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Matt Brown and Robbie Lawler made the most of the 'Big FOX' stage

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

We used to busy ourselves wondering how the UFC would look for "casual" audiences when the broadcast deal with FOX got underway. Was it a platform for champions, or contenders, or people who fought a certain way? How would it translate? The whole thing became a process of discovery. One thing we knew right off the bat was that there was a "cleaner," a sort of "Wolf" figure like in the film Pulp Fiction…a person who made the evidence of bloody in-cage scenes from preliminary action disappear.

If you’re at the live event, that cleaner can still be seen erasing the cage’s bloody history before each telecast with a spray paint-like substance. 

On Saturday night, in the twelfth edition of UFC on FOX, Clay Guida was a prelim that had eaten past midnight; he was disheveled, anachronistic and boozy. As is his wont, he let out a fantastic belch between rounds that played out almost preternaturally on the broadcast. Moments later, his blood soaked the canvas (just as his ghost began to fleet) when Dennis Bermudez squeezed his neck. If the idea of any of this was gruesome, I didn’t hear anybody complaining -- at least about anything macabre. We are past the training wheels stage of this thing. By now "casuals" can either wince or join in the hedonism, it matters less to us.

But what does matter is the fights themselves. Saturday’s main event was a good one.

Matt Brown and Robbie Lawler spent time splashing in Guida’s blood, alright, and Brown’s own DNA was coming out of him pretty good by the end of five rounds. These players came up from the underground, primitive and without conscience, and turned the Big Stage into the Stone Age. They put on the kind of fight that makes you wonder, at least in the mortal sense, "how?"

How was Brown finding the resolve to come forward after getting to know Lawler’s left hand so early? Jake Ellenberger certainly didn’t find that resolve; when they don’t draw up X’s over opponent’s eyes, Lawler’s lefts at least make men tentative. How was Brown coming forward when it looked like he’d gassed before the championship rounds? Those were some mystical reserves. How, when it was evident that he’d hurt his right hand -- his power source -- was he still coming forward winging the other available appendages? If Brown’s right arm had fallen off his body, I truly think he’d have picked it up with his left and clubbed Lawler’s face with it.

This wasn’t just competition, it was survival.

And ultimately, it was Lawler’s night. He didn’t come out in mint condition, but he’s emerged that much more from the brawler of yore into a thinker who methodically takes people apart. He has that old Miletich attitude, he’ll still gnash and bash, but he’s gotten better in every aspect of the game. Afterwards, Lawler even smiled for the cameras, something that would have tortured him to do even a few years ago.

Having gone through the Demetrious Johnson’s and Benson Henderson’s, this was a perfect fight for the FOX platform. It carried the live threat of a flash finish, and yet it played out improbably. It carried that tension for five full rounds, and through the course of those 25 minutes the outcome fell into doubt (the secret of compelling television). The stakes were in place, and there was context. Lawler had lost his title fight with Johny Hendricks when he was outworked in the fifth round at UFC 171, and didn’t want to make it a pattern. That fifth round had a lot going for it; Brown’s heart to keep coming, and Lawler’s resolve to make his way back to Hendricks.

And that drama was rewarding, because now that’s the fight. Lawler-Hendricks II is on the horizon, and it’s gotten a lot bigger in scope because of the conflict with Brown. That event joins a collection of upcoming title fights that could shake up the pantheon of greats. Look at the prequels and sequels and otherwise compelling match-ups: There’s Lawler-Hendricks II, Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones, Chad Mendes-Jose Aldo II, Fabricio Werdum vs. Cain Velasquez in Mexico, Vitor Belfort vs. Chris Weidman in Vegas, Ronda Rousey and the action star from Haywire (probably), Renan Barao-T.J. Dillashaw II, Gilbert Melendez and Anthony Pettis.

The second half of 2014 will be the polar opposite of the first half.

And even Matt Brown can be booked into a big fight, with Carlos Condit (when he’s back from his ACL), with Nick Diaz, with whoever. He lost his seven-fight winning streak, but that was all confetti for the more important thing in play…the way he fights. That was what came across on FOX. Just as it did for Lawler. At last, the great translatable.

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