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UFC Fight Night 151 on Saturday was not the most thrilling, jazzy card in MMA history, but it still had a certain “Cowboy” firing with both hands in the Canadian capital of Ottawa, Ontario. It was not not something we see every day, and maybe it was even something from which we can learn.
Donald Cerrone washed out Al Iaquinta and reaffirmed his place as a perennial 155-pound contender; the middleweight division is messy; several “Ultimate Fighter” winners lost and reminded everyone of the show’s uselessness as a vehicle; and while others, like Andrew Sanchez and Macy Chiasson, still won, they reminded us of how variable and vastly different certain seasons of the show can be. It was not a night for great philosophical ramifications but a moment to chew on things about which we already had inklings about.
Then again, isn’t that part of learning? Even if we’re just chewing, let’s figure out what we’ve figured out while masticating over UFC Fight Night 151:
‘COWBOY’ CAN STILL RIDE
It was the quintessential Cerrone performance. The 36-year-old started slow, characteristic to form, then turned on the jets and dominated the next four rounds against Iaquinta, winning a one-sided decision. Just two years ago, Cerrone was thrown upon the wood pile after a three-fight losing streak. Now, he’s 4-1 over his last five, his only loss coming at 170 pounds to maybe the most underrated man in MMA in Leon Edwards. Better yet, he is finally back in the division in which he belongs. I don’t care about whatever extraneous impact having a wife and child may have had on him; the simple fact is that Cerrone can fight.
Will he ever win a UFC title, even with 41 World Extreme Cagefighting and UFC fights under his belt? Nope. It doesn’t matter, though. There is a difference between all-time great fighters and simply fighters who thrill us and represent what this sport is about. It’s snide and gross to define Cerrone for his failures in headliners and title fights; there’s a reason why he gets non-title headlining assignments over and over again, independent of the UFC’s needs to fill smaller cards. You want to watch. You will watch. Cerrone is far from perfect, but he’s what MMA is supposed to look like.
He combines drama and pageantry, technique and failure. He openly admitted that in the opening round against Iaquinta he felt like he couldn’t find his groove and conceded that a younger version of himself would have quit, implicitly admitting that he is a voracious reader of those in the media who disparage him as a slow starter. Then six minutes or so in, something changed and he simply played Iaquinta like a fiddle for the rest of the fight. His kicking game came into factor, and he cut off Iaquinta’s counter opportunities with savvier punching. No, even flying high back at 155 pounds, he’s not the guy to take down Khaibb Nurmagomedov, but that’s not what matters, nor is that his essence. Cerrone is just a thrill to watch and a vision of all that defines MMA, gold belt or not. He is this generation’s Rumina Sato, and we should celebrate the triumphs more than we fixate on the failures.
‘RAGING AL’ IS WHAT HE IS, SO MAYBE BUY A HOUSE?
Iaquinta started hot but ultimately flagged under Cerrone’s superior distance management, jab and steady variety of kicking. However, not every appearance can result in a 2-to-1 underdog upset like the one “Raging Al” sprang on Kevin Lee in December. Frankly, I just think it’s good that a personality and entertaining fighter like Iaquinta is on good terms with his promoter and, in turn, getting to entertain us in the cage.
Sometimes, we just need to take stock and recognize MMA notables for who they are and what side gig they have, so if you happen to be in the New York metropolitan area, could I interest you in a new home? If I can’t, surely Iaquinta can.
YOU DON’T NEED TO WATCH ALMOST ANY OF THIS
A fight like Cerrone-Iaquinta is appointment viewing if you love fights. However, it was the topper of a 12-fight card. Did anything else really demand your attention? No, not really.
Yes, this falls into a larger, long-running conversation about UFC cards being watered down and simply serving as vehicles to make money in local markets. As a fight fan, that may be something to consider philosophically, but as an actual person who has a life, a job, maybe a significant other, a mortgage or something else about which to worry, you have to prioritize your time. On top of that, we’re in the heat of NBA and NHL playoff season. You would have to be certifiably insane to imagine that the outcome of a midcard Nordine Taleb fight had some bearing on your life or MMA on the whole.
The UFC has actively put together 600-fighter rosters, owing to contracts and obligations with major ticket-selling markets, that have reduced fans to selective buyers; don’t be afraid to be one of them. After all, it’s what you are being encouraged to be. If the UFC doesn’t want you to watch its product, why would you?
‘THE ULTIMATE FIGHTER’ IS DEAD
UFC Fight Night 151 saw some “Ultimate Fighter” winners and saw some “Ultimate Fighter” winners lose. That’s beyond the point, really. No matter how you slice it up, the reality television show that brought so many new fans to this sport and actually created champions is dead. Now it’s just something that exists in the void to take up airtime as this company figures out new ways to make money with its programming.
“The Ultimate Fighter” can’t average 200,000 viewers anymore. Here’s what UFC President Dana White said in August, openly going into full carnival barker mode to rationalize the existence of a reality show that has not only overstayed its welcome but has been usurped by a prospect rodeo that carries the promoter’s name: “People will look at the ratings, and they’ll come in at a half million, 600 [thousand], 650 [thousand], but that’s the initial rating. Now, with DVR and stuff like that, the numbers are much bigger. Last season’s ‘Ultimate Fighter’ averaged about a million viewers. That’s a lot of people. It’s still a big show and a big brand. Yeah, it’ll go on.”
Chiasson may fight for the bantamweight title one day, and Sanchez figures to hang around as a mid-card talent, but “The Ultimate Fighter” we once knew is no more, so there is no reason to watch. There are no more Forrest Griffins or Rashad Evanses to be had.
HEAVYWEIGHT HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL
UFC Fight Night 151 dashed some hopefulness on the heavyweight side of things, as Juan Adams was taught a lesson in grappling by Arjan Singh Bhullar. However, there’s no reason to despair over the weight class. Hidden amongst the headlines of the event was a little news story detailing that the promotion had signed one of the best heavyweight prospects available in Iranian powerhouse Amir Aliakbari, and frankly, I think it’s exciting.
The 31-year-old wrestler has racked up a 10-1 record as a pro and has shown considerable growth as a martial artist since he started to train with AKA Thailand. It is a bit of a bugaboo that he was clobbered on an unlevel playing field by a PED-infused Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic in Rizin Fighting Federation, but heavyweights in this game are seldom perfect. More importantly, it was two and a half years ago, and Aliakbari has become a much better fighter since then. No question, this is a quality signing by the UFC.
Is Aliakbari an immediate title contender? Well, we’ll see how he gets matched, but heavyweight remains a stagnant division where, outside of sudden shooting stars like Francis Ngannou, the weight class doesn’t really churn too quickly. The UFC grabbing a formidable athletic talent who seemed content to just pound out fighters in Russia and Japan is a feather in the cap that could soon formatively factor into the division.