(Uh…guys? I’m pretty sure that’s Herb Dean. / Screencap via r/MMA)
By Mark Dorsey
Before we get into the endless promotion for the year-ending and stacked UFC 168: Weidman vs. Silva 2, let’s take one last, clear-eyed look at what went down at
WEC UFC on Fox 9. The injury-cursed event seemed destined to be a disappointment to many fans who consider the lighter fighters boring, especially considering it was the lightest fight card in UFC history, with an average weight of just over 145 pounds. The fact that the fights were taking place at the Sleep Train Arena seemed like a bad omen, foretelling the coma-inducing boredom that might have resulted from a night of decisions. Nevertheless, despite the haters, the smaller guys provided a card of highly entertaining fights and they showcased why many MMA purists consider them the most exciting fighters in the sport.
• Too often, referees only get noticed when they screw up. However, the officials for this card should be praised for a solid night of work in which they did their jobs properly and kept the focus where it belongs: the fighters. Props to John McCarthy, Herb Dean, and Mike Beltran for getting through the 11-fight card with no critical errors. Even Dana White, who has been openly critical of MMA officiating in the past, praised both Big John and Herb Dean, saying, “These are the best guys” and complimented his one-time nemesis, McCarthy, saying, “When John is in that Octagon, he is in absolute and total control.”
• Much has been written lately about the success of Team Alpha Male under head trainer, Daune “Bang” Ludwig. Saturday night gave the camp an opportunity to showcase how deserving they were of that praise, with four fighters from the Sacramento-based crew competing. As a whole, the team didn’t perform flawlessly, but they did manage to win two of their four fights. It was a great night for Urijah Faber, as the hometown hero steamrolled Michael McDonald and established himself — again — as the top contender in the Bantamweight division. Chad Mendes also did what he needed to, beating Nik Lentz by unanimous decision. On the losing side, Danny Castillo dropped a close decision to Edson Barboza that many thought should have been a draw, and Joseph Benavidez got knocked out cold by Demetrious Johnson. Other than Benavidez, Team Alpha looked good, and judging from their backstage reaction to Urijah Faber’s win, they truly are a tightknit group that will continue their upward trajectory.
• Demetrious Johnson looked incredible. Once known only for his wrestling and cardio/pace, “Mighty Mouse” showed that he is a well-rounded mixed martial artist, dangerous in grappling and striking. I’m not sure who he should replace in the UFC’s pound-for-pound rankings, but he definitely made the case that he should be near the top of that list. His post-fight celebration was almost as entertaining as the fight itself, with Johnson performing flips and other acrobatics before his trainer, Matt Hume, seemed to tell him to calm down and “go get some fans.” Mighty Mouse had the best night of anybody, putting a definitive end to his rivalry with Benavidez and earning a $50,000 Knockout of the Night bonus.
• Having a card full of lighter weight fighters may not have been a ratings success, but it was a good format that I hope the UFC continues to employ. It reminded me of the all-heavyweight main card of UFC 146. The good thing about limiting a card to certain weight classes is that it really clears up the rankings for the featured divisions and gives the card tournament-like significance. The UFC is struggling ratings-wise. Part of that is due to the confusion amongst fans about who the top contenders are. Cards like this weekend’s help to sort out those issues in one sitting. This “light” card was a good step in the right direction towards putting an end to myth that the lighter weights can’t finish fights.
• In between rounds 1 and 2 of the Castillo-Barboza fight, the Fox cameras had an extended focus on Barbosa’s corner, with no translation provided. It seemed unprepared and unprofessional. It would have been great to hear what advice his corner was giving Barboza, especially considering the onslaught he survived in the first round and the comeback he had in round 2. It’s a minor complaint, but for a station struggling to keep the attention of North American UFC fans, Fox should have planned ahead and provided a Portuguese-English translation.
• Another broadcasting mistake saw Fox wrongly identify referee Mike Beltran as John McCarthy in the lead-up to the Castillo-Barboza fight. It was an honest mistake but one that shouldn’t happen, especially considering Beltran is hard to misidentify with a beard that makes him look like a character straight out of Middle-earth.
• Joe Rogan gets a lot of flak for the bias he demonstrates in his commentary. He did a great job remaining neutral for most of the fights on Saturday night but it was a bit of a turnoff to hear him criticize the performance of Chad “Money” Mendes in his win over Nik Lentz. Sure, Mendes didn’t win in particularly exciting fashion but it was a solid performance over a quality opponent who was undefeated at Featherweight. After the fight, Mendes told matchmaker Joe Silva that he was sick and “felt like shit tonight” which might have explained why he seemed to gas a bit after the first round. Regardless, Rogan’s criticism seemed to undermine Mendes’s win, Lentz’s skill level, and an otherwise solid night of commentating from Rogan.
• It has become somewhat of a tradition to lambaste the decisions made by MMA judges lately, and usually for good reason. A couple of the decisions on Saturday night were bad, but not completely ugly. First, Bobby Green defeated Pat Healy by unanimous decision in a fight where Healy seemed to outwork and out-grind Green for the final two rounds. The crowd showed their displeasure, and although it wasn’t a horrible decision there is certainly no way it should have been scored 30-27 for Green, as one judge apparently saw it. 29-28 for Green is reasonable. Giving all of the rounds to Green is not. Second, Edson Baboza defeated Danny Castillo by majority decision. Only the one judge who scored the fight a draw at 28-28 got the decision right. How the other two judges didn’t score the first round 10-8 for Castillo is beyond me. A 10-8 round seemed obvious and even 10-7 would have been justifiable. If that wasn’t a 10-8 round, I don’t know what is. It was an unfortunate decision that overshadowed what was a barnburner of a fight that saw both fighters survive near finishes and earn “Fight of the Night” bonuses.
• Joseph Benavidez had never been stopped before in his MMA career. Perhaps that’s why he didn’t show much caution in the striking exchanges from the start against Johnson. Benavidez even had his eyes closed while he was swinging during the final exchange, so he probably didn’t even see the final right hand that ended his night early. Benavidez clearly didn’t respect the striking of Johnson. Granted, Johnson hadn’t shown KO power in the big leagues before, but this is MMA where anything can and often does happen. The result of the technical lapse was the fastest KO in flyweight history, forcing Benavidez back to the drawing board to try and climb back up the rankings.
• Cody McKenzie had a rough night. He looked gassed and unimpressive while getting soundly beaten by Sam Stout in a unanimous decision loss. However, the loss may not have even been the most embarrassing part of his night. McKenzie fought in what looked like basketball shorts with the tag still on them after he apparently showed up at the arena without a mouthpiece or shorts. Someone had to actually run out and buy some shorts for him at a nearby store. What exactly did he think he was doing in Sacramento? McKenzie probably lost any sponsorship money that he was supposed to get from the real estate on his shorts and afterwards he was reported to have drowned his sorrows with a couple of shots and beers, before allegedly getting into a brawl in a hotel lobby. Needless to say, it was an ugly night that McKenzie would likely soon forget and one that may earn him his walking papers in short order.
• Speaking of ugly, Mac Danzig’s face was pretty busted up after going through the meat grinder with Joe Lauzon. Danzig, the TUF season 6 winner, is experienced and usually durable, but the truth is he is just not on the same level as “J-Lau”. In fact, the fight was likely booked with this in mind — to get company-man Lauzon back into the win column. Lauzon didn’t get any of the “Of the Night” bonuses he has grown accustomed to but he did look impressive and is back on track. Danzig, on the other hand, is at risk of being dropped from the UFC and is probably still licking his wounds from the nasty elbows thrown by Lauzon.