UFC Fight Night 66 had a lot to like and a lot to dislike. There were decent fights on the main card, a unique start time that freed up one's evening (for North Americans, anyway), and a feel good story with a retiring veteran. But there was also a slow broadcast, a somewhat boring main event and fighters on the preliminary card who don't rate competing in the world's most exclusive MMA organization.
It's time to separate the best and worst, the winners and the losers and the signal from the noise from Saturday's fights.
1. Best Possible Career Ending: Mark Munoz
It would've been nice for Munoz to have won a middleweight UFC title. It would've been nice for him to finish Luke Barnatt in his last fight. Many other things could've taken place in a world of fiction that would've made for a nicer story, but the world we live in is not that one. In our reality, Munoz had a highly respectable career, but one that never saw him get very close to UFC gold. It's also one that saw his many highs met with humiliating lows.
Like virtually everyone else who exits this game, he was headed for a departure where he left the game on his hands and knees. This is a sport that kills off its elderly in almost artistic ways. There is no reverence for their past, only a need to feed off what's left of their present.
The fact is, though, getting out before getting maimed is partly good timing from the fighter. Whatever else his shortcomings, Munoz is no fool. He knew the end was near and wanted to plan his exit as quickly, but appropriately as possible.
That it dovetailed with a full circle moment in the Philippines is almost magic. And while his post-fight speech was no Lou Gehrig's 'I consider myself...' moment, it was something he earned. Munoz never carried UFC gold, but he invested enough in others and the organization to get a moment of reverence that not even former champions typically get. Maybe that's not as good as having worn a championship belt, but it's also not something that's up for grabs very often.
2. Fairest Criticism: Frankie Edgar vs. Urijah Faber Was Great, but Boring
Sport jiu-jitsu is great. The Miyao brothers are two of the best to do it. They're not only dominant (and have been since blue belt), but somewhat technically innovative. They didn't invent the berimbolo, but they've certainly done a lot to develop the attack.
That said, I don't particularly find their way of competing enjoyable to watch. Against someone who knows their game, it creates long battles from 50-50 guard or outright stall positions. I'll never challenge the fact of their dominance or technical development, but I'm hard pressed to say they're entertaining given my preferences.
Being high level is a form of automatic preference, but one that's very basic. Within high-level fighting, there are still some fighters who are more action oriented than others. There are fights that end up being more action oriented than others. It's not wrong to say a fight was technical, high-level and in a general sense pleasing all while acknowledging it was a touch on the boring side.
A fight that's high-level and somewhat boring isn't another way of saying it's bad. Far from it, but we don't have to pretend to like something because it's necessarily elite. We have to respect it, for sure. And with that baseline of respect comes genuine admiration. All of those things, however, are not the same as outright entertainment.
3. Eating Crow Award: Yours Truly, re: Neil Magny
Every once in a while, we all find ourselves with cognitive blinders on. I clearly has as it relates to Neil Magny. He's a fighter who has easily improved, but I failed to give him his proper due. In his fight on Saturday, he didn't just show mettle to withstand an early barrage. He also showed technical savvy and perhaps most importantly, a little meanness in his offense. There was an edge missing to the things he was doing right. Whatever he's done in the gym, however, has given him edge and then some. He's surging through the UFC, deserves an opponent with legitimate name value and more recognition for his work, especially from persistent skeptics like me.
4. Least Desireable Aspect of the Event: Fox Sports 1 Pacing
Fox Sports 1 is a new station. It competes in a very tough space with other sports networks. It doesn't have all the exclusive rights to air games from some of the top leagues. UFC - like NASCAR and MLB - has been a boon for them. Numbers relative to the general audience balloon when UFC events air. They have an incentive, therefore, to keep that audience on the network longer than one would where UFC did good if unspectacular ratings.
All of this results in main card broadcasts dragging. Look, we get it. There's a reason this is happening, but that's Fox Sports 1's cross to bear. Whatever else the slow-moving broadcast is, it's hard to argue the pacing is in the viewers' interest. Sure, the analysts at the desk are great. Jon Anik and Brian Stann provide plenty of entertaining banter as well, but there's a question of necessity and consumer preference here. Are those production elements really more favorable to the broadcast from the audience's point of view? There's ample reason to believe they're not.
5. Most Unbelievable Fact: Royston Wee Fights in the UFC
I believe in international expansion. I believe the UFC is right when they say their product is more mobile than American football. I believe it's the right call to want make efforts at generating revenue beyond the confines of North American pay-per-view buys. I also believe, however, that there's a limit to what is possible before the product starts to suffer. The UFC has more of the top talent in one place now than ever, but they are spread amidst fighters who incontestably fall below the common standard of excellence set by the UFC itself. Whether the existing fan base will notice or care is an important if slightly separate debate, but it's altogether real. Wee, and many other fighters like him, are simply not up to snuff, but have value being graded on a curve for the brand's push into emergent markets. It's not clear if this strategy will ultimately work, although one can see why UFC might try. Either way, however, a weird dynamic is created. We are at once treated to a product of surpassing greatness mixed with mundane non-necessity. If the UFC is going make a special effort to air the preliminary cards - something virtually everyone applauds - shouldn't a requisite effort be made to ensure the aforementioned common standard is upheld?
This seems like a no-brainer, right? Mousasi is ranked above Bisping, but Bisping's name value is still high. The British middleweight also will do the heavy lifting promotionally and fights in a fan-friendly style. It's the kind of fight that could headline a Fight Night or serve as a valuable anchor on a pay-per-view card. And if you're Bisping, you can be reasonably sure your opponent isn't on any performance-enhancing drug, a relative rarity for him. This suggestion from Mousasi is deft. There's not much to dislike about this potential pairing.
7. Least Plausible Argument: Overseas Fights Are for Overseas Audiences
It's true UFC Fight Night 66 was for the Philippines. After all, it took place there. More to the point, it was staged in that country at a time more suited to their interests and calendars than ours. That it transpired at a time where it could also be aired in the U.S. was just a bonus.
What the entire situation underscores, however, is the event wasn't merely for the Philippines and not by coincidence either. That'd be true even if it had aired on Fight Pass instead of Fox Sports 1. Any time ranked fighters are competing for potential title shots - and both are American - the idea of native sons competing mostly for native glory goes out the window. More than that, though, is the Fox Sports 1 element. They don't have the rights to playoff hockey or basketball. They need content right now, even if it airs at inopportune time. So, here we have a situation where former American champions arguably in title contention are fighting live on American television networks, but we are lead to believe that any decline in overall card quality is above criticism because there's a larger market growth effort in play. If fans don't notice or care about sub-UFC threshold fighters competing on UFC, then so be it. But the argument that these cards aren't just staged overseas, but built for them is demonstrably false. UFC Fight Night 66 took place in Manila, but it was purposefully built to pull in more than hardcore audiences.