn another chance to fight for the belt so quickly after losing his last one. Machida lost to Jones just last December. Since then, he's only fought once, this win over Bader. Why is that enough? Shouldn't we demand more?
With Jon Jones and Dan Henderson fighting, there's no reason to rush a new No. 1 contender out anyway. Why not take a little time and see how things play out? Why not give Alexander Gustafsson a chance to impress, or see how Glover Teixeira does against Quinton "Rampage" Jackson? Why not match up Machida with one of the aforementioned names?
On one hand, I can understand the UFC wanting to name a challenger early. It allows them to set their calendar and focus their marketing efforts. But in this instance, it would have been worth seeing how a few other things worked out before handing Machida his gift-wrapped opportunity.
5. Brandon Vera finally walked the walk
Fight after fight, Vera has been telling us he was back. He's new and improved. He's going to make a statement. Some variation of those common themes. But time after time, he's fallen flat.
On Thursday's edition of MMA Uncensored Live, Nate Quarry, who has trained with Vera in the past, might have put it best when he said, "He brings a .44 Magnum to every fight but never pulls the trigger."
Then, it was a valid and fair criticism. But not now. He certainly pulled the trigger against Shogun. He fought him tooth and nail. There were moments when it looked like he was ready to fold and surrender, and he didn't. According to FightMetric, it took 142 Rua strikes to put Vera out. That's a huge number, and it shows how badly Vera wanted the fight.
"I wanted people to know I'm not done, not by a long shot," he said afterward.
Well done, Brandon. And this time, we have reason to believe you.