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Of UFC 187, minefields, and how we’ve come to accept change

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Fighting on the UFC’s showroom floor (PPV) is all about compromise, of course, and anybody who tells you otherwise is a fibber. Jon Jones turned the light heavyweight division into a bunch of has-beens by becoming the most dominant champion of his half-era, yet right now -- just when the spotlight was supposed to be on him -- he’s tucked away some place searching for his soul. Jones was on tonight’s UFC 187 mega-event, then off. These things happen.

The compromise was getting Daniel Cormier, who was training for a fight with Ryan Bader when his fortunes changed for the better. He’ll stand in against Anthony Johnson, who became a hulk after his Bruce Banner days as a welterweight. With no Cormier, the people of New Orleans now get a headliner of Tim Boetsch against Dan Henderson. So it goes.

To love this sport is to make peace with reiteration.

And of course there’s Khabib Nurmagomedov, who many suspect is a champion in bloom. He hurt himself before his fight with Donald Cerrone and morphed into John Makdessi. These days fighting is all about just that kind of happenstance, baby. Should Makdessi fill in for Nurmagomedov by knocking Cerrone through the cage links he would become an automatic contender in the lightweight division. In no other sport does whatever crawls out of left field get so relevant so fast.

The lone constant on the big three fights of UFC 187 is Vitor Belfort versus Chris Weidman for the middleweight title. Until they touch gloves, though, this thing will feel…precarious. This is the third time the UFC has booked this fight. As the old cliché goes, let’s make sure there aren’t any banana peels on the walkway as they come out. (Ahem).

What does all this mean? That UFC fans have learned to feel at home between the stumps of frustration and salvation. The UFC matchmakers, Sean Shelby and Joe Silva, are always playing a game of Jenga when putting together these cards. Occasionally, like at UFC 151 and UFC 176, when the wrong piece is removed, the tower just falls over. Sometimes, like at UFC 187, we trade oranges for tangerines.

But, you know what? The truth is, a changing fight card is the only kind of fight card. That’s the reality.

And, you know what else? Between the plight of icons and the threat of injuries, the harrowing weight cuts and all the scary letters (OOC, WADA, NAC, ABQPD), there’s a beauty to this sort of uncertainty. When a card happens as it was originally drawn up -- which, to paraphrase judge Doc Hamilton and take him out of context, is "rarer than a pound of hummingbird tongue" -- there’s a feeling of achievement that accompanies it. The fight is to get to the fight. We understand that the path to the Octagon is actually a minefield.

What we’ve also grown to understand more, in all its depth, is that chaos is part of the deal. Chaos is what happens in the cage. It’s also what happens outside of the cage. Chaos is Jon Jones, and the UFC. Chaos can never be mainstream, but there’s something about its wanton capabilities. When suddenly Cormier is back into a title fight after losing his bid at UFC 182 against Jones, that’s a twist in the drama that then carries a new kind of allure: The old second chance. Jon Jones’ downfall becomes another opportunity for Cormier. The subtext in this case is all about Jones. The new narratives aren’t horrible; they’re just new.

The vamping (and then revamping) of hype has become the game within the game.

Imagine if Makdessi makes good on his fight with Cerrone. Cerrone was primed for a title shot. So was Nurmagomedov. That fight made sense. "Making sense" in the UFC is a bit like making flatulent noises with your palms in your armpits. There are the intentions, and then there are the realities. The reality is that Makdessi can steal a show that he was never meant to be on. This sport is unique like that. Fighters, in many ways, are just lotto balls.

The show must go on.

So how good is UFC 187 in its final draft? It’s still pretty damn good -- actually pretty phenomenal -- from top to bottom. The story lines remain intact at the top. The match-ups all the way down to the prelims are great. We’ve barely noticed the alterations. In this sport you’ve got to roll with the punches.

In this sport it’s all about how you punctuate.

It is what it is!

It is what it is?

It is what it is.

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