When it comes to entertainment value inside the Octagon with lesser known names, it would be hard to beat this past weekend's UFC show in Adelaide, Australia.
Explosive finishes. Check. Unpredictability. Check. Come-from-behind wins. Check. There were even a couple of records, a unique post-match interview and the unveiling of a possible next top contender for the heavyweight title.
Stipe Miocic, in finishing Mark Hunt in the fourth round, set the UFC record for most strikes landed in a fight with 361. The old record was 355, set by Royce Gracie back in 1995 in his 36-minute fight with Ken Shamrock. But in that fight, the strikes were repeated annoying heel kicks to the back while Gracie was stuck on his back. With Miocic, these were mostly never-ending punches on the ground after a dominant 23 minutes.
The win puts Miocic in the forefront of contenders for the winner of the June 13 heavyweight title fight with Cain Velasquez defending against Fabricio Werdum.
But it was a record that had no business being set. The negative of the show, which took place early Sunday in Australia, meaning Saturday night in North America, is that the system in place failed in the main event.
The fight was the very definition of a one-sided slaughter. Hunt is a legend of the fight game. He's had amazing longevity as a headline fighter. It was back in 2001 that he became a superstar in Japan in winning the K-1 World Grand Prix, at the time when that was the biggest non-boxing combat sports event in the world. What we learned is that Hunt will never quit. But that shouldn't have been up to him.
The fight should have been stopped in the third round. Hunt was exhausted and taking an unmerciful beating. Granted, there had been a number of come-from-behind wins already on the show that you didn't see coming. But in none of those fights did anyone take a savage beating. Hunt is 41 years old, and at best he has limited time left, but the referee, the doctor and his corner failed him and the sport, and risked whatever longevity he had left.
The pendulum has shifted greatly in just the last few years when it comes to combat sports. The mentality used to be that fans were thrilled by warriors who would take inhuman punishment and never quit. The entire premise of the original "Rocky" movie and countless other boxing movies throughout time were based on that.
Today, with more awareness of the potential of brain damage, and the vast majority of those 361 strikes landed on Hunt's legendary cinderblock of a head, things are different. Every week you hear about fighters cutting back on sparring or even leaving the sport altogether even before their primes based on the fear of damage that will show up down the line. I don't know that the last two rounds of this fight would have been comfortable to watch in another era, but it was clearly the wrong kind of brutality for a modern fan.
Not that this mattered in the big picture, because the end result hardly hung in the balance, but it was also amazing that judge Anthony Dimitriou gave round three of that fight a 10-9. The fight should have been stopped in that round on more than one occasion. This was as dominant a round as you could see, and was the first round all year that I at least considered when it was over that it should be a 10-7.
Even though Hunt came into the fight with a 10-9-1 record and only one win in his previous four fights (a knockout win over Roy Nelson, losses to Junior Dos Santos and Fabricio Werdum and a draw with Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva), had he won the fight, there was a chance he'd get the next heavyweight title shot.
His loss to Werdum was a fight he was winning early, and he took the fight as a last-minute replacement, having to cut a ridiculous amount of weight and at the same time fight in the Mexico City altitude. With UFC holding a pay-per-view for its debut show in Melbourne, Australia, the idea of Hunt challenging for the heavyweight title at the 55,000-seat Etihad Stadium was one of those promoter's dream scenarios. But that is now out of the picture.
UFC has booked both the stadium and Rod Laver Arena as potential locations for the Melbourne debut, and Hunt's loss probably upped the odds it would be the arena, because a stadium show would not a suitable stadium main event.
The show also featured three fights ending in less than one minute, Sam Alvey over four-time Olympian Daniel Kelly in 49 seconds, Sean O'Connell over Anthony Perosh in 56 seconds, and Robert Whittaker over Brad Tavares in 44 seconds. That ties a record set three previous times since the advent of the modern rules, most recently in 2013.
Let's look at how Fortunes Changed for Five stars of the Australia show:
STIPE MIOCIC - While promotional circumstances would have given Hunt a good shot at a title shot with a win, with Miocic (13-2), the picture is different.
Miocic has won four of his last five fights. The lone loss, to Junior Dos Santos (17-3), was a close fight. But he's not a marquee star. And this win, the most impressive of his career, was only seen on Fight Pass, so this didn't help him as much as if it had been on a major pay-per-view for television show in the U.S.
On the plus side, it's not just the win over Hunt, but the nature of the win that has to put him strongly in the race for the next shot. He showed good stand-up, strong wrestling and great cardio. In many ways, the Miocic vs. Hunt fight may have been a blueprint of what a Velasquez vs. Hunt fight would have looked like. There are similarities in the strengths, the wrestling base, conditioning and stand-up, between Miocic and Velasquez. And Miocic is taller, and has more reach.
