UFC 185 had a lot to love and hate. There was an incredible main event performance by a surprising underdog, the ascension of a female fan favorite, a fantastic Fight Pass preliminary card and much more. Yet, the event also featured lackluster heavyweight action as well as a failed promotional strategy.
It's time to separate the good from the bad, the best from the worst, the winners from the losers and the signal from the noise.
1. Three Cheers Award: The Rise of International MMA
UFC 185 gave us a fearsome female Dutch kickboxing transplant, emergent Irish lightweight, rapidly improving Iranian-American (perhaps Assyrian) jiu-jitsu black belt, a slugging lightweight pair comprised of a Brit and Canadian, American Olympic gold medalist from Mexican immigrant roots, a Filipino-American, a Canadian middleweight, another Dutch striker, plenty of Americans, the first Polish UFC champion (male or female) as well as the first Brazilian lightweight champion and more.
The most remarkable aspect of this diversity and internationalism is not that exists, but that barely anyone noticed. It's become commonplace enough to be somewhat unremarkable in modern MMA. While that's a good thing, it's also worth taking time to acknowledge and admire. The sport's reach is its strength and its strength ends up being the consumer's delight.
2. Most Complete in Victory: Rafael dos Anjos
Sometimes we measure dominance through violence or damage. You can do that with Saturday's main event, but I'd submit that's not the optimal way to do so. Rather, we should examine just how comprehensively dos Anjos succeeded.
Stated plainly, Pettis was trapped. There was nowhere for him to go and virtually nothing he could do. Dos Anjos had better conditioning over five rounds, more dynamic and frequent kicking attacks, more proactive offense in aggregate, faster hand speed, better set-ups from striking into takedowns, physicality in the clinch, cleaner underhooks, pressure passing, dominant ground control, superior range measuring and so on. This is but a portion of the comparative and absolute advantages dos Anjos enjoyed in what can only be described as a virtuoso performance.
Pettis had the occasional moment himself, grazing his toes across the Brazilian's neck or defending kimura attempts. But these were either misfires or desperate acts merely to keep his head above water. If the former champion achieved anything in this contest, it was that he didn't drown. Given everything dos Anjos threw at him, that's a minor miracle.
3. Most in Need of Responsible Scrutiny: All Fighters, Including Rafael dos Anjos
A moment of candor is required here. There is online chatter, based on nothing more than speculation but still quite prevalent, that dos Anjos has not been properly drug tested. The new champion has never failed a drug test, but he's also never been randomly tested out of competition. Some suggest in light of this fact as well as his remarkable and highly unusual career turnaround, a better regulatory effort is needed.
My response is that we neither can nor should accuse dos Anjos of anything, but the call to meaningful testing is more than fair. That's especially true for any champion or championship-caliber fighter. If testing is to have any value, then it has to be done in manner that at least attempts to preserve the integrity of competition. Fight night urinalysis has proven to be wholly inadequate. Unless a fighter has been vetted by going through the random testing experience, a healthy if reserved skepticism is absolutely warranted.
4. Best Post-Fight Interview: Germaine de Randamie
If you're not an animal or dog lover, then perhaps you didn't find this touching or even anything worth writing about. Maybe it isn't, although all of these things are subjective. I certainly take no issue with fighters thanking anyone or anything they please after a bout, but it's rare you hear them acknowledge the role a socialized animal can play in their lives, at least beyond the confines of social media. I tend to think a fighter's attachment to a loyal animal makes the athlete all that much more human. It adds character depth and generates sympathy, empathy and more. I don't know that I'd call what da Randamie did as 'refreshing' given the somber note, but I would say I thought her sentiments were genuine and the novelty of it very heart warming.
5. Best Photo of the Night: Carla Esparza Gets Rocked, Figuratively and Literally
6. Most in Need of Forgiveness: Fighters, Immediately Post-Fight
Jason High deserved the mercy Ryan Benoit received, but did not get it. Perhaps it was because High lost the fight where his actions were in question and did not get the opportunity to apologize to the world in a post-fight interview with Joe Rogan.
Whatever the case, arguing there's something manifestly worse about putting one's hands on a referee is irredeemably nonsensical. This is a borderline meaningless distinction at best and, more likely, an utterly backwards way of framing the situation. It's somehow better to continue physically assault on a badly concussed fighter, yet prima facie more harmful to relatively mildly shove a referee away from one's face? Please be serious.
If the issue at play is that fighters can sometimes lose their bearings in the immediate aftermath of a fight, then fretting over how that irrationality is spread seems needless. There is a biological argument to be made fighters aren't in their right mind in these fleeting moments. That's the beginning and end of the argument if the contact is relatively minimal. Benoit deserved a measure of mercy. It's a shame High was never as lucky.
7. Somewhat Questionable Promotional Strategy: The Dennis Siver Treatment
When Dennis Siver faced Conor McGregor earlier this year, he was barely present in of any of the UFC's promotion. This was the subject of intense debate within the community, but the gambit appeared to pay off as McGregor ran over the German featherweight and helped set up what is expected to be the biggest featherweight fight of all time opposite champion Jose Aldo.
The UFC tried something similar with Anthony Pettis in the run up to Saturday's event. After all, Pettis was the far more marketable fighter. He had been on the cover of Wheaties, built an incomparable highlight reel and was the champion. He was also heavily favored to defeat dos Anjos by the odds makers. If Pettis isn't a safe bet to go all-in on, the thinking went, who is?
I defended the promotion of McGregor in this way and I'll defend the practice, generally, except to say it won't always hit. In the case of UFC 185, it bombed rather dramatically.
Yet, when it works, it does so magnificently. This one backfired. That much is obvious. What's not clear is that we should throw the baby out with the bath water. Rather than scrapping this style of promotion, it should be incorporated more prudently or under narrower conditions. The Pettis gamble failed, but it wasn't made without fair consideration. And if he had won in the manner many expected, it could have helped launch him into rarefied space.
This approach didn't work this time, but it has the capacity to in the future under the right circumstances. The UFC must be ultra careful, but not abandon the practice.