UFC 186 wasn't the best of events, but it wasn't the worst of them either. The main card turned out better than many anticipated, the main event offered a thrilling finish and the pacing throughout was mostly pleasing. On the other hand, the card didn't have any real zip or pop, it was promotionally anemic and fans left before the main event finished.
It's time to separate the best from the worst, the good from the bad and the signal from the noise from UFC 186.
Most Important Reminder: Elite Technical Is Not Pleasing in All Forms
There's a tendency to frame UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson's inability to be a commercial draw as evidence of his technical bona fides. The argument is that, sure, Johnson isn't a brash talker, but his skill makes him worthy of admiration. And because he doesn't earn as much said admiration as other champions, it's because huge swathes of the fan base don't properly appreciate him.
This is partly true. Many in the community either do not appreciate him or, if they do, still can't bring themselves to care. The reality, though, is that even if you understand why he's special or what's noteworthy about his technical acumen, that doesn't always translate into thrill, even for initiated audiences.
Elite skill isn't always a preference in terms of fan taste, for both casual and hardcore fans. It's frankly too broad a description. Top talent showcase their worth in myriad technical ways, not all of which are universally appealing.
So, if you admire Johnson and what he's able to accomplish. But if you don't, that doesn't necessarily imply the reason why is because what's happening to high art or too esoteric. It may just not be for you.
Best Photo of the Event: The Post-Fight Panopoly of Emotion
Is it rage? Is it joy? Is it frustration let loose? Is it sadism? It is maybe all of those things. You don't get a reaction from a person like this when it's just one emotion. You don't get a reaction like this even when it's two complimentary promotions. This is a weird admixture of alikes and unalikes that force a response like a chemical reaction. More photos from that event from MMA Fighting's Esther Lin here.
Most Bizarre to Help One's Legal Situation: Quinton Jackson
I'm no lawyer. Many of you aren't either. But when you're facing ongoing litigation where the party opposite from you is looking to prove you've done a certain measure of harm to them (or could do more), bad mouthing that party doesn't seem like the idea I'd go to first. Rampage seems to feel otherwise, mentioning Bellator by name after the fight (albeit not to Joe Rogan, though he still managed to highlight UFC as the best organization in the world). In the end it may not matter, but for someone who was able to fight by the skin of their teeth, adding even the slightest bit of ammunition to one's enemies seems like the least prudent thing imaginable.
Least Appreciated, but Stupendous: Michael Bisping
Fighters are delusional. Elite fighters are particularly delusional. I don't write this as an insult. Delusion, and heavy doses of it, are required for success. It helps fighters push themselves through training, challenges, discomfort and doubt.
Sometimes that delusional becomes toxic. Fighters hold onto it at the very end of their career, willing themselves into pits of danger they no longer can surmount. This is where delusion turns into sadness, but more so, where delusion is mostly highlighted. Delusion pushing someone to greatness is viewed as grit or determination or some other euphemism.
Other times, though, delusion hits the sweet spot in between. Bisping is at once cognizant of his limits, but willing to entertain the idea he's capable of more. His fights follow that balance, too. He fights poorly (or, at least, below his normal limit), only to scrape, claw and inch his way into winning moments. It brings the best out of him, takes the most to his opponents and gives the crowd all they can reasonably ask for.
The trick to delusion is to let it boost you in your professional career, not weigh you down in overreach. As for Bisping, he's getting closer to one edge than the other, but he's still got it in a way that makes it all work.
Best Thing About Mighty Mouse: Presence of Mind
One more note about the champion. UFC commentator Joe Rogan marveled at Demetrious Johnson's finishing armbar over Kyoji Horiguchi. He should. It was fantastic. It was also executed flawlessly from a technical perspective. But what made it over the top special was not how detailed the technical specifics are, but the context in which they were applied.
Look, applying even basic techniques in heightened moments of importance deserve to be celebrated. I'm not telling you to not enjoy that portion of the armbar. But I'd also argue that having chipped away at Horiguchi's defenses and competitive spirits while still knowing the end was nigh from a time perspective, he still decided to add a dose of lethality. That takes precision, a will to dominate and the situational awareness to know what's possible. It also takes extreme belief in one's ability.
Johnson's amazing. We know that not just because other people in authority roles so say, but because there are so many different ways to parse it.
Event That Needed to Happen the Least: UFC 186
I'm not saying those fighters didn't need to be on the card (well, some of them didn't, but that's a discussion for another day). I'm also not saying UFC didn't need to go to Canada to help maintain or rekindle the market. What I am saying is, to some extent, that's the case with any card. In fact, the better the card, the better that card is able to service other cards if we break them up.
However, at some point, a great card becomes something greater than the sum of its parts. It takes on an identity. And when the pre-fight hype matches the post-fight reality, they become cemented moments of greatness. UFC 186's main card turned out better than most expected and yet, is already mostly forgotten. It did not have any larger identity than the individual pieces of itself. It did not need to take place to preserve the integrity of the whole.
Not all fight cards need to exist (not all that do need to be broken up, in fairness). But you know a good card when you don't want anything to happen to it. You know you've got something else when you're hanging on individual pieces of a card to carry you through.