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UFC Brooklyn Aftermath: UFC’s habit of featuring unqualified fighters backfires ... again

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Brooklyn-Hardy vs Crowder Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

First things first: You might dislike Greg Hardy, and have valid reasons for doing so, but it’s highly likely he didn’t throw that knee to a downed Allen Crowder on purpose.

You can’t fake the emotion Hardy showed at the UFC Brooklyn post-fight press conference, in which he appeared dumbfounded over the turn of events, apologized over and over to Crowder for what happened and offering to run the bout back, and expressing disappointment in letting his team down.

(Don’t believe me? Go watch the video below).

So while it might feel good to go ahead and say “Just what I thought, this guy with a domestic abuse history is also a cheater,” it appears the act which led to his second-round disqualification in the evening’s co-feature bout at Barclays Center was a matter of inexperience and poor timing, not one of malice, and the fact a lot of people don’t like Hardy as a person doesn’t change that.

But that still doesn’t let the UFC off the hook for the decision to book this fight in this spot in the first place.

Hardy had a grand total of two minutes, seven seconds of professional cagefighting time heading into the matchup. The UFC decided to book him in a featured spot on the first event of the ESPN deal anyway, rationalizing that the attention being drawn to the event by putting a former NFL All-Pro on the card would outweigh the negatives.

They even gave Hardy as favorable a matchup as possible, as Hardy, who won all six pro and amateur fights heading into Saturday night via first-round knockout, was in with an opponent in Crowder who suffered knockouts in all three of his professional losses, including his most recent fight.

Then the bout started, and an absolutely atrocious exhibition broke out. The skill level on display belonged at a casino out in the middle of nowhere, or a high school gym or local rec center, not on the biggest promotion’s glamour event.

It was stink-out-the-joint bad, and threatened to derail a good show.

Where have we heard this before?

Oh, that’s right, CM Punk. The pro wrestler who put in an all-time terrible performance in his UFC debut a couple years back, which some wanted us believe was a masterstroke of promotional genius because it brought in one-time freakshow gawkers.

The UFC, of course, brought Punk back last year, and the second time was worse than the first. Hardy at least has potential Punk doesn’t, so he will be brought back for another shot in the big leagues, even though his inexperience dictates he should be fighting on small shows for the foreseeable future.

This sort of gimmickry hasn’t worked out for the UFC since Randy Couture fought James Toney nearly a decade ago. Not one new fan was made by Punk’s presence in the UFC. Not one new fan was made by putting Hardy in the co-main event bout of the UFC’s first ESPN card.

If the UFC is going to insist on continuing with the Greg Hardy experiment, then his next fight should be on the Fight Pass prelims of a Fight Night somewhere, and he should work his way up just like the rest.

UFC Brooklyn quotes

“Sucks to have it stolen from me. I worked my butt off. I’m so much better than that. It would be nice to actually get the chance to show it. It’s a title fight, it’s a champ versus champ fight and you’re gonna stop the fight like that?” — T.J. Dillashaw, unhappy with the stoppage of his fight with Henry Cejudo.

“It was a great stoppage because I felt his body go limp. You guys have to understand I weighed in at 146 pounds when I fought him. Strong, and you could see it. Every blow that he took, he was eating some hammers. Personally, I thought it was a good stoppage because he was going to take another 10, 20 hits.”Cejudo disagrees.

“Have some f*cking respect.” — Donald Cerrone's response to Alexander Hernandez’s trash talk.

Stock report

Up: Donald Cerrone. “Cowboy” added another chapter to his legacy Saturday night. Alexander Hernandez was the first fighter in quite some time to come at one of the sport’s all-time most popular fighters with disrespect. And while Hernandez was dogging him, Cerrone simply bided his time and made the brash upstart pay in the cage. Cerrone put on a clinic in dismantling Hernandez and upped his UFC records for wins (22) and finishes (16). Cerrone has long been loved for his willingness to fight anyone, anytime, but know, whether he wants it or not, he’s finding his way into an elder statesman spot. As for what’s next? I think it could potentially be something really big. Slide down to “Fight I’d Like to See Next” for more.

Up: Henry Cejudo. You wouldn’t know it by the way his promoter has reacted, but the UFC flyweight champion appears to be putting together one of the most impressive runs we’ve ever seen in this sport. Fresh off his victory over one of the greatest champions in MMA history in Demetrious Johnson to end a six-year title reign in what’s widely acknowledged as the greatest title flyweight fight ever, Cejudo went out and smoked a red-hot Dillashaw, the reigning bantamweight champion, in under a minute. Dana White has responded to this by pouting about the stoppage and messing with Cejudo’s division. If he’d actually go ahead and promote this great champion and Olympic gold medalist who happens to have a personality, maybe his division would, you know, be drawing at the box office by now.

