New York, New York, A State So Nice They Put A UFC Card In *shudder* Buffalo
This is why MMA fans can't have nice things.
We were all so very excited when MMA finally was regulated in New York State. It was a time for celebration! The Big Apple and Madison Square Garden! Brooklyn! Grand Central Station! (No one mentioned the riveting potential of Buffalo at the time. Hindsight is 20/20, after all). New York’s favorite son, Frank Sinatra once sang, “If you could make it there, you could make it anywhere.
I guess the UFC is asking that very question.
UFC 210 had all the ingredients for a heart-pounding addition to the UFC canon. Two big-time fights, one with a title on the line and the other with legacy implications. It had the best fighter to join the UFC (Will Brooks) facing a stiff test (Charles Oliveira), seemingly to push him to where he was always meant to be in championship contention. It had a match up of next-big-things at welterweight between Kamari Usman and Sean Strickland.
We had this entire thing going for us. A second New York card, all the intrigue, all the potential for sleeper action fights. We should have known better.
It all started Friday with, in a unique twist even for MMA, breasts. Pearl Gonzalez was reported to be pulled form her fight with Cynthia Calvillo. Then, after the New York State Athletic Commission (Not Your Smartest Athletic Commision?) reviewed the situation, they decided she was sufficiently, erm, fit enough to compete (you have to feel for Gonzalez, who said after the fact that was not how she wanted to make be remembered).
Not satisfied with making Gonzalez into the unfortunate punchline of a sport with a largely male demographic, the NYSAC decided to give us the gift of a weigh-in controversy. When Daniel Cormier stepped on the scale to weigh-in for his title defence, he was 1.2 lbs over the limit with roughly 10 minutes to go before the cutoff. Then, barely two minutes later, he returned, weighed in again and that 1.2 lbs had miraculously vanished! LA Weight Loss would be proud. What was the difference? A second towel held in front of Cormier by two of his trainers, on which he placed his hands and noticeably pushed down. I won’t go into the science, but apparently it works! I tried it in my bathroom with the counter. Damn impressive.
Then the fights happened! Maybe we should have hoped they didn’t.
The signs came early, with the first three fights all going to decision. You would have been forgiven if you were starting to feel the dread set until Shane Burgos needed to wait until two minutes were left before securing the first finish, knocking out Charles Rosa (keep an eye on Burgos, the boy has some buttery hands).
But that brought us to Usman and Strickland, the much-anticipated match-up that was poised to see one of these very promising, talented fighters push their way towards a place at the top of the welterweight heap. Ultimately, Usman dominated. If you were into that thing, you could be forgiven for started to feel the dread retreating from your mind. Maybe, just maybe, this card was moving towards something.
The feeling only improved when the returning Myles Jury put himself immediately back into the conversation with a quick bludgeoning of Mike De La Torre. Not long after, as the main card began, Charles Oliveira offered up the biggest surprise of the knockout in subbing the favored Will Brooks. The ending provided doses of intrigue (if not positive for both men). Oliveira punctuates his reputation as a terrifying submission grappler who only need to create a scramble to take home a limb or someone’s consciousness. He moves a step closer to Royce Gracie’s record for submission victories in the UFC. Brooks, meanwhile, goes on a skid that should terrify anyone who thought he was the best talent outside the UFC. You have to feel for the guy after fighting so hard to get to the big show, he’s now got his back against the wall in a serious way. Calvillo against Gonzalez then gave us a nice scrap, albeit one thoroughly controlled by Calvillo.
All this had achieved one thing: we let our guard down. We started to think we deserved nice things. This card was about to be fire. But like any insidious force, the dread showed its ugly face where we least expect it. The Weidman and Mousasi fight had, arguably, the most on the line. A former champion fighting off irrelevancy and a career pro finally on a streak worthy of UFC gold. The NYSAC must have sensed it, too. So they decided to change it all up. I won’t examine in too great of detail but suffice it to say, the technicality of stopping a fight for an illegal knee and then deciding retroactively that because the knee wasn’t illegal the fight should count as a finish is, in a word, FUBAR. Weidman got screwed on his record, Mousasi gets screwed in the court of public opinion, and the NYSAC screwed itself - with the help of anonymous cageside officials!
After that, with our faces firmly wedged between our hands, you could be forgiven if you were feeling like a poker player after a huge hand gone wrong, "I only need the main fight to be competitive, just one more, and things will be good, I'll get it alllll back!" What we got was just as head-scratching as the fight before, but for entirely new creative reasons.
Cormier looked just as in control of this fight as he did in the first. The biggest difference, though, was in this fight, Johnson seemingly obliged Cormier’s every desire. Ask yourself, if I were Daniel Cormier, what would I most welcome in a fight? The answer to that question is what Johnson did. He initiated the grappling exchanges, not once, but twice, and received a rear naked choke loss (again) for his trouble. For anyone looking to discount Cormier’s win as a case of the other guy losing the fight, don’t forget that winners win no matter what. To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself (I wish I could attribute this quote to Sinatra, too, but less funny, it was Sun Tzu). Cormier never had the chance to display the former, because Johnson provided him with the latter first. Winners win.
As if the night couldn’t be any more strange, Johnson retired. Ironically, Johnson’s reputation for quitting (Don’t give up, Anthony!) was taken to a whole new level. Johnsons said it something about a new job he’s always wanted to do or whatever, and that was it. The career of Rumble came to a close in almost the same way his losses do, with stragenly simple consideration.
A promising spot on the UFC calendar devolved in only the way MMA can. It was equal parts regulatory ignorance, refereeing error, and divine intervention by the Gods of MMA. It’s a shock Dana White didn’t pop his head out to say something truly inflammatory or that Jon Jones did not cause more of a scene. If only. What a night it could have been.
Rhys Dowbiggin @Rdowb
Rhys has worked six years in the public relations industry rubbing shoulders with movie stars (who ignored him) to athletes (who tolerated him). He likes tiki-taka football, jelly beans, and arguing with Bruce about everything.