There is something in the air in Albuquerque, or perhaps it is in the water. Or perhaps it is nowhere at all.
The popularity of the AMC show "Breaking Bad" led to scores of jokes about the Albuquerque desert. Some are warranted, but most are spun from the same type of fictional arcs Walter White and Jesse Pinkman played out on a weekly basis for a devoted audience.
Albuquerque is really just a city. It is non-descript, and the nicest thing that you might say about it is that it has high elevation and the mountains on the edge of town are pretty. It is not a destination, unless you are a world-class fighter. If that is the case, then there's every chance you will find yourself in Albuquerque because Greg Jackson and Mike Winklejohn once found themselves in Albuquerque.
Much of our Albuquerque knowledge comes from television. There is a good chance all of it is wrong. But there is zero doubt something weird was in the air on Saturday night, when the UFC paid their first visit to the Land of Jackson and Winklejohn.
For starters, there was Jackson himself, talking in a Russian accent to his fighter Rustam Khabilov. It was there on the television, and we heard it plain as day. This is a little joke Jackson and his fighters have in the gym; he affects a terrible Russian accent for his Dagestani fighters, and they do their best (terrible) impression of an American accent. Everyone laughs. Good times are had by all.
But without any context, hearing Jackson tear into his best Nikolai Volkoff impersonation was jarring. You wondered: Is Greg Jackson actually speaking in a Russian accent right now? Am I hearing this? And WHY is Greg Jackson speaking in a Russian accent?
The Russian accent didn't help Khabilov; Benson Henderson choked him out in the fourth round for his first finish since 2010 to put the cherry on top of a perfectly strange night.
You want to talk about strange? Earlier in the night, Bryan Caraway fishhooked a man in the Octagon. He also choked him out, but before that, he used an honest-to-God fishhook to set up the choke on Erik Perez.
There is very little chance Caraway did this intentionally; it is more likely that he was going for a chin rip to help set up his submission attempt. But the photos of Caraway's digits inserted deep in Perez's gaping mouth made the social media rounds, and by that point, it was too late; he was already convicted in the court of public opinion.
Nevermind that the court of public opinion has been very much against Caraway from the start because he has the temerity to date the beautiful Miesha Tate.
And then there was the low point of the evening: Diego Sanchez somehow winning a split decision over Ross Pearson in a fight where every single human being on earth (except two of the three inept judges sitting cageside) believed Pearson cruised to a comfortable 30-27 win.
If it wasn't the worst decision in the history of mixed martial arts, it was close. It was in the top five. It was in shouting range. And it was another embarrassment for a sport that struggles mightily to convince fans that the best man almost always wins, even when they allow the fight to go to the judges.
Sanchez did not beat Pearson. He didn't even come close. There are only three scenarios where a judge could have scored this fight for Sanchez:
1. He knows nothing about mixed martial arts.
2. He was playing Words with Friends instead of watching the fight.
3. He had a monetary investment in the outcome, or he is close family friends with Sanchez.
A few hours have passed since that terrible decision was rendered, and I still can't figure it out. And I know this won't be a final call to action for athletic commissions around the world to get their act together and figure out how to cull the best judges from the absolutely rotten trash pile that currently exists; bad decisions and referee actions have existed for years, and they're still around, so you know nobody important is going to do anything about them.
But they SHOULD do something about them, and that has never been more clearly demonstrated than on this weird, strange night in New Mexico. Because we can joke about Russian Greg Jackson and intentional fishhooks (that clearly were not intentional), but the poor judging epidemic is no laughing matter. Everything else is fun and light hearted, and we have a good time. But the judging situation is a legitimate roadblock on the way to mixed martial arts gaining any sort of real mainstream acceptance, and something must be done about it before it's too late.