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The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday brought UFC Fight Night 139 to the Pepsi Center in Denver. With it came some good, some bad and some ugly.
THE GOOD: RETRO VIBES
In comparison to the fanfare that has accompanied company milestones in the past, the UFC’s 25th anniversary card came with little ceremony. While UFC 100 and UFC 200 were presented as mega events that were stacked with some of the biggest names ever promoted under the banner, UFC Fight Night 139 was advertised as just another fight night event. Even the 20th anniversary show, UFC 167, came in pay-per-view form and was headlined by Georges St. Pierre.
This time, there was no main card pay wall, as Fox Sports 1 carried 10 out of the 12 total fights. However, the UFC did find another way to celebrate its 25th birthday. Aside from returning to its debut city, the company did its best to pay homage to that event. The bright colors of the original graphics displayed fighter information across the screen. The long lost Ulti-Man was welcomed back in the Octagon with a huge display on the center of the canvas. The old blaring horns were heard at the Tale of the Tape. The style-versus-style appeal of that tournament was revisited, as well, with the fighters announced as representing particular disciplines while being accompanied by specific mentions in the commentary.
These changes did not go unnoticed by the MMA community at large. As each segment of the card began, social media took notice of the throwback feel of the event and was overwhelmingly in support of it. While switching up the displays on the broadcasts are highly unlikely to have caused a huge spike in the ratings, it can at the very least be a small reward to the faithful fans that have stuck with MMA throughout the brief but chaotic existence of the sport. It can also give the same diehards who consistently sit through six hours of content on a weekly basis something different to break the monotony. It’s good to see that a golden opportunity was not lost again. In years past, the UFC has dogmatically clung to the typical version of the product and opted against altering the feel for viewers for fear of either diluting its value or confusing consumers.
When the organization returned to Japan for the first time in 12 years and staged UFC 144 in the famed Saitama Super Arena, the insistence on showing a regular event led to missing out on a fun moment to pay tribute to Pride Fighting Championships with a white floor, fist and lightning logo and the iconic blue gloves. When Benson Henderson and Anthony Pettis met in a rematch at UFC 164, a nod to the two men closing out World Extreme Cagefighting with a blue canvas would have been appropriate. Hopefully, the positive feedback will lead to more variety instead of the continuous loop of uniformity that has become the company standard.
THE BAD: RUSTY PLATINUM
This could just as easily be a segment devoted to everything that went right for Donald Cerrone. The longtime veteran took over the No. 1 spot for career wins and finishes in the UFC with his first-round submission of Mike Perry in the co-main event. “Cowboy” entered the cage with losses in four of his previous five starts inside the Octagon and needed to win. Add in the fact that he was fighting in his native Colorado, and it becomes clear why his getting announced as the winner while holding his infant son was a great moment.
However, on the flipside of that coin was his opponent. Perry has now dropped three of his last four and things aren’t looking quite as promising as they were when the 27-year-old rattled off devastating knockout after devastating knockout to announce his arrival. Overshadowed by all of the attention given to the disintegration of the longstanding relationship between Cerrone and Perry’s new home at Jackson-Wink MMA was what appeared to be a golden ticket for the newcomer. It’s no secret that Cerrone has sustained a great deal of damage throughout his long career, and his storied chin seems to have grown less sturdy over the past couple of years. Pairing an up-and-comer with serious power making much-needed technical improvements with an aging legend is an old recipe for building a star on the back of an existing one.
After having trouble establishing his striking game early, Perry opted to initiate a ground fight with a takedown. Cerrone’s underrated grappling proved to be quite dangerous for “Platinum,” as he was quickly swept and found himself on the wrong end of side control. After the brief threat of a rear-naked choke, Perry escaped but choose to stay in Cerrone’s guard. A quick triangle attempt turned into a more aggressive guard that led to a stunning armbar finish.
Unfortunately for Perry, failing this test represents yet another setback on a quest to stardom that the UFC seems to have charted for him. While “Cowboy” deserves praise for etching his name in the record books against a risky opponent, the questions around Perry linger. At his age and with a world-class coaching staff behind him, there is plenty of time to right the ship. For the time being, though, the UFC might be wise to put the outlandish personality in the background while he attempts to recapture the glory of his quick rise to prominence.
THE UGLY: SO UGLY IT’S BEAUTIFUL
Some purists in mixed martial arts are keen to emphasize the “arts” in the equation. Some people enjoy the technique involved, the high level of fitness required, the discipline training it demands and the respect shown between competitors. Yair Rodriguez and Chang Sung Jung have checked all of those boxes.
There’s not a doubt that we’ll be revisiting this fight when we wrap up 2018 in a little more than a month. In fact, we’ll probably be talking about the main event every time the words “best” and “all-time” are mentioned in list form. Everything about “The Korean Zombie”-“Pantera” meeting was truly special, and the knockout remains tattooed in our eyelids for all the right reasons.
With that in mind, you might be asking yourself, “how can this possibly be ugly?” Because it was a fight in the truest sense of the word. It was bloody. It was nasty. It was brutal. It was ugly.
Yes, Jung and Rodriguez showed off all the great and admirable aspects of MMA. They showed superb technique. They were in fantastic shape and pushed a relentless pace for five rounds. They stayed focused on their strategies and maintained composure through the eb and flow of the momentum shifts. They were extremely respectful and sportsmanlike with one another, almost to a fault. However, at the end of the day, they showed up to hurt each other and get paid.
Quite simply, this pairing was everything we love about prizefighting. I could go on and on about it, but in just a matter of weeks, one of my colleagues will handle that responsibility. In the meantime, ugliness never looked so beautiful.