Making the grade: The passes/fails of UFC Fight Night London
Alexander Gustafsson is the new No. 1 contender (again) at light heavyweight and Michael Johnson chased down a back-pedaling Melvin Guillard to announce his presence as a lightweight force.
It was a great night for the UFC in London, but you already now who won and lost. It's time to read between the lines and see that really happened in jolly ol' England on Saturday at UFC Fight Night.
Here's what we took away from the event:
New announce team
Every time I dropped my eyes from my TV screen (yes, I watch Fight Pass on TV with a Samsung Smart TV and it's great) to my laptop to tweet, I thought I was watching the English Premier League or something. The British accents from new announce team John Gooden and Dan Hardy really classed up the joint. And the two did a really nice job of calling the action for the first time.
Andy Friedlander provided a change of pace from Bruce Buffer as the ring announcer, but it was a little odd watching the UFC without Buffer. And I'm sure Buffer isn't too pleased, either. The man really wants to do every single UFC card out there. This was only like the third one he's missed in more than 10 years or something ridiculous like that. Friedlander was fine. Just took some getting used to.
The popularity has always been there, especially in the United Kingdom. But Europe has been a struggle for the UFC at times. The TV contracts were hard to come by and there weren't enough talented fighters to capture the imagination of fans and mainstream media.
It seems like those days are over. The UFC had a blockbuster day in London on Saturday and landed a massive television deal in the region. Combine that with some excellent European fighters coming up -- Luke Barnatt, Conor McGregor and Gunnar Nelson -- the UFC is ready to move out of the doldrums there. It also doesn't hurt that the economy across the pond is superior to ours here in the states right now, too.
Most MMA fans would probably sign up for one of these every week. Eight fights. Done in less than five hours. Pacing is good. It doesn't feel like a marathon. This is how most UFC shows should be. UFC 171 on Saturday will be a tad plodding with 13 fights altogether -- four on Fight Pass, four on FOX Sports 1 and five main card bouts on pay-per-view.
I get that there's something for every consumer when the UFC spreads it all out like that, but these eight-fight cards are an absolute pleasure to cover. Maybe I'm just being selfish as a media member. But I don't think fans would argue with strong, nine-fight cards being the norm. Instead of 13-fight cards with four fights between guys who probably don't belong in the UFC.
It was a moment that will live in infamy forever. For some reason, two grown men competing on the largest stage in mixed martial arts decided to engage in a veritable slap fight on the ground. There have been catfights between sorority girls at college bars with more technique than what Igor Araujo and Danny Mitchell pulled off on the prelims.
The two had their legs tangled together on the ground -- each one looking for a heel hook or knee bar -- and turned to each other and let loose some sloppy, wet-noodle hammer fists. Seriously, it was embarrassing. What were they thinking? And we wanted to like Mitchell and his "Cheesecake Assassin" nickname so much. Turns out the only thing he assassinated was his dignity.
The new Melvin Guillard
There used to be this guy in the UFC who was all kinetic energy. Exciting. Athletic. Power in both hands. Always moving forward. He didn't always win, but he always made things interesting. You couldnât keep your eyes off him. That was Melvin Guillard in the past. Now, you can't keep your eyes open when he fights.
In theory, a patient Guillard is a good Guillard. His striking is so electric and dynamic that he can afford to wait for the other guy to make a mistake and wallop him with a lightning-quick combination. But that happened like one time, in the first round, against Michael Johnson on Saturday. Guillard did nothing after that. Nothing. Johnson afterward called himself the best striker in the lightweight division, which is laughable considering Anthony Pettis is the 155-pound champ. But Guillard's performance probably made people nod their head and think, "Yeah, this guy is right."
At what point does the UFC or the state athletic commissions address this issue? In at least three fights on Saturday's card one of the competitors got poked in the eye. It's an annoyance to fans watching at home, but a finger in the eye is something that can change the whole complexion of the fight. Alexander Gustafsson beat Jimi Manuwa in the main event immediately after a stoppage because Manuwa got poked.
Bellator unveiled some new gloves for fighters last week. Maybe those will change this recurring problem in MMA. But it doesn't seem like it's being addressed by anyone. Obviously, the fingers need to be out in a glove for grappling purposes, but perhaps there's some kind of fix that can be looked into. Longtime MMA star and legendary trainer Renzo Gracie always says it's the way hands are wrapped. Can we get some kind of formal inquiry into this issue? Because it isn't going away.
One of the strangest things I've ever witnessed as a reporter was a few years ago at the US Open tennis tournament. Andre Agassi, one of the all-time greats in the sport, announced he'd be retiring afterward. At the conclusion of the press conference after his final match, Agassi was given a standing ovation. Not by a bunch of fans in the stands. By the media. I didn't clap. I thought it was bizarre. I had always been taught journalists don't cheer for their subjects.
Also, never fails ... my favorite part of covering the UFC is the applause in Press Row from some in the "media."— Matt Erickson (@MMAjunkieMatt) March 8, 2014
It was weird, but of course it was Agassi. He was a legend. The ovation Cyrille Diabate got Saturday during the UFC press conference was bizarre. Diabate was a middling UFC fighter, at best. While it might seem like a nice gesture, it just isn't something the media should be doing. Journalists are there to objectively report on the event, not publicly show support like that. If you want to pull the guy aside, shake his hand and wish him good luck, go for it. That's appropriate; raucous applause is not. And apparently this sort of thing was the norm Saturday night in London, per MMAJunkie.com's Matt Erickson.