There were times when it seemed like nobody wanted to be there.
Ryan Bader succeeded only in spurts, Ovince Saint Preux finished looking lost and tired, and as the clock crept past 1 a.m. local time in Bangor, Maine, many spectators began to openly wonder if the UFC Fight Night 47 main event really needed five rounds.
In the end, the better-prepared, better-rounded Bader asserted a kind of dominance, winning a unanimous decision (48-47, 49-46, 49-46) over the overmatched Saint Preux. With it, he ran his win streak to three consecutive fights and will likely improve on his No. 8 standing in the UFC’s official light heavyweight rankings.
Whether any other spoils are in store for him remains unclear.
This was the sort of long, tedious fight that left fans questioning almost everything about what they’d just seen.
Did Bader and Saint Preux really deserve top billing? Did either guy manage to bolster his stock? Can Bader suddenly reinvent himself as a capable top contender after 15 fights and nearly six years inside the Octagon?
And why was OSP’s cornerman yelling so loud before that last round? Didn’t he know what time it was?
There are top-level 205-pounders who need fights right now (Anthony Johnson and Alexander Gustafsson, to name a couple), but neither Bader or Saint Preux looked ready to take them on. This was not a stellar performance from anyone, and when it was over, even the winner seemed to know that.
“It was a tough fight. OSP’s really tough,” a visibly exhausted Bader told UFC play-by-play announcer Jon Anik in the cage after his win was announced. “I had to rely on my takedowns at the end. I didn’t feel my hands tonight. A little slow, but I got it done.”
He came to the cage appearing slimmed down, perhaps in an effort to improve on cardio that had failed him in the past. Bader was indeed the fresher (and all around better) fighter, taking Saint Preux down seemingly at will and avoiding most of the former Tennessee football player’s rangy, unorthodox strikes.
Bader was the more complete guy from the opening bell, winning the first round with his straighter punches and the grappling game he honed as a two-time NCAA Division I All-American wrestler at Arizona State. But Saint Preux battled back to win the second, and though Bader had more or less proved his point as the first 15 minutes expired, it still felt as though the fight could go either way.
During the championship rounds, Bader’s wrestling wore Saint Preux down, eventually snapping a five-fight win streak built largely against lesser opponents. It didn’t wow the crowd, though, and didn’t leave Bader looking like a legitimate threat to the light heavyweight elite.
A stoppage would’ve been nice, not only because of the hour but because Saint Preux is still obviously such a work in progress. A guy who has been taking on the best in his weight class as long as Bader has should’ve been able to make a statement against a foe as imperfect as OSP.
Instead, the statements made themselves.
Bader is still better than some fans and analysts give him credit for—there were a lot of people picking Saint Preux to pull the upset here—but he’s not suddenly going to remake himself as UFC champion. This is who he is: a big, tough, limited fighter who is just slightly better than everybody but the Top Five (or Top Six) guys in his weight class.
As for Saint Preux, perhaps the scariest thing is that more often than not, he still has no idea what he’s doing. The fact that he’s gone 13-2 since Feb. 2010 while looking very much like he’s making it up as he goes should make a lot of B-list light heavyweights feel pretty nervous. If he could ever figure things out in the limited window he’s got left (he’s already 31 years old), OSP could really be something.
Therein lies the rub of the UFC’s new supercharged schedule.
On nights when the stars align and everything comes up aces—like it did during the majority of the company’s four July events—we’re able to tell ourselves that nothing is wrong.
But evenings like Fight Night 47 are different. On this night, the broadcast felt so superfluous and poorly paced that not even five consecutive main card stoppages could save it. As a lackluster main event between two obviously flawed competitors stretched into the wee hours, we started asking ourselves uncomfortable questions.
Like, what, if anything, did any of this prove?
Why were we still up?
And what was all the yelling about?