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Signal to Noise: UFC 187's best and worst

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

UFC 187 had a ton of positives to offer. The card was stacked top to bottom, the main card delivered in every way, a new champion was crowned and so much more. Then again, there were some things to dislike, not least of which were curious production elements.

It's time to separate the good from the bad, the winners from the losers and the signal from the noise from Saturday's UFC 187.


1. All We Can Ask Award: UFC 187

We are living in an age of too much product combined with too many fighter injuries. Cards are routinely watered down to begin with or become that way with devastating injuries happening at an alarming rate. With its ample resources, all we can ask is UFC put together a card that stands a reasonable chance of providing value in the event something(s) go wrong.

With UFC 187, they did exactly that. The card lost the pound-for-pound best fighter in the sport and carried on. It lost its number-one contender fight in its most stacked weight division and carried on. In the end, it produced wild action, elite skill and meaningful results. It showcased a version of the UFC product no other promoter on their best day can touch or hope to duplicate.

As a reader pointed out, when Jon Jones refused to fight Chael Sonnen at UFC 151, the entire event crumbled. When Jones was removed from this card (albeit more than a week out), the event not only went forward, but was an unequivocal success. In MMA, big fights are important, but the sport is organized with events serving as historical benchmarks. That doesn't happen just when the action is good, but when the fighting stars shine bright, the stakes are high and the product delivers. UFC 187 was MMA at its near best and UFC on top of their game.

2. Best Feel Good Moment: Andrei Arlovski's Win Over Travis Browne

When Sergei Kharitonov stopped Andrei Arlovski in a Strikeforce bout in 2011, the former UFC heavyweight champion walked past me with coach Greg Jackson about 10 feet behind him, to the dressing room. Arlovski had more than a look of disbelief on his face. It wasn't even desperation. It was a face that signaled even desperation and fervent self-belief wasn't going to save him from the unimaginable hole he'd dug himself. It wasn't acceptance of a fate, but the horror that comes just before it. Seeing that as he walked past me to the dressing room had a profound effect on me.

That's why I'm not just surprised by the turnaround, but frankly, happy for the guy. I've also been dead wrong about him, too. After watching him lose that bout in New Jersey, I was convinced there was no coming back. Whatever magic he had, I thought, was gone for good. There are comeback stories in MMA, but they usually involve a boomerang that hasn't gone too far out. Arlovski, so it seemed at the time, was beyond redemption.

Call it a will that couldn't be broken. Call it luck. Call it just plain old getting better. Whatever you call it, it's real and it's here. Arlovski has silenced every critic, answered many (albeit not all) questions and managed to work himself into a UFC title shot picture. We see reformation projects in MMA all the time, but not for those fighters getting badly and consistently knocked out in their thirties. That just doesn't happen...until now. Arlovski hasn't just done himself proud, he's literally redefined what's possible.

3. Best Photo: Anthony Johnson's Crippling Power

UFC 187 photos

This photo is incredible. Cormier bellying out and off of his feet is what catches your eye at first. Then you pan to the left of the photo and see only Johnson's balled up fist outstretched, but also a noticeable distance away. It's the best real-world example of 'Rumble's' nightmarish power. Check out all of Esther Lin's UFC 187 photos.

4. Worst Reaction: 'Daniel Cormier Isn't the Real Champion'

I have a hard time understanding why there's so much controversy. If Jon Jones had a timetable for a UFC return, that would justifiably complicate matters. As of now, however, he doesn't and with each passing day, the ease to accept Cormier's status as the division's ruler becomes more automatic. After all, no one defeated Dominick Cruz either. There is interest in eventually booking a fight between bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw and Cruz, but few view Dillashaw as some underserving squatter. I expect Jones to return to MMA, but what if it comes after more than one or two years of jail time? That isn't merely time away, but life events derailing focus, skill investment and potential ability, too.

Is Jones the best fighter in the world and, as of now, the best light heavyweight on earth? Sure. Cormier's title does nothing to change that. Yet, Jones' status - really, everyone's status - is always shifting. It is not true he gets to hold that designation from now until eternity. More importantly, it isn't merely wins or losses in competition that affect it. Time away, and how that time away is spent, also have an impact on both perception of status as well as one's ability to actually keep it.

So, for now, it's a bit messy. Let's see what happens with Jones. Still, I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss Cormier's position. MMA is a sport that changes in the blink of an eye. When Cormier lost to Jones in January, who predicted this eventual outcome? With the passage of time, new realities are set upon us and what seems strange at first become our unimpeachable truths soon thereafter.

5. Fight Most in Need of Booking: Chris Weidman vs. Luke Rockhold

If there is a justification for putting Ronaldo Souza ahead in the title shot queue before Luke Rockhold, I'd really like to see UFC brass make it public. I'm willing to hear them out. Perhaps it's a matter of them liking Weidman's chances, nurturing the Brazilian market and holding true to a proposed Weidman vs. Rockhold showdown later this year at Madison Square Garden. Maybe it's something else altogether.

Whatever it is, we need to hear it because without the logic being made explicit, there is no obvious reason to not book Weidman vs. Rockhold next. The fight is easy to sell, the match-up promises elite action and Rockhold's the consensus top contender. There already appears to be huge fan enthusiasm bubbling up to the surface. This is so hand-in-glove that it requires zero matchmaking gymnastics to justify its appeal or purpose. That fight has everything one could want, including a result where no matter who wins, there are more matchmaking permutations to build off of that make the UFC's job easy.

I'm willing to listen if there's a bigger plan in place we aren't aware of, but if the choice is simply about which fighter brings more to the table opposite Weidman at this space and time, the debate is already over.

6. The World Is Yours Award: Islam Makhachev

There's no telling how far the latest Dagestani import will go in the sport or the UFC, but one thing is clear: their takeover seems inevitable. They don't merely win, but do so with ease. They come perfectly equipped with portions of the game that take an eternity for most other athletes to master. They're rough around the edges in some aspects, but one never gets the sense it's something that can't be addressed. Beyond skills, they have the temperament and life outlook that make fighting for a living a much more manageable task for the rest of it. So, is Makhachev going to wear UFC gold? I don't know. Here's what I do know, though. It's the Dagestanis' world. We're just living in it.

7. Please Stop Nomination: Use of 'Face the Pain'

It is incomprehensible that a company so bold, forward-thinking, edgy and envelope pushing in myriad facets of its self-organization, corporate ethos, product and consumer relations can be so anachronistic. What possible justification could there be to use this nu-metal song before pay-per-view events? Would the fights be worse without it? Would the crowd not be as enthusiastic? Would the fan experience in any realistic, measurable way be lessened? Please be serious.

It's not as if it's missed when it's gone. The UFC's television partner doesn't use it, at least not for the millions of viewers at home. On UFC shows airing on Fox Sports 1 and big FOX, the producers there prefer custom opens that balance narration with high-intensity soundtracks (or familiar Fox Sports jingles). Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't, but mostly it doesn't matter. If the broadcast has a good tempo, modern graphics, talented analysts or commentators and quality fights (UFC has all of this), viewers at home don't really care. Some, like me, outright prefer it.

How 'Face the Pain' has managed to be grandfathered into modern broadcasts is something beyond my ability to understand. It's really bad art from a bygone era that never produced much good art to begin with. It isn't necessary for the viewing experience. It isn't in keeping with the sort of modernity the UFC rightfully enjoys on many other fronts. It's remarkably terrible, really, and at some point, I can only hope its use in pay-per-view broadcasts stops for good.

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