By Mark Dorsey
Inspired by the 1966 Spaghetti Western film about three gunmen who set out to find a hidden fortune during the American Civil War, this post-event wrap-up is dedicated to the moments that may have slipped through the cracks or deserve a little bit more analysis. Before we bid adieu to the resounding success that was UFC 144, join us for a look back at the event with a solid, squinty-eyed gaze that would make a macho legend like Clint Eastwood proud.
• The Japanese crowd. As expected, the Japanese crowd was politely engaged in the fights throughout the entire event. There were long periods of respectful silence during most of the action, prompting Joe Rogan to urge Mike Goldberg to take off his headphones in order to soak in the eerie quiet in the arena. Rogan is a stand-up comic who doesn’t often get the opportunity to crack jokes during the fights but it was funny when he said that event was akin to watching “a cagefight in a church.” Despite the reverent atmosphere, the crowd also had its moments of vocal fervor, erupting into chants of Hioki’s name and random “UFC” chants, while also scolding Ryan Bader with boos when he tried to tie-up Rampage from the bottom. The Japanese fans showed a lot of support to non-native fighters such as Vaughan Lee after his impressive armbar victory over Kid Yamamoto, and Tim Boetsch after his shocking comeback win over Yushin Okami. The vibe in Japan was markedly different from the UFC’s amazing shows in Toronto and Rio, but anytime there’s an event when the fans become one of the main talking points, it speaks to their passion.
• Referees. Referees usually only get the spotlight if they make a mistake or controversial decision, but sometimes they should get mentioned simply because they did a solid job. That was certainly the case at UFC 144 which saw some great stoppages. Particularly noteworthy was Herb Dean’s reaction time, jumping in to stop Mark Hunt and Issei Tamura from inflicting more damage after their devastating knockouts of Cheick Kongo and Zhang Tiequan, respectively. In a similar vein, during the Lauzon/Pettis fight, referee Marc Goddard was right on top of the action, quickly stepping in to prevent follow-up damage after Lauzon was KO’d.
• Rampage Jackson. There were many disappointing aspects of Rampage’s performance at UFC 144, but he should also get some credit for providing a lot of interest in this card. Although he couldn’t pull off a win, Rampage did his best to entertain with a great entrance in which he came out to the Pride FC opening theme song and provided the crowd with a couple of his signature howls. His Japanese homecoming clearly meant a lot to an emotional Rampage who fought through a knee injury and showed a lot of maturity in many of the interviews he gave before and after the event. Also, the slam/spike on Bader was thrilling and a reminder of the potentially fight-ending techniques that Rampage still possesses.
• Late fights and timing issues. As the UFC continues to expand into different overseas markets, there will be some growing pains regarding how to satisfy both the live crowds and the North American television audience. Let’s be honest, it’s nice that we can watch the UFC at its regular time slot here in North America, but I’m not sure that catering to the PPV numbers is the best way to build a strong UFC following in Japan, especially when it means starting the fights at 10AM on a Sunday. Also, it may seem like a strange thing to complain about, but a 4-hour PPV is just way too long. The average major league sporting event is only 2.5 to 3 hours long; this was a 4-hour PPV with 2 hours of preliminary fights. It’s great that there are so many fights being shown but hopefully it’s not at the expense of waning interest by the time the main event rolls around.
• The state of Japanese MMA. Japanese fighters did not fare very well on this card as a whole. When it came down to all of the high-profile matches of Japanese versus foreign fighters, the Japanese contingent didn’t do well, with Yushin Okami, Kid Yamamoto and Yoshihiro Akiyama each suffering definitive losses. Yushin Okami dominated Tim Boetsch for two rounds, but for a guy constantly hyped as the best Japanese fighter in the UFC, he quickly fell apart after getting stormed in the third round. Aside from Hatsu Hioki‘s impressive win over rising contender Bart Palaszewski, the Japanese fighters who did secure victories (Riki Fukuda, Takanori Gomi, and Issei Tamura) did so against less-than-stellar opposition (Steve Cantwell, Eiji Mitsuoka, and Tiequan Zhang).
• Rampage Jackson. As a fan of Rampage, it’s easy to want to give him some leeway for fighting through a knee injury, but the truth is, this was an ugly event for him in the context of his entire career. After missing weight and giving up some of his purse, Rampage appeared to be mentally checked out. It seems he was looking past Bader and didn’t really take him seriously. During the fight, Rampage didn’t throw his hands much, and other than his slam, he showed very little of the dynamism that has marked some of his more famous fights. For a guy who has expressed a desire to fight Jon Jones again, this was a big setback.
• Rogan and Goldie. There were a couple head-smacking moments from the commentary during the Cheick Kongo and Mark Hunt fight. First, during the walk-in, Mike Goldberg stated that Hunt “brutalized” Fedor for eight minutes in their fight at Pride Shockwave 2006. While it’s true that Hunt had Fedor in some legitimate trouble, stating that Fedor was “brutalized” is disingenuous and reeks of Zuffa-inspired revisionist history. Second, during the fight itself, Joe Rogan talked about Kongo’s improved grappling, especially in the Ben Rothwell fight. After Goldie chimed in with “He even attempted an armbar” Rogan got confused and began talking about Hunt’s grappling instead of Kongo’s, saying of the armbar, “Well, he also did that in the Fedor fight. He almost caught Fedor in an Americana, or was it a Kimura, at some point.” Unlike Goldie’s misnomer, Rogan’s was obviously an accident. Plus, did Rogan really describe Tim Boetsch’s win over Okami as the greatest comeback win he’s ever seen in MMA?
• Mangled limbs. Yushin Okami’s left leg collapsed after he got KO’d by Tim Boetsch and it was reminiscent of Cro Cop’s mangled-looking leg after his loss to Gonzaga. On a similar note, during his fight against Rampage, Bader stupidly put his arm down to try and stop from being slammed. Luckily, it didn’t cause any major damage to his arm.