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The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Friday brought its hallowed Octagon back to Boston with UFC on ESPN 6, as the unbeaten Dominick Reyes locked horns with Chris Weidman in the light heavyweight main event at TD Garden. With it came some good, some bad and some ugly.
THE GOOD: HOME SWEET HOME
Boston certainly enjoyed a glorious night with the UFC’s return to the city. Not only were the fans treated to a card full of exciting finishes and a stellar co-main event, but hometown heroes delivered the goods, as well. Joe Lauzon, Charles Rosa and Randy Costa all had their hands raised after spectacular wins.
Lauzon turned back time by defeating Jonathan Pearce. It was the perfect way to say goodbye to the sport for Lauzon, who has sustained a great deal of damage over the course of his career and stepped into the cage riding a three-fight losing streak. In front of his beloved Bostonians and with the same signature violence that makes him a surefire Hall of [email protected]#$%&g Awesome candidate, Lauzon big-brothered the up and comer with ground-and-pound from a half nelson. While Lauzon was hesitant to commit to retirement immediately after the fight, UFC President Dana White seemed ready to encourage him to end his career on a high note. Lauzon turned what looked like a setup match for the next generation -- Pearce was on a five-fight winning streak that included an appearance on Dana White’s Contender Series and two others in Bellator MMA -- into the perfect swan song.
Rosa and Costa entered the arena hoping to the right ship, as both men had experienced defeats in their previous outings. In style pairings that promised fireworks against Manny Bermudez and the ironically named Boston Salmon, Rosa and Costa came out in the winning side of those fireworks. With the exception of Kyle Bochniak, who was outclassed by an impressively poised Sean Woodson, the city managed to enjoy home-cooked victories. While the UFC has rightfully received criticism for not booking main events in locations more appropriate for the fighters, it does a good job of keeping a local feel to the undercards. Results like this help elevate an otherwise routine event.
THE BAD: THAT WAS MY BOY
Ever since a volley of unanswered strikes from Luke Rockhold marked the end of his middleweight title reign at UFC 194, things have not gone well for Weidman. With only one win in the nearly four years that have passed post-Rockhold, the former champion has struggled to gain traction and endured tons of punishment in the process. As has become tradition lately, Weidman decided that his Herculean effort to make weight was holding him back from reaching his potential. His meeting with Reyes at 205 pounds was pivotal if “The All-American” had designs on moving toward title contention again.
Unfortunately for Weidman, the extra 20 pounds on the scale did nothing to resuscitate his career. Reyes’ heavy hands and technical acumen proved too steep of a mountain to climb, as the former champion fell victim to a backstepping left hand and follow-up hammerfists on the ground. Less than two minutes into the contest, Weidman’s light heavyweight campaign came to a screeching halt. Had things gone differently, it seemed almost certain that the Serra-Longo Fight Team standout would have been tapped to stand opposite Jon Jones in a battle over the light heavyweight title. Say what you will about who would have been favored to win that fight, but Weidman would have added name value to the blue corner that is not readily available at 205 pounds. Similar to when rumors swirled about Rockhold being fast tracked if he passed his first test in a higher weight class, the potential involving Weidman went unfulfilled and the dominant champion was left to look elsewhere for a marquee matchup.
A victory over Reyes would have provided a simple answer to the question of what was next for Weidman, along with a built-in chance to redeem the misfortune that has plagued his career in recent years. Now, another decisive loss puts that question in bold print. There just is not an easy answer for Weidman at this point. He could elect to remain at 205 pounds. However, his ceiling seems pretty obvious. The damage he sustained in wars at 185 pounds did not just magically go away with a move up in weight. Just like we witnessed with James Vick at UFC Fight Night 161, the leap in weight may have come too late. Should Weidman decide to run it back at middleweight, he will face the same challenges associated with his inability to absorb punishment. The top names in the division would be no kinder to his chin, including Kelvin Gastelum, who managed to hurt Weidman badly before being submitted two years ago. Plus, Weidman would be back to draining his large frame again.
It seems likely that Weidman and his team will examine what life outside of competition looks like. After being knocked out five times in six fights and nearly suffering the same fate in his lone victory during that stretch, it looks like we are witnessing the end of a great career.
THE UGLY: DEEP BREATH
In case you have not figured it out yet, Greg Hardy is here to stay. The polarizing former NFL star will continue to enjoy favorable card placement and the full support of the combined marketing machines behind the UFC and ESPN. What are they really investing in? The in-cage results just do not seem worth it at this point, never mind the considerable baggage he brought with him to MMA.
Hardy has made four appearances inside the Octagon so far. Half of those them have gotten bogged down with rule-bending controversy. From a competitive standpoint, those controversies have distracted from his clear growth as a fighter under the direction of American Top Team. Now, his taking two puffs from a prescribed inhaler between the second and third rounds has taken the conversation away from the things he did right in the cage in Boston.
By adding more elements to his game, Hardy managed to outpoint the stubborn Ben Sosoli. Leg kicks from the outside, effective defensive footwork and the ability to do something other than quickly blast his opponent to bits were on display. However, when he used his medication between rounds, it called the entire fight into question. Going the distance for the first time and handling a consistent pace without much issue would normally something to commend for a fighter whose career mainly consists of short circuiting the opposition in quick fashion. How can we rightfully look at Hardy lasting the full 15 minutes as a positive if he needed his asthma medication to do so?
The fault does not exclusively rest with Hardy or trainer Din Thomas, who was the primary target of White’s criticism after the fact. Granted, when most athletic commissions only allow water or in some cases an electrolyte-enhanced beverage like Gatorade in the corner, there is no reason to believe that medication that enhances cardiorespiratory function is permissible during a fight. However, the Massachusetts State Athletic Commission did plainly tell Hardy and his team that it was permitted. The level of confusion between the commission (which quickly overturned the decision to a no-contest), UFC Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Marc Ratner, the commentary booth, media and amateur online investigators was truly bizarre to witness. Is Albuterol allowed between rounds? What about the potential abuse of asthma medication in relation to sports performance? Is Massachusetts clear enough about what is and is not allowed in competition? Why was the fight allowed to continue into that pivotal third frame in the first place?
As the infamous 1983 boxing match between Luis Resto and Billy Collins Jr. showed, asthma medication can be used a PED to increase cardio capacity. As the testosterone replacement therapy era of MMA showed, fighters can and will abuse the use of therapeutic exemptions to gain a competitive edge. It sounds like a recipe for disaster if the commission does not address this properly.
Clear improvement and two dominant wins from Hardy have been sandwiched between two displays of poor judgment. Those trusted with overseeing the action in a responsible fashion get a solid failing grade on clearly communicating the proper rules and handling discrepancies as they arise. Once again, Hardy’s performance inside the cage was overshadowed by other factors.