A number of circumstances, most notably all six main card fights going the distance, led to Saturday night's UFC Fight Night from Monterrey, Mexico being the company's longest show of 2015, a live event that clocked in at seven hours.
The length was a combination of all six main card fights going the distance, and the show doubling for the local market as the finals of the Latin American version of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF). That meant video packages to introduce the four finalists, further lengthening the show.
In all, nine of 13 fights went the distance, which means the subject of controversial judging was almost sure to rear its head. There were some strange individual scorecards, including the scary moment when it came out that the Henry Cejudo vs. Jussier Formiga fight was a split decision. Judges Derek Cleary and Eric Colon both had it 30-27 Cejudo, which seemed like the obvious score. But Judge Roy Silbert, a second-time UFC judge, scored it 29-28 to Formiga. A loss in this instance by Cejudo would have been both a robbery and cost him a probable flyweight title shot, not to mention spoil an unbeaten record.
In judging scorecards of 13 reporters as tabulated by MMADecisions.com (Danny Segura of MMA Fighting and myself were both among the reporters scores who were being tabulated), all 13 gave it to Cejudo. Only three even gave Formiga a round.
The fight was fought mostly standing, with Cejudo having the edge in significant strikes all three rounds, 15-9, 14-11 and 14-5, and Cejudo scored the only takedowns. It was a fight Cejudo wanted standing, a fight he dictated where the action would take place, and a fight where he was the superior striker.
Of the nine decisions, there was only one robbery. But there were other fights, including the main event, that were very close. When a fight is close, you have to accept almost any result and there were no scorecards that weren't totally justifiable.
Neil Magny (17-4), the iron man who has now fought ten times in the UFC in the last 21 months, eked out a close win over Kelvin Gastelum (12-2) in the main event. It was a key welterweight bout, as both men were looking for elevation to the top tier, after each had stumbled with the division's elite. Magny had lost decisively in August to Demian Maia. Gastelum had lost in January to Tyron Woodley after being hospitalized the day before that fight. Dana White ordered Gastelum to move up in weight, but after scoring a win over Nate Marquardt at middleweight, Gastelum asked to move down. He said he felt he could be a champion at welterweight but given his size, it would be tougher going against the bigger middleweights.
A notable part of the story was Magny agreeing on just two weeks notice, after Matt Brown pulled out of the fight due to an injury, to not just take the fight, but agree to keep it five rounds. That nearly proved to be his undoing. There was little debate that Magny won the first two rounds and Gastelum won the last two. The swing round, the third, was generally considered Magny's round. Two of the three judges agreed, and he won the split decision.
The real debate was over round four. Gastelum scored two knockdowns in that round and had Magny in trouble after the first one, but it was never on the verge of being stopped. Still Gastelum dominated the round, until the end, when Magny got a late momentary takedown.
None of the three judges gave the round a 10-8, a score given far too infrequently. Interestingly, among 16 reporters listed in MMADecisions, 11 gave the round a 10-8 and had the fight even at 47-47. Of the five reporters who gave it a 10-9, four gave the fight to Magny and one to Gastelum, with the swing round likely being the third.
It's rare that a fighter gets a takedown late in the round and loses it 10-8. This wasn't,. but could have been the exception. If the takedown saved him from a 10-8 in the judges' eyes, it was the move that ended up making the difference.
When it came to significant strikes, both men had 54, with Gastelum having the edge in rounds one, four and five. Magny had a 15-11 edge in the swing third round. Magny also scored three takedowns in that round, but Gastelum got reverses and good positioning as well. While Gastelum had the edge in strikes in the first round, it was clearly Magny's round, getting takedowns and having superior ground positioning for most of the round.
The lone robbery would have been the opener, where Michel Prezeres (19-2) got a surprise decision over Valmir Lazaro (13-4).
In this one, Silbert was the dissenting judge once again, but one would argue he was the only one who had it right, scoring 29-28 for Lazaro, while Cardo Uso and Marcos Rosales went the other way. The second round was the disputed round, given all three judges gave Prezeres round one and Lazaro round three.
Lazaro had the edge in significant strikes in all three rounds, 18-13, 7-5 and 6-2.
Of the ten reporters listed by MMADecisions.com, all ten had it for Lazaro.