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Brooklyn-Cejudo vs Dillashaw
Good times, bad times: A lot changed for a pair of UFC champions in just 32 seconds.
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Down: T.J. Dillashaw. We can understand Dillashaw’s frustration at having something he had worked at for so long vanish in the blink of an eye, especially after his painstaking his cut down to 125 pounds. But no, the stoppage wasn’t bad (at worst, all it did was saved him from more of a beating), and no, the bantamweight division should not be held up to run this fight back at 125. If Dillashaw wants a rematch with Cejudo, then it should be done at 135 pounds. That’s the only way he can restore his credibility as champion after losing to someone from a lower weight class in the manner he did.

Hold: Gregor Gillespie. Is it weird to say this about an undefeated fighter who just scored his fifth straight stoppage win, the longest active such streak on the UFC roster? Yeah, it kind of is, and yet it somehow feels that way. Gillespie dominated Yancy Medeiros, as the lightweight put on a clinic of Khabib Nurmagomedov-style smothering grappling, minus the mauling. Until the end, at least, as he finished him with a tick left on the clock in the second round. You’d think the Long Islander would be breaking through as a star by now, but even in New York, Gillespie’s performance was met by mostly indifference, and a weird post-fight interview didn’t help. His cage performances have been flawless, but something seems to be missing that’s keeping him from being a real star.

Up: Paige VanZant. Make no mistake about this: That was one gutsy win for Paige VanZant on Saturday night against the equally gutsy Rachael Ostovich. PVZ had lost two straight fights, three of her past four, and was coming off a broken arm. Then she had a bad first round in Brooklyn. But she showed skill and heart in powering her way to a submission victory in the second. VanZant has been in the spotlight a long time, but she’s still just 24, and it just might be that her time is finally starting, for real.

Official matters

Where to start? No, that was not a bad stoppage in the main event. Cejudo rocked Dillashaw, who was going to be less able to withstand brain trauma after turning himself into a skeleton to make flyweight, over and over. Things were not going to get any better. And White dismissing Kevin MacDonald as a “local ref” was simply ridiculous. MacDonald has been a referee since before there were Unified Rules and is one of the ABC’s lead trainers of aspiring officials. He was also the official who made the correct split-second judgment call that Yair Rodriguez at knocked out Korean Zombie at 4:59 of round five at UFC Denver, when even the commentators cageside couldn’t figure out what had just happened.

But if we have to nitpick referees about something, there’s this: Dan Miragliotta very likely made the right call in disqualifying Hardy for his knee against Crowder. But he erred in actually saying out loud that he would DQ Hardy for the knee if Crowder was unable to continue, before it was known if he could continue. In this case, it turned out Crowder legit could not go on. But a referee shouldn’t telegraph his intentions in these sort of situations either way, because in another fight, the signal from the ref is a DQ is coming would give a fighter who wasn’t all that hurt a green light to skate away with a cheap win.

Some observations about the first ESPN effort: All around, the company brought a lot of interesting touches. Having a big Duke basketball game as a lead-in should help the ESPN cable prelim ratings. Showing highlights at the top of SportsCenter, including Dennis Bermudez’s retirement speech, was a nice touch. People who don’t like Stephen A. Smith weren’t going to give him a chance, but the fact is, Smith never tried to overreach and pretend to know what he doesn’t (There were no FOX-like “Nate Diaz sumo skills” moments), and he capably set up Michael Bisping at the desk. Trevor Wittman giving insight on corner philosophies was a fresh idea that worked well. And finally, the six-fight card main card was done in two-and-a-half hours. While that is in part due to some short fights, if this was FS1, you know they would have found a way to drag the show out anyway. All in all, a fine debut effort.

Fight I’d like to see next: Donald Cerrone vs. Conor McGregor

McGregor’s penchant for taking on the toughest challenges imaginable has been admirable. He willed his way into becoming the first champ-champ in UFC history, he boxed Floyd Mayweather, and he returned from a two-year MMA absence to fight a prime Khabib Nurmagomedov.

That’s bought him plenty of space from fans when he’s lost, but he’s lost three of his past five combat sports events, and got to start winning consistently again at some point if he’s going to remain a transcendent draw. And Donald Cerrone might be just the right guy for the situation. Cerrone has always been popular, but never more so than now. He’d be a live underdog against McGregor, one with a real chance of winning. And it’s a guaranteed exciting fight.

A fight with Cowboy might just be the thing to get McGregor back on track. And McGregor seems to agree. Let’s make this happen.

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