In the UFC rankings, Miocic trails Dos Santos and Travis Browne (17-2-1). Dos Santos lost twice, decisively, to champion Velasquez. If Werdum wins, then Dos Santos has a strong chance to get the next shot. If Velasquez wins, it probably comes down to Miocic or Browne.
Browne faces Andrei Arlovski (23-10) on May 23 in Las Vegas. If Arlovski wins, then Miocic would seem to have the best shot. But if Arlovski was to score a fast win, he does have the advantage of being better known and his win would have been on a high profile show. But most likely, an Arlovski win and Velasquez win gives Miocic the shot.
With a Browne win, it becomes a matter of how impressive the win comes across. Browne has the edge in that his fight is on the bigger show and will be seen by more people. But it would be difficult to match the overall impressiveness of Miocic's game and his win.
ROBERT WHITTAKER - Whittaker (15-4) looks to have literally punched his ticket into the middleweight top 15 by knocking off No. 14-ranked Tavares in 44 seconds with punches, moving to 2-0 since changing divisions.
As far as a next step, the 24-year-old Whittaker is going to need at least one more win before he is likely to get a shot at the Thales Leites or Michael Bisping level middleweights. Roan Carneiro (20-9), ranked No. 15, from a rankings standpoint makes sense next. Sam Alvey (26-6, 1 no contest) scored a similar first minute finish on this show, so it's a fight that comes naturally off this show and the timing would seem to work. But Alvey promoted a fight in a different direction.
Another possibility for a next opponent would be the winner of the May 23 fight with Uriah Half (10-4) vs. Rafael Natal (19-6-1).
JAMES VICK - Vick (8-0) scored his biggest career win over Jake Matthews. Matthews was winning most of the way, but Vick caught him with a knee and an uppercut and quickly grabbed a tight guillotine. Matthews couldn't hang on even though there were only seven seconds left in the first round when he tapped.
A good next direction for him would be Michael Chiesa (12-2). Even though Vick is technically unbeaten, he lost to Chiesa via second-round knockout in the semifinals of season 15 of The Ultimate Fighter. It's the right level of next opponent for Vick, and it comes with a storyline.
JAKE MATTHEWS - Although losing, Matthews (9-1) looks to have one of the best upsides of anyone on the weekend show.
Matthews in many ways seems reminiscent of top welterweight contender Rory MacDonald. Both were already top fighters at a young age and had potential to be regional superstars. MacDonald from the start was talked about as the heir apparent to Georges St-Pierre as Canada's biggest star. Matthews, still only 20, was talked about as the guy who could carry the sport in Australia for the next decade.
MacDonald early on had his Carlos Condit, a fight he was winning but then got stopped in. Matthews had Vick.
MacDonald won his early fights by being powerful for his size, as did Matthews. With Matthews, the question was about what would happen when he couldn't physically overpower his opponents. The answer is that, like MacDonald, he is going to have to get his stand-up to a higher level to become that level of star.
MacDonald did just that and is now challenging for the welterweight title.
With all the depth at lightweight, there are a lot of ways to go. My first pick would be Takanori Gomi (35-10). Gomi is a name fighter, although at 36, he's clearly on the decline. It's the nature of the fight game to take promising young stars and use former stars to build them. In a different direction, as far as just a power vs. power fight that would probably be entertaining to watch, Matthews could next face Rustam Khabilov (17-3). But that idea may be better a couple of fights down the line, giving Matthews time to get more experience.
SAM ALVEY - Smilin' Sam always makes himself the center of attention. Between an attempt to sneak in a sponsorship through tanning, which he was told he can never do again, to his interview style that wins over foreign crowds.
But Alvey has also been doing his talking in the cage, with three straight first-round knockouts, two in Australia and one in Brazil.
Alvey seemed to want to try Canada out next. He challenged former TUF winner Elias Theodorou (11-0), a former model who has claimed to have the best head of hair in the UFC. After Alvey's quick win over Kelly, Alvey said he wanted a match with Theodorou, with the stipulation that the loser shaves his head.
If nothing else, Alvey is an example for mid-level fighters on how to break out of the pack. He's someone clearly prepared for what he wants to say when his fight is over. There's a reason fighters are asked in the ring who they want to face next, and "Whoever Dana White, Joe Silva and Sean Shelby choose," as the standard answer, is exactly what White, Silva and Shelby don't want to hear. Alvey asked for Kelly, and got his wish. Whether he gets Theodorou next or not, he has a lot better shot at getting it now, and having people care about it more than just the level of another prelim on a show.