Making the Grade: Passes/Fails from UFC Fight Night Dublin
Conor McGregor sent the Irish fans home (OK, to the bar) happy. Gunnar Nelson solidified himself as a top welterweight prospect. And Ian McCall made a case to become the next No. 1 contender to the UFC flyweight title.
You already know who won and who lost Saturday at UFC Fight Night. Over here at Haymaker, we're more concerned at looking beyond the results. Here's what we took away from the Dublin event:
This is an easy one. The fans, the atmosphere, the city. The whole damn thing. Dublin was an incredible host for the UFC and might have had the best and loudest crowd in the history of the organization Saturday. We weren't in attendance at the O2, but the reports coming out of Ireland were pretty incredible. The noise level reached 111 decibels, according to UFC president Dana White.
It's hard to believe the UFC had not been to Ireland in five years. The organization won't do that again. The country should be at least an annual destination. If you put Conor McGregor in the main event, arenas double the size of the O2 would sell out. Maybe even stadiums. He's a superstar in Ireland and he's becoming a name everywhere else, too. The Irish fandom doesn't stop there either. They are enthusiastic about non-Irish fighters as well. It's clear the UFC, and MMA in general, is becoming huge in the country.
TUF 19 redemption
Did anyone see this coming? The Ultimate Fighter 19 was one of the worst seasons ever and that's coming from UFC president Dana White himself. The fights were absolutely terrible. White said at one point that he didn’t know who from the show besides the TUF winners would get a chance at competing in the UFC. It turns out, there might be a few deserving guys.
The TUF Finale really changed the perception of the show as a whole when Corey Anderson and Eddie Gordon both won by first-round knockout and emerged as legitimate prospects. Then on Saturday, Cathal Pendred escaped an awful first round and finished Mike King by submission in the second. It was one of the best comebacks in UFC history -- no hyperbole. Pendred and King won Fight of the Night. The actual show was a chore to watch, but the end result has been a win.
Man, do the Irish get it or what? Not only did every Irishman on the card Saturday win, but they also entertained once Dan Hardy put the microphone in their faces. Patrick Holohan started off with a submission and then proceeded to be absolutely hilarious in his post-fight interview. All the man wanted was some tea. Cathal Pendred cut a phenomenal, even inspirational promo after getting his head knocked around by Mike King (before his ridiculous comeback victory).
Then, of course, you've got Conor McGregor. With Chael Sonnen out to pasture, there isn't anyone better in front of a live mic than McGregor. The man even has his own catchphrases. Who won't remember the line, "We're not here to take part, we're here to take over!" Even Neil Seery, the other Irishman with a victory Saturday, told a heart-tugging story about the death of his nephew. Good fighters with charisma? The UFC could use more of those. Maybe they can tap into the Irish scene more and not just for some Guinness.
'Madness' on a loop
There's absolutely nothing wrong with airing promos for future events during Fight Pass cards. It's smart, actually. The UFC should be doing that. But during a five-hour show, please don't play the same promos over and over. We don't remember how many times we heard Joe Rogan's voice screaming, "This is madness!" but it felt like about 100. The idea of a commercial is to get you to want to purchase that next pay-per-view, not hit the mute button.
The UFC did a better job with ads for the UFC Fight Night: Lawler vs. Brown event next week. There was interview footage of both Robbie Lawler and Matt Brown. That stuff was really solid. It's possible that the preview materials for UFC 177 and UFC 178 are not ready to go yet -- and that's fine. But it doesn't mean "this is madness!" should be rammed down fans' throats every time there's a break in the action.
As a quick positive aside, Fight Pass events are very well paced and largely a pleasure to watch.
Don't sleep on him
Did Gunnar Nelson even have a chance to clean out the gunk in his eyes before stepping into the Octagon against Zak Cummings? Nelson, the Icelandic grappling ace, makes Gegard Mousasi seem like John Dodson. Nelson finished Cummings by submission in the second round while sporting bedhead with his eyes at half-mast.
Is Nelson's persona the norm in Iceland? We have no idea. Personally, we wish he had just a drop more charisma -- you know, so it doesn't look like he drank a whole bottle of Nyquil. Nelson is one of the more exciting grapplers in MMA right now and a thrill to watch. Then, Dan Hardy puts a microphone in his face and it's like someone changed the channel to C-SPAN. Maybe Nelson is so dry he'll develop a cult following like Mousasi. But here's hoping he goes full Conor McGregor one day.
There are half-hearted callouts and then there's what Ian McCall did Saturday. We're not sure if "Uncle Creepy" wants to fight flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson for the belt or take him on a date. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.) McCall, himself, described the callout as "sensual." That has to be a first in the UFC. He then went on to describe interviewer Dan Hardy as "beautiful."
Now, we can't argue with that one. Hardy is a handsome man. But McCall could have been a little more, uhh, forceful with his words. This is a guy who many believed beat Johnson two years ago in the inaugural flyweight tournament. McCall certainly is more deserving of a title shot than Chris Cariaso, who meets Johnson next month. Then again, McCall kind of marches to the beat of, well, probably the voices in his head. This was just "Uncle Creepy" being "Uncle Creepy." And hey, at least it was better than Gunnar Nelson.
Shut your clap
If you're granted a press credential to a sporting event, there are certain things expected of you. The most important thing is this: You're there to work, not be a fan. On the back of most media passes in the NBA, MLB and NFL, there's a warning that if you cheer, ask for autographs or attempt to take photos with an athlete, you'll be stripped of your credential and be banned from ever being accredited as a member of the press in said stadium or arena again.
What does this have to do with the UFC in Dublin? Well, some members of the "press" didn't exactly conduct themselves professionally Saturday. In addition to a large amount of clapping at the press conference, those in attendance, including MMAjunkie's Matt Erickson, reported on Twitter that "journalists" on press row were acting like fanboys. Some were even drinking. That's unacceptable behavior. Some fans don't understand why it's not OK to clap and cheer as a reporter. It's because you're in attendance as an independent, objective observer of the game, match or fight. You're there to report, not show outward signs of emotion. Any sign of bias is a black eye on the men and women there to do an honest job.
Most press conferences here in the states are devoid of cheering. Overseas, it's different. Maybe it's a cultural thing. In mainstream sports, there seem to be more clapping, albeit of a respectful nature, at international events, like in tennis and golf. But nowhere is it cool to jump up on press row and scream -- unless maybe your laptop breaks down just as you're filing on deadline. And drinking while you're at an event as media? Does your boss let you drink on the job at the office? The UFC is trying to gain a foothold as a mainstream sport, which means it has to do a better job vetting the "media" it lets in. Fanboys should be shown the door. Swiftly.