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The Ultimate Fighting Championship, Bellator MMA and Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship on Saturday occupied the combat sports space. With them came some good, some bad and some ugly.
THE GOOD: FEAR THE WALKING DEAD
It’s a scenario that has been tested time and time again. Chan Sung Jung found a way to electrify everyone fortunate enough to watch him in action in the UFC Fight Night 154 main event in Greenville, South Carolina. It’s a forgone conclusion at this point: If “The Korean Zombie” is featured anywhere on a card, expect something exciting to happen. By doing away with Renato Carneiro within the first of their scheduled 25 minutes, he kept this thrill ride in motion.
This win is of particular significance to Jung for several reasons, not the least of which that this was a much-needed rebound. When we last saw him in November, he was on the wrong end of an all-time great knockout at the hands of Yair Rodriguez in a “Fight of the Year” contender. The image of that impossible-to-comprehend no-look elbow strike faceplanting Jung at the very last second of a main event almost erased the image of his getting the best of Rodriguez for extended portions of the other 24:58.
“Moicano” also represented a significant step up in competition. While he was attempting to bounce back from his own loss after being finished by Jose Aldo in February, Carneiro has proven himself to be among the best in the division at the moment. Aldo, the greatest featherweight of all-time, and Brian Ortega, a former title challenger with a mind-boggling finishing rate in the UFC, were the only two men to get their hand raised against him; and until Ortega found a guillotine choke in the final round, he was likely down on the scorecards. Simply put, only the best at 145 pounds defeat “Moicano,” and Jung added his name to the impressive list.
Another positive for Jung is that it signals a return to activity that has been desperately needed. After making a decent accounting of himself in his title challenge against Aldo at UFC 163, his mandatory South Korean military obligations and a string of injuries kept him away from the cage. Since that night in 2013, we’ve only seen him three times. Of course, after such a jarring knockout in the Rodriguez fight, it was good that he didn’t jump back in the cage right away and instead allowed himself to heal. However, the six months in between his headlining spot for the 25th anniversary show and the UFC’s South Carolina debut represents the shortest span of time between his fights since the five-month span between his record-breaking knockout of Mark Hominick in December 2011 and his memorable main event win over Dustin Poirier in May 2012. Considering that he took no significant damage against “Moicano,” we can hope to see him back in action sooner rather than later.
Jung also continues to show upward trajectory in his technical prowess. Leading up to UFC Fight Night 154, one of his coaches spoke candidly about the minor defensive adjustments that would have been necessary to avoid the Hail Mary elbow from Rodriguez. The fix was relatively simple: Get the head off of the centerline when throwing punches. That small change was a big part of what makes the “Moicano” finish so spectacular to watch. Slipping the jab to the inside opens one up to several possible counters and places the fighter in a particularly precarious position, as the head is lined up for a follow-up shot. By making an extra effort to get the head off of the centerline when slipping to the inside, the chances of evading another punch greatly increase. Along with such highlights as his twister on Leonard Garcia and the well-placed uppercut that sat down Dennis Bermuduez, every time we get comfortable with the thought of “The Korean Zombie” being a madman who is prone to wild brawls, he impresses us with technical acumen.
THE BAD: TAPE-DELAYED GRATIFICATION
There’s nothing like live sports. The unpredictability, the raw emotion and the high stakes combine to provide a unique experience that can’t be replicated by other forms of entertainment. Additionally, short attention spans and a wealth of options make it particularly hard to capture an audience and hold it for long. That makes convenience for viewers a top priority. Provide the live experience and make it easy for them. For some reason, Bellator doesn’t seem to appreciate this simple truth.
From all accounts, Bellator 223 in London was a good event. There was a major upset, as Gegard Mousasi, believed by some to be the best middleweight in the world, lost his title to Rafael Lovato Jr.; Paul Daley unleashed his signature power strikes to win a decision over Erick Silva; and Melvin Manhoef survived adversity to defeat Kent Kauppinen. Unfortunately, not nearly as many people who would be interested in watching actually did.
The efforts to watch were simply a logistical nightmare. Going from the mobile app to a tape-delayed and incomplete simulcast on Dazn and Paramount Network, when combined with a jumbled bout order, made it nearly impossible to just sit down and enjoy the Bellator event. To be fair, the UFC has conditioned fans to switch platforms mid-event for quite some time. Facebook, UFC Fight Pass, Spike TV and the various offshoots of ESPN and Fox Sports have all been a part of the mix at some point. However, with each of those platforms, a definitive bout order coincided with a live broadcast to create a relatively seamless transition.
Even with a paid-for streaming option like Dazn and its own app at its disposal, Bellator’s inability to provide a live and structured broadcast certainly hurt the viewership. Anyone who wanted to follow the action in real time was either forced to continually refresh their social media timelines or rely on the unreliable world of illegal streams. As someone who pays a monthly fee to watch Bellator content, this is unacceptable. This was especially true on an unusually busy weekend for combat sports.
The UFC, Glory Kickboxing and BKFC all competed for our attention and provided easy ways to access the product. Instead of fighting to stay updated on Bellator 223, it was much easier to just push it to the back burner, with the three aforementioned competitors providing the basic accommodations for the fight-crazed fan base. The entire card can now be viewed with a simple viewer-friendly interface on the Bellator website, including the main event that was mysteriously missing from Dazn and YouTube highlight videos. However, the fight world moves fast, so the thrill is gone.
THE UGLY: A $40 MIRROR
This isn’t to degrade the sport of bareknuckle boxing itself. Whether there’s a four-ounce glove, a 16-ounce glove or a thick wrist wrap involved, people are hitting each other and need a certain level of skill, heart and training to do it effectively. Even the difference in the strategies employed seem to be evolving as more bareknuckle fighting events take place. The reason why this is in the ugly category is because we keep falling for the shenanigans.
The BKFC 6 main event between Paulie Malignaggi and Artem Lobov brought out the worst in the fight world. Putting a former world boxing champion against a tough but largely ineffective MMA fighter sent the smoke signals for all of the crazies to gather together. Chances are you’re part of that bunch. I know I am. We go on and on about integrity in sports and the virtues of sanctioned combat, but we continually scoop the bottom of the barrel with a smile. A downright ludicrous set of circumstances and a low-rent buildup turned our attention toward a sideshow in Tampa, Florida. Somehow, a seconds-long clip of a sparring session two years ago -- in preparation for its own farcical and wildly entertaining circus show -- morphed into an excuse to put on a spiritual sequel. Never mind the idea that the fight itself was plagued with serious issues from an officiating standpoint and failed deliver on the promised blood and guts; it’s amazing that we all fell for it again.
The comically out-of-control Malignaggi media tour that included endless rants debating pushes and knockdowns led to press conferences punctuated with spitting in faces, microphones being used as bludgeoning tools and a captive audience. We are who we are, and BKFC 6 was another harsh reminder. Yet, they’ll probably get our $40 next time, too.