There was a lot to love about UFC on FOX 14. The ratings were great, it looked fantastic on television, and a fighter's comeback story took another surprising turn. On the other hand, the pacing wasn't great and some fighters who had no business being in the UFC fought on the card.
It's time to separate the winners from the losers, the best from the worst and the signal from the noise.
Hottest Hand: UFC
There's no denying it. The UFC is having an excellent month. They've staged a series of events on different platforms and demonstrated the ability to excel on all of them, be it pay-per-view, over the air FOX or the smaller Fox Sports 1. The versions of success are partly unique to the platform where the broadcast takes place, but if there's a common denominator, it's general interest in the product and wide media reach.
That's probably not sustainable. After all, this month was heavily front loaded by the UFC. It's simply not possible, even with fortuitous circumstances, to expect this kind of success to have extended longevity.
What it all underscores is the interest in the product is there if the product itself is there. People care about big names, big fights and big fun. That sounds exceedingly simplistic, but it is, at least in an abstract way. In practice, it's obviously a little tougher.
Hardest Thing to Witness: Alexander Gustafsson's grief
One need not have a personal investment in Gustafsson's career to not extend a measure of sympathy to him. That's especially true in wake of what was a horrible year for him. Not only did he come excruciatingly close to taking the title fro Jon Jones, he nearly earned an automatic rematch. Except he didn't. He jumped through the hoops asked of him only to suffer an injury (and a brawl between Jones and Daniel Cormier) that derailed everything. Add in the responsibility of carrying a main event in Stockholm and the death of his father and one wonders how we ever expected him to win in the first place.
He wore that exhaustion on his face as he cried on his coach's shoulder. We also witnessed the profound disappointment that came with the realization he had lost everything he had been building for since that Jones fight despite all of the occasional if serious setbacks. That's what kills about disappointment in MMA. It doesn't just debilitate you in waves, but in pronounced moments of overwhelming rejection, too. It leaves very little room for refuge.
Honorable mention: Andy Ogle's quick loss after trying to do all the right things through reinvestment in his training at Team Alpha Male.
Best Photo of the Event: Anthony Johnson's mix of surprise and glee
There's almost a tinge of 'I can't believe I just did it' in his face. I'm sure he believed all along he could, but perhaps the ease with which it came startled even him. Either way, the honesty of it all is fantastic.
Most in Need of Tweaks: FOX Pre-Fight Coverage Once Broadcast Starts
I didn't love the pacing of the opening. 15 minutes expired before the first punch was thrown. That's longer than it takes the NFL broadcasts to start on the very same channel. I'd like to see this broken up a bit. The reality is the combination of Brian Stann and Daniel Cormier is sensational. Their analysis is first rate. We don't want to lose that, but we also don't want to load up the opening with it. The delay of nearly 20 minutes isn't conducive for the hardcore fan who already knows most of what will be said, nor for the casual who isn't necessarily invested in that level of detail at the onset.
Best of Luck Award: Akira Corassani
The UFC featherweight suffered his third loss in a row, which also happened to be the third time in a row he's been stopped with strikes. This loss was particularly brutal. The final punch sent him crashing to the mat as his body seemed lifeless and stiff from the punch, yet loose from the impact of actually hitting the canvas. Corassani has indicted this is probably the end of his fighting career. He doesn't want to absorb any more serious damage. If this is the end, he has a lot to be proud of. For starters, he's making a smart choice about his long-term health. But also, while he didn't win any major titles or reach the top of any rankings, he gave it his all. Statistically speaking, he reached further than the overwhelming majority of fighters ever see. He fought in his home country, was featured on a reality show, and collected some respectable wins before it was all over. If he can get out with his health mostly intact, there's not much to hang one's head about.
Most Intriguing Newcomer: Makwan Amirkhani
We'll see how far he can go when his actual fighting ability is called into question, but for now, let's not bother with those earthly considerations. Let's just enjoy this madness Amirkhani has brought us.
As far as UFC debuts go, well, they don't go much better. He scored a blistering, highlight reel knockout against someone with at least more 'big show' experience, then managed to dazzle everyone who could hear him after any and all microphones were placed in front of him.
Someone like this runs the risk of banking their appeal on things outside of what they are there to do, which means what they are there to do can often suffer. When that happens, the entire system falls apart. But Amirkhani's presence reminds us the sport's cast of characters is as varied as it is bizarre as it is enjoyable. Taken together, all of it is quite wonderful.
Not Ready for the UFC Award: Anthony Christodoulou
It sounds dismissive and insulting to say a fighter doesn't belong in the UFC, but we can't let the perceived toxicity of the idea narrow the where the argument originates. If it's rooted in the claim that not only do fans deserve a standard of excellence, but that excellence also serves as a warning to the unprepared or otherwise undeserving, there's not much to complain about. The UFC is a place where a fighter can be hurt because it's professional cage fighting. That's true generally and more specifically. Someone not ready to engage in the particular and special rigors of the Octagon can not only be affected, but badly hurt. Rejecting those who aren't equipped to handle the level of fighting in the UFC is for their benefit. We should do this for their protection.