The ordering process for Ultimate Fighting Championship pay-per-views has changed: UFC 248 is only available on ESPN+ in the U.S.
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There was one opinion upon which the often-fractured MMA world seemed to agree at the conclusion of UFC 248 on Saturday in Las Vegas: Israel Adesanya-Yoel Romero was not a crowd-pleasing main event. After the thrilling war between Weili Zhang and Joanna Jedrzejczyk in the co-headliner, fans settled in for what was widely expected to be an exciting middleweight title fight. What they got instead was for the most part a cautious stalemate, with both fighters demonstrating great awareness of the offensive firepower possessed by the other. Zhang and Jedrzejczyk landed nearly as many strikes in the fourth round of their bout as Adesanya and Romero did over five rounds (80-88) and then came even closer in their fifth round (83-88).
While disappointment in Adesanya-Romero was universal, what observers couldn’t agree upon was who was most to blame. Romero himself took his biggest stone out of his glass cupboard, charged out his glass door and immediately marched in the direction of Adesanya. In his bizarre but entertaining post-fight interview, Romero ripped Adesanya for allegedly running from the fight and argued fans deserve better for their hard-earned money. There was clearly plenty of showmanship involved, but Romero also seemed genuinely agitated over the way the fought had gone.
Adesanya’s next challenger was even harsher. Brazilian powerhouse Paulo Henrique Costa labeled the middleweight champion shameful and scared, while defending Romero for largely fighting the way he always does. It was quite the statement from a fighter who largely lets his fists do the talking. The proud Adesanya isn’t used to being disrespected in those terms, as even when he gets into wars of words, there usually seems to be an underlying sense of mutual respect.
Those attacks directed at Adesanya were not the only examples of finger pointing over the way the UFC 248 main event went. UFC President Dana White squarely placed the blame at the feet of Romero, ripping the onetime Olympic silver medalist for not showing more urgency in what could be his final opportunity to fight for Ultimate Fighting Championship gold. Just like many of those blaming Adesanya chose to downplay Romero’s responsibility, so too did White largely absolve Adesanya while pointing the finger instead at Romero.
White, of course, has a vested interest in protecting Adesanya, given that he is the younger championship fighter and Romero is unlikely to affect the UFC bottom line in the same way. However, that type of calculation hasn’t stopped White in the past. Anderson Silva was in a similar position following his disappointing bouts with Patrick Cote, Thales Leites and Demian Maia. White in that instance directed his criticism at Silva rather than his lesser-known opponents, even threatening to move Silva to the prelims. In this case, White looked in the opposite direction of his gifted champion.
As frustrating as it is to witness a tentative defensive matchup when you’re expecting something much more exciting, the truth is it’s just a natural part of the sport that we have to accept is always going to happen from time to time. Occasionally, there will be two fighters determined to counter the other, leading to a stalemate. The sport was in a radically different place back in 1996, but Ken Shamrock-Dan Severn at UFC 9 was brought about by the same basic factors as those Silva fights a decade later and the Romero-Adesanya fight now.
In these instances, it’s never just one fighter’s fault. One can be somewhat more culpable than the other, but MMA, with its wide array of techniques and small gloves, rewards offensive fighters much more than its sister sports. Caution needs to go both ways in order for a fight to grind to a halt.
This is evident when you consider the fighters involved. The post-fight knocks on Adesanya as defensively oriented and Romero as lazy are pretty crazy when you look at their history. Romero has won “Fight,” “Knockout” or “Performance of the Night” accolades eight times in his 13 UFC fights, and that number would be nine had he not missed weight before knocking out Luke Rockhold. Adesanya has won those awards in six of his eight UFC appearances. It’s ridiculous to suggest fighters who are highlights of the card three quarters of the time are somehow fundamentally flawed. It’s quite the opposite: If this sort of fight can occur with them, it can happen with anyone.
MMA is an exciting sport at its core and promoters have actively worked to encourage it to be even more so through a variety of techniques: bonuses for thrilling bouts, rewarding entertaining fighters in the matchmaking and punishing less-entertaining competitors. It’s even built into the rules, with referees allowed to penalize fighters for timidity. It’s a system that works, which is why it stands out all the more when a big fight turns out to be a stinker. Unless there’s a clear and extended pattern, it’s best to cool it with the finger pointing, accept one tentative fight for what it is and look forward to the next one. With fighters like Adesanya and Romero, odds are it’s going to be a hell of a lot better.
Todd Martin has written about mixed martial arts since 2002 for a variety of outlets, including CBSSports.com, SI.com, ESPN.com, the Los Angeles Times, MMApayout.com, Fight Magazine and Fighting Spirit Magazine. He has appeared on a number of radio stations, including ESPN affiliates in New York and Washington, D.C., and HDNet’s “Inside MMA” television show. In addition to his work at Sherdog.com, he does a weekly podcast with Wade Keller at PWTorch.com and blogs regularly at LaTimes.com. Todd received his BA from Vassar College in 2003 and JD from UCLA School of Law in 2007 and is a licensed attorney. He has covered UFC, Pride, Bellator, Affliction, IFL, WFA, Strikeforce, WEC and K-1 live events. He believes deeply in the power of MMA to heal the world and bring happiness to all of its people.