Opinion: In Love with Useless

By Eric Stinton Nov 24, 2015
Editor's note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sherdog.com, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company, Evolve Media.

Let’s talk about love.

All of us love this sport, in varying degrees of psychopathy. It’s easy to get cynical about MMA, to be sure, but we keep coming back for one reason or another. Sometimes fights happen or narratives manifest that are so compelling that we fall back in love with it all over again. Sometimes, no such thing evokes our emotions, yet they continue to churn anyway. This is what is called being “in love with useless,” and right now, we should all feel the love.

First, one UFC Fight Night has come and gone, with only two more to go in 2015; we are now in what seems to be the least big stretch of the #GoBig campaign. All three of these cards are fine in their own right, but they pale in comparison to the bookends of UFC 193 and UFC 194 that they exist between. Specifically, there is a collective dearth of divisionally relevant fighters in action. That’s a bit misleading, since there are a handful of top 10 and top 15 fighters throwing down, according to the Ultimate Fighting Championship rankings. Yet almost none of them have anyone knocking down UFC President Dana White’s door to put them into a title fight -- and for good reason.

At UFC Fight Night “Magny vs. Gastelum” on Saturday in Monterrey, Mexico, only four fighters -- Neil Magny, Kelvin Gastelum, Ricardo Lamas and Henry Cejudo -- breach the top 15 of their divisions. If we’re being honest, Cejudo is the only interesting potential title challenger on that list at the moment, and that’s using the word “interesting” loosely. If we repeat this exercise for UFC Fight Night 79 and UFC Fight Night 80, only Benson Henderson, presuming he wins, and the winner of the Aljamain Sterling-Johnny Eduardo fight pose intriguing challenges to their respective divisional champions.

Don’t get it twisted: I’m not complaining. If I were, I’d be ignoring a fundamental aspect of why anyone watches any sport. Of course, there’s a shared fascination about who the best is, even if the process of finding out isn’t always terribly enjoyable -- see Georges St. Pierre vs. Jake Shields. However, the true heart of watching grown men and women assault each other under referee supervision is that it’s really, really fun to watch. What these UFC Fight Nights lack in potential titleholders, they more than make up for in fun fights.

Take the two headlining fights from Mexico, for instance. Lamas put a beating on Diego Sanchez that was enough to warrant 15 minutes of undivided attention on its own. However, Sanchez played his part beyond being a punching bag, egging on “The Bully” while eating punch-kick combinations as if he were employing the Homer Simpson strategy of goading Lamas to strike himself into exhaustion. It was MMA in ridiculously fine form. Lamas looked sharp but not sharp enough to think that another crack at the featherweight title would go any differently. As for Sanchez, he will likely continue to be an action fighter/gatekeeper who will reliably provide fireworks until he hangs it up for good. Even though it’s unlikely either of them will ever wear a UFC belt, the fight itself was worth the price of attention.

Then there was Magny-Gastelum main event, an exciting, back-and-forth affair that had a little bit of everything at its best: big takedowns, submission attempts, dynamic scrambles and enough knuckle sandwiches to get anyone with a pulse on their feet. Throw in a pinch of controversy, and what more could you ask for? Neither Magny nor Gastelum looks like a world beater right now -- it would be hard to imagine either of them taking it to the welterweight elites at this junction in their careers -- but they put together a damn good fight. Of course, both men are still young, and they could very well turn into legitimate title contenders in the next couple years or so. Still, aside from down-the-road hypotheticals, it’s clear that both Magny and Gastelum are currently more valuable in terms of the excitement they bring to the division.

Another useless thing to love about this Monterrey card was the 0-3 mark of former “Ultimate Fighter” winners. Sanchez (Season 1), Gastelum (Season 17) and Efrain Escudero (Season 8) all ended up on the wrong side of decisions. Sandwiched between those losses, Erick Montano and Enrique Barzola placed their names in the ranks of “The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America” winners, both in forgettable fashion. Meanwhile, the umpteenth season of regular TUF continues to yawn to its conclusion, and a third season of “The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America” is currently in the works. It’s enough to make one wonder what purpose the program serves other than being the basis of snooty insults.

“TUF Noob” or not, it has become increasingly clear that the franchise is useless. Granted, there is value in providing a pathway to the UFC from developing demographics such as Latin America and China. It’s an investment. In this way, it basically makes sense to continue the admittedly more terrible “Ultimate Fighter” series, even if it’s flimsy logic for the UFC to cross its fingers and hope for a future star to emerge from regional reality show rosters. Plus, who’s to say he or she wouldn’t break out in the absence of “The Ultimate Fighter” anyway?

This probably sounds harsher than it needs to be. After all, “The Ultimate Fighter” is a constant source of mid-level talent for the promotion, and many of its alumni end up as the aforementioned action fighters that keep events surprising and fun; and apparently it’s financially lucrative enough to keep going, which means people are still watching. Regardless, the UFC seems to be in love with the uselessness of the show, which makes it more than a little gratifying to watch it take baby steps toward its inexorable end.

The final love of useless from this weekend occurred outside the Octagon -- right outside of it. Likely due to the relative insignificance of the card, usual commentators Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan were not calling the fights, and backup commentators Jon Anik and Brian Stann sat in their stead. Yes, Anik and Stann aren’t actually useless to the UFC, but they are clearly more disposable than Goldberg and Rogan, which is weird to wrap your head around. Anik is a studious professional and underrated analyst. Stann is a former World Extreme Cagefighting champion with an exceptional ability to communicate technical intricacy. As always, they did a bang-up job calling the fights. Whether you find Goldberg hilarious or horrible, or think Rogan is insightful, obnoxious or something in between, there are plenty of reasons to love the tag-team of Anik and Stann.

The euphoria of UFC 193 is settling into overexposure, which is already rank with the mold of cynicism. On this week of Thanksgiving, it’s important to appreciate the lesser, more useless aspects of the sport. UFC Fight Night “Magny vs. Gastelum” delivered lots of awesome useless with which to be in love.

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