There was much to love about Saturday's UFC 179: Aldo vs. Mendes 2. The main event was one of the best fights of the year, perhaps even the best in the division's history. Gilbert Burns took another turn as a developing prospect. The fans in Rio de Janeiro were as amped for a UFC event as ever.
Yet, there was also quite a bit not to love. The card outside of the main event left a lot to be desired, there was an officiating snafu and respected fighters suffered perhaps career-altering losses.
It's time we look at the winners and the losers, the good and the bad, and the signal and the noise from Saturday's pay-per-view event.
Most Critical Observation: The Main Event Was Great, but the Card Was Positively Dreadful
All-Time Great Award: Jose Aldo vs. Chad Mendes 2
There are any number of ways to heap praise on Saturday's main event. One angle I'd like to underscore is the narrative of the fight. MMA fights often lack this, even good ones. Not this time.
In boxing, particularly competitive main events, there is a storyline that emerges during the bout in various iterations that stack on one another to form a narrative. These are often complex, nuanced and full of wonder or controversy. Because MMA is so chaotic and lacks the kind of segmentation boxing offers, even remarkable fights fail to produce an enlightening or otherwise interesting narrative.
Fortunately, that didn't happen on Saturday. Each round felt like it's own little fight. There was also controversy, momentum swings, new ground broken or revelations about each fighter, a history upon which they were already building and more. It was a fight so important for their careers and the division, respectively, that it merits this kind of literary treatment.
Best Photo From the Event: Wilson Reis Puts on the Squeeze
This fight is over. Jorgensen is surrendering. This picture, though, narrowly and sublimely captures the gap between Jorgensen's decision and his ability to physically actuate it. Some of MMA's most dramatic moments are stuck in the in-between spaces. Photos like this one - the kind that capture the fleeting moment either by precision or luck - help illuminate this reality.
Photo Credit: Buda Mendes, Getty Images
Most Uncomfortable Reminder Officiating Is a Work in Progress: Not Hearing the Round's Bell
UFC 179 was held overseas, but was overseen by Brazil's relatively competent athletic commission, CABMMA. Yet, CABMMA used a highly-experienced and respected referee in Marc Goddard to be the third man in the cage for the main event. What happened to him could've happened to anyone. It also could've happened anywhere.
At the end of the first round, Aldo was able to connect with two hard shots after the bell sounded. These weren't minor shots. The combination rocked Mendes and sent him to his rear end, collapsing against the cage.
As for the bell, it could be heard clearly on the pay-per-view broadcast, but as it turns out, not by the referee in the cage. The deafening noise made by the fans in the Maracanazinho drowned out anything but the steady din of screams. As such, there was no penalty for the two punches.
UFC President Dana White noted something needed to be done to give referees the help they need in situations where rabid fans impact their ability to do the job properly. I agree and I'm sure something can. These are solvable problems. My only point is to note how open the book on officiating and regulating MMA continues to be. We continue to break new ground or discover need for reformation. In Saturday's case, yes, the situation was unique. There won't always been arenas filled with that kind of enthusiasm. But we do need to have policies and resources in place to help those charged with regulation and fighter safety do their jobs effectively. That responsibility is enduring and Saturday night reinforced how far we were from keeping it.
Make Your Mark Award: Gilbert Burns
The Brazilian jiu-jitsu phenom might have found a home at lightweight. He looked physical for the weight class, yet still mobile and with explosive speed. He still needs some kid glove treatment in his next few fights. That doesn't mean tomato cans, but manageable tasks with increasing levels of difficulty. Christos Giagos is not hailed as a particularly notable striker, but was having quite a bit of success making contact in the early going of his UFC 179 bout opposite Burns. Still, the Brazilian was better on the ground by an order of magnitude, demonstrating efficient takedowns, positional control and terrifying finishing skills. So many black belts are presented as 'world class' when that simply isn't the case. With Burns, however, it's not false advertising. He's a superb talent who is demonstrating ever-increasing ability with the other dimensions of mixed martial arts. He isn't simply one to watch. He's something to behold.
Questionable Future Designation: Scott Jorgensen
Jorgensen is 4-6 since moving to UFC in 2011 after the closing of the WEC shop. His last fight in WEC was in 2010 was also a loss, albeit to them bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz. Still, there's trouble afoot. Jorgensen hasn't been able to round the corner during his UFC tenure and his lack of defense is largely to blame. Jorgensen can wrestle and possessive of enough striking ability. His real issue is he can't seem to avoid taking damage in exchanges or surviving scrambles in the grappling department. Of his six UFC losses, he's been on the bad end of a decision only twice. He's been knocked out once and submitted three times.
A drop to flyweight was supposed to remedy these errors, but hasn't helped. How could it? Others are dropping weight classes, too.
Where he goes from here is unclear. He's 32, losing more than he's winning with no obvious remedy in sight but to 'get better', something that's not easy to do at 18, much less one's thirties. For such a fixture of the lighter weight division, it's been a painful and surprising decline to witness, but there's no obvious out for the former Boise State University wrestler.
Worst Treatment of a Fighter Coming off of a Loss: Phil Davis
I have to admit I prematurely wrote off Davis. He looked so utterly impotent against Anthony Johnson, I forgot what he had already done or dismissed what I should have known he could do. To be sure, he has real limits. He still predominately relies on wrestling for any meaningful offense. His striking has become more fluid, but isn't much of a fight-altering threat. For other top-ranked light heavyweights with good takedown defense, not much changes. But if you are slipping in that department, even just a little bit, Davis is going to make you pay. That he was able to take what is, relatively speaking, a narrower skill set and lord it over the division previous top contender means we have to renew our sense of appreciation for Mr. Wonderful. I have my doubts about how far he climb, but I won't be so flippant with them going forward.