Making the Grade: Passes/Fails from UFC Fight Night Albuquerque
Benson Henderson picked up his first finish since 2010. Diego Sanchez and John Dodson won in their hometown. And whole host of wacky stuff happened on Saturday night in Albuquerque.
Here's what we at Haymaker took away from UFC Fight Night in the Land of Enchantment:
Say what you want about Albuquerque. It ain't Las Vegas, that's for sure. Tingley Coliseum is old and somewhat ill-prepared for an event of the magnitude of UFC Fight Night. But the fans made up for it. The place was packed from early in the prelims and everyone seemed extremely pumped that the UFC was in their city.
Erik Perez's entrance, complete with luchador mask and Mexican music, was unbelievable. Half the crowd cheered and half the crowd sung the lyrics in Spanish. If that's how it sounds when he comes out in Albuquerque, I can't wait to see what happens in Mexico City. Tingley was also on fire for hometown boy John Dodson. The place was deafening when he beat John Moraga. Same deal for when Diego Sanchez won a controversial decision over Ross Pearson.
I've been to plenty of fights and dozens of major events in the mainstream sports. Maybe it was the acoustics of the small arena, but the sound when Dodson won and was being interviewed by Jon Anik ranks up there in terms of volume.
The mad Russian
Perhaps the most entertaining part of the main event before Benson Henderson's finish was the audio of Greg Jackson talking to Rustam Khabilov in the corner between rounds. It sounded like Jackson was speaking to Khabilov in a Russian accent. Khabilov is, of course, from Dagestan. Jackson? He's from Albuquerque.
I caught up with the founder of Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA after the event was over and asked him about his Ivan Drago impression. Jackson said he had no idea he was even doing it. When he walked out with John Dodson, he was excited and jumping around, he said. When he came to the Octagon with Diego Sanchez, he was intense. And, evidently, when he interacts with Khabilov, he becomes becomes a native of the former Soviet bloc. Another reason why Jackson is one of the more fascinating personalities in MMA.
What the doctor ordered
You know what should never have any bearing on whether or not a fighter should go back into combat? The opinion of the fighter. Nine times out of 10, he or she is going to say a derivation of: "I'm fine, let's go." Jamie Varner tried to get through almost an entire round on a broken leg last month. These men and women are warriors and they're tougher than any layman can imagine. Tougher than their own good.
Those are the reasons why they can't be the ones to decide and it has to be a doctor who determines whether the fighter can continue. John Moraga lost via doctor stoppage after the second round against John Dodson on Saturday night. Of course, Moraga thought he should be able to go back out there. But the doctor, for whatever reason, thought otherwise after Moraga took a vicious knee to thenose. She was the expert; it's her call. And if she believed Moraga was risking greater injury, she has every right to stop things. We probably don't see that often enough.
Would Diego Sanchez have gotten the nod from judges Saturday night had his fight against Ross Pearson been in Las Vegas or England or Montreal? I honestly have no idea. But the fact that Sanchez won by controversial split decision in his hometown of Albuquerque has to make you wonder, doesn't it? People are calling it one of the worst decisions in the history of MMA and it's definitely up there. Even UFC Fight Night headliner Benson Henderson, the UFC's king of tight contests, hasn't been the beneficiary of such a robbery.
What's scariest is that judge John Collins had Sanchez winning all three rounds. All three! Pearson pretty clearly won every single one. Maybe you could make a case for Sanchez winning the first. But all of them? No way. Blame the peyote. Or someone very enamored with the hometown-boy-makes-good story.
Bendo vs. the media
Benson Henderson is right. I agree with him. The media focuses too much on him racking up controversial decision wins. There's nothing untrue about those claims. Henderson submitted Rustam Khabilov on Saturday night and it was his first finish since 2010. But maybe, just maybe Henderson has a point in saying reporters scrutinize him too much for not being a finisher.
Here's the thing, though: It's his fault. What Henderson doesn't understand is that he controls the narrative. Essentially, reporters are going to write what he says, the more interesting the better. That's our jobs, for the most part. If Henderson doesn't say anything noteworthy or just espouses his religion, what does he expect us to write? Henderson is one of the most talented fighters on the planet. He's an exceptional competitor and a gentleman, for the most part. I just don't think he understands the reporter-athlete relationship and how he can use it to further his own career.
If you were on Twitter on Saturday night, here are some hot takes you got from fans: Patrick Cummins sucks, Sergio Pettis will never be as good as his brother and Bryan Caraway is a dirty cheater. Some serious expert analysis there.
Cummins has exactly six career pro fights and two of them have now been in the UFC. One of them was against Daniel freakin' Cormier. Pettis is 20 years old. Do you think Anthony Pettis was a finished product before he reached the legal age to drink in the states? And Caraway, well, I have idea if he intentionally fish-hooked Erik Perez and no one else does either. The replay and photos did seem to show Caraway's fingers in Perez's mouth. But the sequence in question did not lead to a finish. There are all sorts of rules broken in nearly every fight -- eye pokes, groin shots, holding onto the fence, grabbing the shorts. You name it.
People don't like Caraway for a number of reasons, some of them legitimate, like those nasty things he said about Ronda Rousey on Twitter two years ago. But mostly he's hated because he's dating Miesha Tate and the male fans firing barbs at him on Twitter are not and never will.
Was he High?
We give referees a lot of grief. Just look back at old Making the Grades. Fans can be ruthless and 99 percent of the time when an official is written about it, it's for something negative they did or didn’t do. They have to make split-second choices that can affect fighters' futures and have no benefit of replay like we do.
In other words, being a ref is hard enough without having to worry about a trained fighter assaulting you in the cage. And that's why what Jason High did to Kevin Mulhall on Saturday night was so wrong. High shoved Mulhall, because he didn’t like the TKO stoppage called in favor of Rafael dos Anjos. High felt like he was more than able to continue. He might have been right -- High seemed fine and some of dos Anjos' blows were to the back of the head. But you can never put your hands on a referee unless you're giving him a pat on the back or a handshake. High did apologize later on Twitter, but the damage was already done.
Incredibly sorry & embarrassed for the ref incident. Will never happen again.— Marcelino Evil (@KCBanditMMA) June 8, 2014
There are so few good officials as it is. Do we want to deter them from getting in the Octagon in the off chance that a fighter could turn around and take a swing at them? High may have never been a threat to injure Mulhall, but he might have done enough to make that scene stick in the back of some referees' minds. The New Mexico Athletic Commission should come down hard on High.