There was a lot to like about UFC on FOX 15. The card itself was great, there was a stunning main event and the card was filled with big-time statements by fighters on the rise. There was also, however, a lot to dislike, from fans trying to play doctor to fighters being mad at the media and much more.
It's time to separate the good from the bad, the winners from the losers and the signal from the noise.
Best UFC on FOX 15 Result: Apparent Changing of the Guard
This event was nothing if not a reminder there's a new generation of fighters taking over. From Max Holloway's drubbing of Cub Swanson to Paige VanZant's crushing of Felice Herrig to Luke Rockhold's systemic destruction of Lyoto Machida to Beneil Dariush's domination of Jim Miller to Aljamain Sterling's finishing of Takeya Mizugaki, it was all a reminder there's a new class of talent pushing their way into the spotlight.
As I mentioned on the Monday Morning Analyst, though, it's important to note there is an uptick in technical and maybe even athletic acumen with each new generation of fighters. However, the upticks are getting smaller each time. I'm not saying we're reaching peak technical evolution just yet, but it's worth considering the idea that technical development won't continue to make the quantum leaps it historically has been with each successive generation. It's been fun to witness these sweeping paradigm shifts, but they might be coming to an end.
Worst UFC on FOX 15 Result: Observing Noticeable Decline
I'm not a 'fan' of fighters, but it does plainly suck to see humans with real lives whose professional careers you've been covering for years to start to fade. I'm not sure what I'm explaining except maybe nothing more than sentimentality, generally, but it's there. I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel that way.
Fighting is so utterly unforgiving. The overwhelming majority of fighters - including and especially those in the UFC - never reach their stated goals. Most are forced to make peace with what they've done and, mercifully, many do. Still, you can't help but feel unease watching a person younger than you begin to physically degrade in a way that tells the world the ride is coming to an end. This is a game that feasts on youth and health and spits out malaise and pain. All that is necessary to make it run, but watching the sausage made from beginning to end is never a reality that makes me comfortable.
Best Photo of the Night: The Feeling of Impending Doom
The look on Cub Swanson's face isn't one of terror from the punishment Max Holloway is dishing out. It's perfectly justified fear from what the result of what that beating might mean for him and career. Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports.
Worst Lack of a Dance Partner: Ronaldo 'Jacare' Souza
We routinely hear fighters declare they simply don't care who they fight next. When they say this, they're largely telling the truth. But that's because most UFC fighters are in a position where it doesn't necessarily matter. Very few are so close to a title shot that the slightest difference in resume can make a huge difference in whether a title shot ever materializes. For a fighter like Jacare, not being able to battle Yoel Romero on Saturday was devastating. As it turns out, there was probably little he could've done given how thorough Luke Rockhold dispatched Lyoto Machida, but there was at least a possibility. A drubbing of the Cuban Olympian by the Brazilian would've at least stirred debate. So while he was happy to get the win over Chris Camozzi and the accompanying pay check, the lack of a resume boosting win over an elite opposition set him back in the sweepstakes for middleweight title glory. There's nothing he did wrong except get deeply unlucky. That's the fight game, really. These guys at the top need each other. When there's no one to dance with, they badly suffer.
Strangest Call Out: Tim Means and the MMA Media
No one is above reproach, which certainly includes the MMA media. What we write deserves to be measured, critiqued, reviewed and otherwise evaluated. Still, this one missed the mark. What was originally written about means seems totally innocuous in hindsight and even arguable in its truth. If we're nitpicking the sort of content produced by the larger mixed martial arts media, this would hardly be a top of the list candidate.
Means is objecting to the assessment given in a predictions column about his overall ability. He's not wrong, necessarily. He is more than a striker as he showed. But writers in MMA media don't live or train with the fighters they cover (or shouldn't, anyway). There is a degree of distance that makes our understanding of the subjects we cover forever incomplete. We only know that which we are exposed to. Sometimes we get things wrong even with that level of reveal, but the point is this: the media will sometimes have a good enough - maybe even great - assessment of a fighter and their ability, but it will always be just short of what is the actual truth. There's nothing they or we can do to remedy that. Being upset at a fact of our mutual existences doesn't strike me as particularly important criticism.
Least Objectionable Stoppage: Jimy Hettes
Everyone recognizes Hettes wasn't 'hurt', at least not in the way we typically talk about. He wasn't concussed or even rocked or in any real discernible pain. He could launch offense. If necessary, he was in a position to intelligently defend himself. Those are the usual criteria we point to when deciding if a fight should continue. The fact is, however, that criteria is necessary, but not sufficient. Hettes' ear appeared to be split in two. Maybe if the fight had resumed he'd have triangled Diego Brandao. Then again, maybe he'd have been taken down again and drilled with more elbows to his visibly bleeding orafice. We're right to be skeptical of regulation, both the hands off and overbearing kind. But we need to make sure to not play doctor with limited information only available via a television broadcast. I'm not suggesting we give ringside physicians a pass or just take their word. But we don't have to be ardent skeptics of their medical opinion either.
Most Enjoyable Aspect of The Card: Jiu-Jitsu
The discussion about whether submissions are declining in modern MMA is a healthy and even necessary one to have. There's some evidence it's real. What's interesting is how a decline in submissions are treated, namely, as a referendum on jiu-jitsu or promoter priorities. If submissions are in decline, so must jiu-jitsu and, some suggest, the purity of MMA as promoters try to feed the stand and bang crowd, the argument goes.
I'm not here to awaken or contribute to this ongoing debate, but I will say it was nice to see an event so heavily feature jiu-jitsu as UFC on FOX 15 did. That's not just true in the sense there were submissions, but every aspect of jiu-jitsu from exotic guards (50-50) to strong positioning from top and bottom (knee on belly, back takes, mount). The use of the art was seen from top to bottom on the card as well. In short, jiu-jitsu was integral to the fights themselves and from virtually every position or angle. Whether this was an anomaly or beginning of a trend, only time will tell. But for one night, it was really fun to see it play such a forward role.