After most UFC events, I like to take a few days to reflect on what I've seen before passing any judgments. I watch the fights on my television at home, since up until that point I've only had the live experience of sitting on press row and working. And even though press row is just about the best seat you can get in any arena, you still miss things that you would normally see on the television broadcast.
I don't think UFC 159 will require many extra views.
It's not that the entire event was bad. There were several highlights, and we'll get into those in a few minutes. But I think it's safe to say that UFC 159 won't go down in the history books as a memorable event for good reasons; rather, it will be remembered as one of the weirdest events in UFC history. It's certainly the strangest event I've ever covered live.
If you're one of those folks who believe in all good things coming to an end, well, Saturday night didn't surprise you. The UFC's had a pretty good run of entertaining events, and last week's UFC on Fox card was one of the best overall shows in the history of the company.
So it felt like they were due for a bad card. And again, while I wouldn't classify UFC 159 as a bad card in the usual way of judging these things, it certainly wasn't good. And strange things were most definitely afoot.
Prior to the event, I tweeted the following:
Before tonight started, I said the only way that Chael would win was by freak injury to Jones. Feeling weird now.— Jeremy Botter (@jeremybotter) April 28, 2013
When I tweeted that, I honestly believed that there was no way we would see it come to fruition. It was mostly done tongue in cheek, as a way of noting that I believed Chael Sonnen didn't stand much of a chance against Jon Jones. A freak injury incurred by Jones was Sonnen's best path to victory, and we all knew that wasn't going to happen. Right?
You can imagine the look on my face, then, when a few hours later we came just a few seconds away from Sonnen capturing the light heavyweight title due to a horrific compound toe fracture suffered by Jones in the first round.
It was that kind of night. The weird stuff started early and never let up, all the way through the main event.
Now that it's over, and now that I'm finally home from Newark (hands down my least-favorite city to cover a UFC event in), it's time to reflect on what I saw.
Kevin Mulhall made the correct decision in stopping the St Preux/Villante fight
When Gian Viillante suffered an eye poke from Ovince St-Preux, he stumbled backwards and held his hand over his eye. Referee Kevin Mulhall approached Villante to see how he was doing. "I can't see," Villante said.
At that point, Mulhall waved off the fight. The fans erupted in boos, and Villante protested wildly. But the truth is this: Mulhall was right, at least according to the rules. If a fighter is asked if he can see, and he says no, the referee is obligated to stop the fight.
The rule is dumb, of course. Eye pokes should be treated the same as groin strikes, in that a fighter should be given up to 5 minutes of recovery time before being asked to resume the fight. But eye pokes aren't treated the same way, and nobody really knows why. They're obviously just as debilitating as a strike to the groin—if not more so, in some cases—and yet the referees are often instantly in the faces of the injured fighter, asking if they can see and if they can continue.
They've just been poked in the eye, and they've been given no time to recuperate. Of course they can't see.
This is yet another MMA rule that needs to be changed. Eye pokes are serious business, but they don't always have to signal the conclusion of a fight. In a lot of cases, a fighter can recover if given the proper time. But if the referee is immediately tasked with getting in the fighter's face and asking if they can see just mere seconds after they've been poked in the eye, well, the chances are pretty good that they cannot see.
Fighters who suffer eye pokes should be given time to rest. The cageside doctor should be the one checking out the eye, as I can't imagine many of these referees are trained in all of the various nuances of eye injuries. If the doctor determines that they cannot continue, then the fight should be stopped. But it shouldn't be left up to the referee, and it absolutely shouldn't happen when a fighter is asked if they can see immediately after having a digit jammed in their orbital socket.
Sara McMann has the right attitude about her UFC development
McMann, the Olympic silver medalist in wrestling, is a fighter often discussed as a potential opponent for Ronda Rousey. It sells itself, really: discipline vs. discipline and medalist vs. medalist.
But McMann isn't ready for Rousey. Not yet. She looked good in earning a TKO win over Sheila Gaff, but there's a big difference between facing "The German Tank" and stepping in the cage with Rousey. McMann has the same kind of athletic gifts as Rousey and is a determined worker, but she's not on the same kind of level as the UFC women's bantamweight champion. Not yet, anyway.
It's something McMann is aware of.
