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The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday closed out its 2018 campaign with UFC 232 at The Forum in Inglewood, California. With it came some good, some bad and some ugly.
THE GOOD: LIONESS, QUEEN OF THE JUNGLE
Amanda Nunes did nothing short of destroy the previously unstoppable Cristiane Justino in the co-main event. While the conventional wisdom heading into UFC 232 was that a more cautious approach on the feet or wrestling-based attack would have been the best path to victory. After all, the reign of “Cyborg” as the consensus best featherweight alive, which spanned nearly 10 years and three promotions, was largely known for devastating finishes. Instead, the bantamweight champion did exactly what no one thought should be done: She stood in the pocket and welcomed a fire fight with the bigger knockout artist. Not only did she take the best Justino had to offer, but Nunes was undeterred and returned the favor. When “Cyborg” fell to the mat in less than a minute, it was clear beyond a shadow of a doubt that Nunes was the single-best female fighter that has ever stepped foot in the cage.
The Greatest of All-Time debate seems to always come up in mixed martial arts. For a sport with such a short history, there’s a lot of talk to determine who is the best we’ve ever seen. The usual suspects -- Georges St. Pierre, Anderson Silva, Fedor Emelianenko, etc. -- all come up, and you can argue their pros and cons without any real resolution.
On the female side, there is no longer any room for such debate. Nunes is the greatest female to ever compete in MMA. While she was already in the running for the fictional crown after decimating Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate, her win over “Cyborg” has firmly separated her from her contemporaries. Just take a look at the names and accomplishments of Nunes’ recent opponents. Among the bunch there are Olympic medalists and champions from the UFC, Invicta Fighting Championships and Strikeforce. What’s even more impressive than just the names that populate her win column is the way she has been able to get her hand raised. Forcing the eternally tough Tate to tap in just over three minutes, swiftly beating Rousey into a World Wrestling Entertainment tenure and stepping into Justino’s adopted home of Southern California to dispatch her in just 51 seconds not only etches her name in stone, but it also puts a firm distance between her legacy and the legacies of her great counterparts who have suffered defeats at her hands.
Beyond the historic mark Nunes set at UFC 232, the immediate aftermath should also be interesting to witness. Despite showing continued dominance and proving herself superior to fighters behind which the UFC chooses to put more promotional muscle, Nunes has seemingly always been on the back burner. After headlining UFC 200, albeit under dubious circumstances, and taking the belt away from Tate, she was an afterthought. Even with the Rousey-to-Holm-to-Tate rub, she was largely disregarded by the company. In the buildup to her first defense, Rousey’s return was almost the only subject of promotional materials prior to UFC 207. Apparently, the new ownership at WME thought it was a foregone conclusion that Rousey would regain the title and didn’t even bother remembering Nunes’ name, according color commentator Joe Rogan. Proving them wrong earned her no favors.
Nunes’ was the subject of one of UFC President Dana White’s infamous verbal lashings following her last-minute health-related withdrawal from UFC 213. The dismal buy rate of her next two pay-per-view offerings were surely not helped by the destructive efforts of her boss’ tirades. With yet another high-profile win and yet another marketable opponent being stopped, there’s simply no reason to not put Nunes front and center of the UFC machine.
THE BAD: PATH OF A BLACK CAT
The featherweight showdown between Cat Zingano and former Invicta champion Megan Anderson was high on the list of anticipated fights. Zingano’s impassioned and aggressive approach paired with Anderson’s size and striking just begged for fireworks. However, the MMA gods didn’t smile upon us once the two entered the Octagon. In a fluke occurrence, an Anderson head kick led to a toe finding its way into Zingano’s eye. It forced her out of action long enough for the Australian to capitalize on the inactivity with punches before referee Marc Goddard had to halt the bout.