Let's look at how Fortunes changed for five of Saturday's show.
NEIL MAGNY - The key take out of Saturday's fight was Magny's grappling. Gastelum had proven to be a strong grappler thus far in UFC, but Magny had six takedowns in the fight and that's what ultimately won it for him. In Magny's career turnaround that started in early 2014, after three straight losses to Mike Ricci, Sergio Moraes and Seth Baczynski, his lone loss was to Demian Maia. Maia completely dominating him on the ground before winning via second round choke. Granted, Maia is elite on the ground.
Gastelum is easily his biggest career win to date. Magny came into the weekend ranked as the No. 13 contender in the division. Right now, the opponents that would make the most sense would be Brown (20-13), who Magny replaced to headline this show, and Dong Hyun Kim (20-3-1), who fights Dominic Waters on this coming Saturday's show in Seoul, South Korea.
KELVIN GASTELUM - Gastelum came into the fight at No. 15. With the decision being close, he's borderline of remaining in that top 15. Next up for him could be Erick Silva (16-8) if a fight needs to be made now, or the loser of a Dec. 12 fight with Maia (21-6) vs. Gunnar Nelson (14-1-1). The loser of that fight would be better for him to have a shot at erasing the damage caused by the close loss.
HENRY CEJUDO - With his win over Formiga, Cejudo (10-0) looks to be next in line for flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson (23-2-1), given Johnson has beaten pretty much everyone else that could be considered right now for a shot.
Cejudo getting a win over a top-ranked fighter was a plus. But this was a workmanlike win. As a prospective main event fighter, a key part of the job is in some form getting the audience excited to see you fight, particularly when it comes to matchmaking for title matches. Cejudo did nothing in the fight that would make the fans can't wait to see him next, nor get excited about seeing him against Johnson. Also, it wasn't a win that would get people to think he was going to beat Johnson, dubbed the most perfect all-around fighter in the sport by many.
There are tools there. Cejudo has boxing skills, and as an Olympic gold medalist in wrestling, his wrestling would be as good as anyone in the division if he would focus on it. He hasn't needed it in his fights thus far, but will need every strength edge against Johnson. Cejudo is the physically bigger guy, but Johnson has the ridiculous speed. Barring injury, it's an obvious match to make, but it also needs to either be put on television or in a co-main event position on pay-per-view, because it's not going to be sellable in the main event position on pay-per-view.
RICARDO LAMAS - Lamas (16-4), came into Saturday's fight as the No. 4 contender in the featherweight division, a weight class that Conor McGregor has turned into a heavily focused on division. He scored a solid win in an entertaining fight over Diego Sanchez.
But with losses to both Jose Aldo and Chad Mendes, clear cut in both cases, it's going to be tough for him when it comes to upward mobility. His best next fights could be the winner of the Dec. 19 bout with Myles Jury (19-1) vs. Charles Oliveira (20-5), or against Thiago Tavares (20-6-1), who is coming off a quick submission win over Clay Guida.
DIEGO SANCHEZ - The last man standing from season one of the Ultimate Fighter, and the first-ever champion on that show, tied a record set by the guy he beat in the finals, Kenny Florian. Sanchez's debut at featherweight was the fourth weight class he's fought in during his UFC career.
Sanchez started on the Ultimate Fighter as its inaugural champion at 185 pounder, and has worked his way down to 145.
At this stage, Sanchez is an entertaining fighter who doesn't appear to be a threat to the top level fighters in any weight class. He doesn't have the speed to keep up with the top fighters in the division and didn't win a round from Lamas.
Because of his name value, and a reputation for exciting fights, he can be put in high level positions and bring focus to his opponent. He's the perfect opponent for a star on the way up. Coming off a loss, he could, depending on how the fight goes, face the loser of the Dec. 12 fight with Max Holloway (14-3) and Jeremy Stephens (24-11) Either way it would figure to be a good action fight.
One can also argue that at this stage, since the Lamas fight seemed to show he's not going to be a threat at 145, it could be his jumping off point. Fighting 11 years at the UFC star level, especially with his style and the wars he's been through, is a long career. Sanchez was a guy who was, until recent years, always near the top of whatever division he was competing in, is now a guy whose only role would be as a name opponent to test a younger fighter, or just name value on a card.