"Every time I step in there, I'm growing and I'm improving and becoming more comfortable," McMann told Ariel Helwani after the fight. "To me, if I fight her in four fights or if I fight her in one fight, just to get to the title...it just doesn't matter. It's more time for me to grow as a fighter."
Count me in as someone who is very much looking forward to seeing McMann test her wrestling against Rousey's judo. They're the two most naturally athletic women on the UFC roster, and they've both competed at the highest level of sport.
But even though McMann is undefeated, and even though she was dominant in her UFC debut, I'm just not sure she's ready to step in the cage with Rousey. It may sound crazy given Rousey's relative inexperience in the fight world, but getting McMann back in the Octagon for more seasoning before she faces off with Rousey isn't such a bad idea. There's plenty of time for that fight to happen, and neither one of these excellent athletes is going anywhere any time soon.
What will it take for Michael Bisping to get over the hump?
Bisping clearly outclassed Alan Belcher, even before an unfortunate (and disgusting) eye poke brought about the end of the fight.
And yet, I can't help but feel underwhelmed by what I saw from Bisping. He was much better than Belcher in every aspect of the fight, and still couldn't finish him. He couldn't put on the kind of emphatic performance that's been missing from his entire career, even against an opponent that seemed ripe for the taking.
Bisping's last truly emphatic performance came against Denis Kang, way back in 2009. Sure, he finished Jorge Rivera and Jason Miller, but both of those fights felt more like Miller and Rivera were giving up the ghost rather than Bisping actually putting them out.
Bisping looked good against Belcher. He was much quicker, was a better striker and essentially won every single facet of the fight. But at some point, Bisping is going to need to go out guns blazing, truly looking for a dominant finish, if he's serious about getting a title shot. For as long as he's been in the UFC—and as big of a superstar as he's been for most of his career—it's truly sad that Bisping hasn't worked his way to a title shot.
But there's a reason he hasn't, and I'm just not sure what it is.
Roy Nelson deserves a title shot
Dana White must hate Nelson. How else to explain the fact that Nelson, despite knocking out his last three opponents in the first round—and being the most beloved heavyweight on the roster—isn't getting a title fight in his next bout?
It's even more strange when you consider that Nelson has been vocal about wanting a shot at the title. Folks have received championship opportunities for far less, and some of them have been far less deserving; just witness UFC 159's main event for a perfect example.
Nelson hasn't fared all that well against the top heavyweights in the division. But knocking three legitimate heavyweights out consecutively in less than three minutes seems like a perfectly valid case for a title shot, especially in a division where Antonio Silva is getting a title shot just a year after being brutally assaulted by Cain Velasquez.
Throw in the fact that Nelson is overwhelmingly popular with the fans, and you have a ready-made title contender. I thought for sure that White would announce that Nelson would face the winner of Velasquez vs. Silva, perhaps even on Fox Sports 1 in August.
Instead, White said he wanted Nelson to face either Daniel Cormier or Mark Hunt, if Hunt beats Junior dos Santos. I'm fine with both of those fights, but I can't help but think that Nelson deserves his shot at the gold. And if he beats either of those men—and I reckon he'll have a tough time with Cormier—well, there's no question that he's the top contender at heavyweight.
Jon Jones is the best fighter in the world
When I filled out my official UFC rankings ballot on Sunday night, I made a switch at the top of the pound-for-pound list, moving Anderson Silva down and putting Jones in the top spot.
Some of you think I'm crazy. And perhaps I am. But I firmly believe that Jones has fought an unmatched level of competition since winning his UFC title. From Shogun Rua through Rashad Evans, Jones fought and easily defeated the best light heavyweights in the world. It was a stretch of victories better than any other championship run I can remember.
I didn't put Jones up there because he beat Chael Sonnen; that would be a bit silly. But I also believe that Jones easily handling Sonnen—who legitimately took five rounds from Anderson Silva—was a sign that he's the best fighter in the world. And I don't think that's changing any time soon, even if Jones fights Silva.
Jones is a different kind of athlete. We've never seen anything like him in mixed martial arts. He went in the cage and purposefully defeated Sonnen at his own wrestling game just to prove a point. And the point he proved was this: that he can beat anyone in the sport, and he can do it just about any way that he wants to.