The slow-motion replay of the strange ending sent cringes through the entire arena. As the big screens highlighted Anderson’s toe grazing Zingano’s eye, the gasps and startled responses were audible. With the lack of a fleshed-out featherweight division for Anderson to move on to, it is very possible that a rematch would be booked in the near future. In that sense, the unfulfilled suspense of the pairing may find a satisfactory resolution soon enough. However, this continues a regrettable trend of misfortunate for Zingano. Her UFC career has been littered with personal and professional tragedy that betrayed the promise of her previously undefeated record and upward trajectory.
Stealing Tate’s thunder to get a title shot against Rousey and a coaching spot on “The Ultimate Fighter” was met with a catastrophic knee injury that forced the bantamweight title picture to move on without her. Shortly afterwards, Zingano’s husband committed suicide, adding a layer of adversity that can’t be experienced in competition. After earning her way back to the belt, a strategic error ended her night prematurely and squandered her efforts. Since that night in 2015, Zingano has only been victorious once in four bouts.
Now, another opportunity on the big stage has been snatched from “Alpha” under bizarre circumstances. For someone as athletically gifted and skilled as Zingano, it’s a shame that the abnormal has come to define her career. With even slightly better fortune, her tenure in the UFC could’ve been significantly different.
THE UGLY: PICOGRAM OF CONCERN
Although UFC 232 was a stacked event that featured multiple legends and former champions alongside talented prospects and action matchups, its story will be defined by the chaos surrounding the week leading up to the event. A late-notice venue change is logistical nightmare, to say the least. Change that venue just a few days before Christmas and the complications rise.
If UFC 232 switched venues from the original T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas to the nearby MGM Grand Garden Arena, for example, the rank and file staff of the company would have had a rude interruption to the traditional holiday time. Fans, on the other hand, would have largely not felt much of a difference and their experience would have remained unchanged. Fighters would have had to shuffle some, as well, but their routines may have carried on mostly undisturbed.
A switch between states, on the other hand, is a monumental task for everyone involved. When White, who stated very clearly that moving the event from Las Vegas to Los Angeles was his idea because of the licensing issues intertwined with the atypical results of Jon Jones’ United States Anti-Doping Agency drug tests, decides to uproot everyone who was associated or planned to attend UFC 232, more care should have been shown toward those who didn’t make that decision but were negatively affected by it.
The pre-fight press conference that took place just a few days after the change in plans carried a dark and hostile undertone, as White disregarded the plight of the 25 other fighters scheduled to compete while paying mere lip service to the fans. The weight cutting demands, the increased income taxes in the state of California, the cost of medical tests required by the California State Athletic Commission, the friends and family who had accommodations in line for Las Vegas were all afterthoughts to the bottom line.
Of course, the UFC is a profit maker, and as such, the bottom line is its top priority. However, an eye toward the future would have been a better solution for the long-term interests of making money. The pending antitrust suit, employee-contractor disputes and efforts to unionize all threaten the way the UFC currently handles business. All it would take to tip the scales against the company is to have enough fighters band together in solidarity. It’s easier said than done, but White showing such blatant disregard for them and shrugging off their concerns with misguided pleas about his own income taxes doesn’t do anything to calm the discontent among the roster. That’s especially true when a simple gesture like a blanket increase in pay to match the take-home figures in Nevada would not hurt the pockets of the multibillion-dollar company at all.
As far as the fans are concerned, the announcement of a lineup to an MMA event is always an uncertainty. Injuries, botched weight cuts and USADA have come along to strip many events in this era of the UFC. It comes with the territory. However, the show normally goes on. If the main event is lost in the shuffle, the co-main event gets bumped up. If there’s a last-minute dropout, a suitable replacement is sought. Even if the names on the final product are different, fans get to watch high-level MMA and enjoy the experience of a live UFC event.
Leaving so many hard-working people to sift through such a mess under Christmas lights, New Year’s plans and the expenses attached is grossly out of touch and is an excellent way to alienate those who are loyal to the product. The consumers affected may show their resentment by not showing up to the next event, not buying a future pay-per-view, not subscribing to UFC Fight Pass or ESPN Plus or not buying merchandise. Even if this isolated event doesn’t have long-lasting repercussions among the fans, it sets a disappointing precedent the UFC would be wise to not follow again.