UFC Fight Night 57 had a lot to offer. The card was generally good, the main event scintillating and a preliminary card with its own set of interesting outcomes. It also had plenty of poor fights, outmatched international competitors and bizarre performances.
It's time to separate the good from the bad, the winners from the losers and the signal from the noise.
Y'all Forgot About Dre Award: Frankie Edgar
There's probably a few factors that went into Edgar not necessarily being underrated, but improperly considered as an elite featherweight. First, losing three title fights in a row doesn't help. Second, one of those title fights taking place against the divisional champion, however close, didn't work in Edgar's favor either. Third, and perhaps not fully appreciated until now, his hiatus on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) put Edgar in a context where he doesn't shine (reality television) while removing him for a long duration where he does (active competition). There are benefits to being on TUF as a coach, but Edgar wasn't able to take advantage of them. That's true as much to his dry personality as it was to his cooled off rivalry with B.J. Penn on what ended being a truly forgettable season of the show. Hindsight being 20/20, 'The Answer' would've been far better served staying in rotation in an organization that's putting on events nearly every week rather than hibernating on a declining reality franchise opposite a foil who never established himself a divisional factor.
Best Photo of the Night: Swason's Rude Awakening
It's not a look of despair or fully actualized bewilderment, exactly. It's more one where you can see the wheels turning. Swanson is in the process of realizing it's going to be a long fight, and in the quest for a title shot, he's bitten off more than he can chew. Check out all of Esther Lin's photos from that night.
Most Curious Strategic Approach to a Fight: Bobby Green
It's hard to tell what Green was thinking when he faced Edson Barboza on Saturday. Green seemingly prefers to keep things spontaneous and creative, which is fine, but not against someone with a singular game plan that is typically executed with murderous efficiency. Green was really never able to get into a rhythm until late into the third, and even then he never mixed up weapons or attacks enough for it to really work. The rest of the time he spent being second on offense or trying tricks of intimidation that almost never works at the elite level. I wouldn't call Green's performance 'poor' because I don't think that's indicative of what he can do. Rather, he just never really put himself in a position to win. He distracted only himself with side antics and reactive offense, which made everything else about the fight weirdly non-competitive.
Best Reminder of Where (Latin American and) Mexican MMA Is: Juan Puig
Look, it's going to get better. This isn't a proclamation of where things are headed or what they can be, but rather, where they are. Between UFC 180's preliminary card and the performance of most other Mexican nationals who compete in the UFC, there's a lot to be desired. Losing to a top Korean prospect isn't the end of the world, but in two UFC outings, Puig can barely manage half of a round in aggregate Octagon time. That means if he wants to stay in the UFC, he'll have to fight other competitors at his level, which is to say, not what is traditionally understood to be UFC level.
The rest of Latin America isn't much better, if we're being fair. I don't want to pick on Mexico explicitly. The entire region is a place with a ton of promise, but just that and not much more at the moment. UFC has all the right in the world to push into these markets, help develop them and reap whatever rewards are eventually there for the taking. In the meantime, however, it means showcasing a lot of fighters who are going to struggle unless they're facing off against their countrymen.
Worst Contender Problem: Flyweight
It's not that flyweight isn't interesting or doesn't have fun match-ups to make. I'd like to see, for example, Ian McCall vs. John Dodson or John Moraga vs. Ali Bagautinov, if we're playing fantasy matchmaker. The real problem is establishing new contenders. With fighters like Dodson, McCall and Benavidez at the top of the queue, it's extremely difficult for anyone else to break through. John Lineker has a chance. Others might going forward. But the last thing we want are more title fights with talented guys who last competed on Fight Pass or are being selected out of scheduling convenience. The division needs names to rise through the ranks, but with such a disparity between the top four and the rest, that's so far proven to be a huge task.
Who Needs TUF Award: Paige VanZant
A similar lesson that applied to Edgar can be used in the example of VanZant, albeit in the opposite direction. Here's a fighter who would have and could have been on TUF, but ended up in the competitive rotation of actual events. And while there's little doubt exposure on the show could have been of some benefit to her, it's not clear she needed it, even if her UFC debut took place on Fight Pass.
TUF is good for talented prospects who still need seasoning. Guys like Kelvin Gastelum, for example, who needed time and competitive experience to bring their skill sets up to par. That's not the case for surging blue chips like Conor McGregor or Jon Jones or many others. VanZant is somewhere in the middle and likely closer to the former. Still, she's competing in a division that's relatively wide open. Having the vehicle of a reality television show to help boost her profile isn't insignificant, but hardly a requirement. With a fan-friendly style, camera-ready looks and a unique story to tell, she can make a lot of noise very quickly staying in the Octagon as opposed to the TUF house.
Best Attitude: Cub Swanson
I can't speak for anyone else, but I love it when fighters admit they've been exposed. Swanson did exactly that after his loss to Edgar, noting his own wrestling simply wasn't good enough to bring the rest of his offense to life. Those kinds of admissions are rare. They're also extremely valuable. Whenever you hear fighters publicly make those sorts of statements, it means they've partly embarrassed, but mostly emboldened. They didn't suffer a psychological defeat. They weren't roughed up from pillar to post. No, they lost because they didn't have the right skills; skills they can have with a little extra dedication and focus in the training room.
When fighters acknowledge they've been beaten without sounding pitiful, it's because they're excited for a new challenge. Their fundamental self-belief hasn't been challenged. They've not been emotionally deterred. Quite the opposite, in fact. They're ready to repair what was obviously broken in hopes of proving that what they see in themselves was there all along, only next time, better than even they could imagine.