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The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday returned to London for UFC Fight Night 147. With it came some good, some bad and some ugly.
THE GOOD: THREE PIECE AND A SODA
It’s about time we show some respect to Jorge Masvidal. Over the course of his 16-year career, he has proven himself as an elite competitor over and over again. However, his inability to sway the judges in crucial contests proved to be his kryptonite. Masvidal decided to give the officials a night off by finishing Darren Till in the second round of their headliner.
Although he can be credited for violently ending Donald Cerrone’s celebrated run at welterweight just over two years ago, his knockout of Till has to rank as the 46-fight veteran’s most notable win to date. Coming into a hostile environment and laying waste to the promotion’s new UK golden child in a main event is certainly the statement he needed to make in order to elevate his career.
With the sudden attention and intrigue at the top of 170-pound division, “Gamebred” couldn’t have picked a better time to claim his piece of the spotlight. He has spent a great deal of his time in the UFC so close yet so far away from a shot at gold. Two fights after Al Iaquinta confusingly convinced the judges he had bested Masvidal, he found himself in an impromptu lightweight title fight against Khabib Nurmagomedov. Masvidal’s competitive decision loss to Demian Maia set up the Brazilian for his opportunity to dethrone then-champion Tyron Woodley. His defeat against Stephen Thompson was just one fight removed from the South Carolina-based karateka’s two attempts at challenging Woodley. Similarly, Till was hoping to get back in the win column after failing to achieve championship status. By getting such a definitive win within such close proximity to the belt, Masvidal firmly establishes himself as a piece to an increasingly complex and crowded line toward the throne.
Leon Edwards proved he is worthy of our attention, as well. He, too, managed to get the best of fan favorite Cerrone but was unable to capitalize on it. Though he defeated “Cowboy,” doing so in a UFC Fight Pass-exclusive card in Singapore did his brand no extra favors. However, by defeating another recognizable name in Gunnar Nelson in the co-headliner of a higher-profile event in a more accessible time slot, “Rocky” is an undeniable force that deserves recognition at welterweight. While Edwards’ win lacked the highlight-reel moment and crowd support of the main event, by outgrappling and shutting down Nelson, he made it quite clear that he belongs in terms of competing with the elite fighters in the division.
Of course, this conversation would be incomplete without some mention of the post-fight shenanigans between Masvidal and Edwards. While we should not be praising an unsanctioned fight backstage at the event, the simple truth is that this only increases the demand for both men to appear in the Octagon again. Even if they aren’t paired together next -- and honestly, Masvidal should be aiming higher, as he’s firmly in the crosshairs of new welterweight lightning rod Ben Askren -- the interest levels behind them is at an all-time high. Whether or not either man reaches the pinnacle, a future matchup will not only be an interesting clash of styles but will provide that element of drama that only heightens the stakes; and if you’re part of the UFC marketing machine, rejoice in knowing that the commercial has already been filmed.
THE BAD: SOUR CAROLINE
What a difference a year makes. Just 365 days ago, the mixed martial arts world was still in awe of what Till managed to do against Cerrone in his first main event, with the full support of a European audience in Poland. Back then, he was gearing up to face Thompson in his hometown of Liverpool, England. With the fans reacting to his every move, Till came out the winner in a controversial decision and parlayed it into a fast track to a title shot. After Woodley emphatically handed the kickboxer his first loss, Masvidal doubled down on sending Till back to the drawing board. A reset is now essential to his future in the sport.
It was clear that the UFC was high on Till’s potential. Repeatedly showcasing him in Europe and presenting him as the heir apparent to Michael Bisping despite his relative inexperience and repeated issues making the welterweight limit said all we needed to know about how the promotion intended on treating him. Leading up to his title shot, the Englishman was the focus of most of the marketing and drew the ire of the champion. Look no further than the infamous picture of UFC Dana White putting the belt around Woodley’s waist after his successful defense to sum up the sentiment of the company. Being given the chance to rebound on yet another main event in his home country should be further proof of what the UFC brass thinks of him.
When Woodley was bested by Kamaru Usman at UFC 235, Till’s hopes for reaching the mountaintop were unexpectedly given CPR. Unfortunately for him, Masvidal’s charging power strikes wiped out that possibility for the time being. What was originally a young fighter being pushed a bit too far too fast has now morphed into situation that is much more alarming. Similar to the struggles of Bellator MMA golden boy Aaron Pico, Till finds himself in need of some drastic changes to reroute his career trajectory. Perhaps the opponents are too skilled and too seasoned for Till at this stage of his development. Maybe insisting that he become the new face of the UK MMA scene is forcing him to make strides for which he is unprepared. It could be the combination of facing elite fighters along with the physical stress of facing the scale.
Either way, “The Gorilla” and his team must reassess their position. At 26 years old, the sky isn’t falling just yet, but taking a step back in the level of opposition, lessening the glare of the spotlight or testing himself at middleweight are in order to keep Till from falling too far.
THE UGLY: WHEN DISASTER STRIKES
There was no much to like about the preliminary matchup between Saparbek Safarov and Nicolae Negumereanu. This was ugly in multiple ways and was almost a symbol of many of the frequent problems in MMA. Safarov had zero problems handling the UFC newcomer. With his being winless in his previous two outings under the banner, it was understandable that he would be enthusiastic to preserve his spot on the UFC roster and get a win. However, when getting that win is an exhibition on breaking the Unified Rules, there is a cause to take a step back. The repeated fence grabs Safarov committed as he rained ground strikes on Negumereanu were comically excessive to say the least.
The only thing more ridiculous than the amount of times Safarov grabbed the fence was the amount of times referee Leon Roberts extended the courtesy of a verbal warning. The rinse-and-repeat pattern of an infraction, followed by a warning immediately and followed by yet another infraction was pure lunacy. It took several instances to prompt Roberts to deduct a point. When Safarov repeated the fence grabbing in the second round, no penalty was handed out even though it was impactful on the action of the fight. Referees in MMA are oftentimes hesitant to take away points, especially in three-round fights, but the rules exist for a reason. Repeatedly and willfully violating them is a cause for punishment. Should those warnings and punishments be ignored, disqualification is the next step. While the idea of disqualifying a fighter for fence grabs sounds unrealistic and extreme on the surface, Safarov’s repeated disregard for the rules warranted some extreme discipline.
Also, let’s not let Negumereanu’s corner off the hook while we’re here. Like most of the media and two of the judges, 10-8s were present on my scorecard. While the Romanian would have greatly benefited from better officiating in the cage, it was clear he was outmatched and unable to mount any significant answers for the challenges Safarov presented. With his face horribly battered, the damage mounting and the chances of a Hail Mary victory getting further away from the confines of reality, there’s nothing left to do but throw in the towel. There’s no shame in cutting your losses, fighting another day and protecting your fighter from himself. Negumereanu proved he is as tough as they come, but we knew that before the third round.