The eyes of the entire MMA world were focused on Las Vegas this past weekend.  UFC 148 was a landmark event for the sport, the type of event that garnered so much hype that it surely drew new eyeballs to the pay-per-view spectacle. Even the weigh-in event was able to lasso in a significant crowd.  And although Anderson Silva was able to set the world right again by stuffing Chael Sonnen’s second-round takedown attempts and take the outspoken Oregonian out via TKO, the event was far from perfect.

Every event has its humdrum fights and its “WTF?” moments, but usually those moments just serve to frustrate the loyal MMA fan—the fan that tunes in to nearly every event and will shell out money in the future, a fan who is willing to debate the negatives of a card and then forgive and (mostly) forget.

But events like UFC 148 pack so much hype that they draw in other breeds of fan.  These events draw in the casual MMA viewer, the one that tunes in to MMA for its most epic fights in the same way that many MMA enthusiasts will tune in to boxing when Manny Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather are in the ring.  Get it right, and you’ve sold another person on the greatness of the sport.  Get it wrong—like boxing did with Pacquiao against Timothy Bradley—and you might have turned off potential new fans as well as a slew of loyal followers.

Although UFC 148 did not have a moment as extreme as what the boxing world saw at the conclusion of Pacquiao-Bradley, where Bradley was awarded a decision that most assumed would tilt in “Pacman’s” favor, the historic show did have its fair share of failures.

First, the action, or lack thereof.

Through the first six fights, including the entire FX broadcast portion of the preliminary card and the opening bout of the pay-per-view, there were six decisions.  Decisions in and of themselves are not a bad thing—and there were some bouts that featured moments of action—but the feud between Silva and Sonnen had stoked the fires of the crowd.  They wanted finishes, not a night full of scorecards.

Was it really that bad?  The answer would have to be that it was not.  We saw aggressiveness out of many of the fighters in these bouts, but the style match-ups just didn’t click and, in many cases, the fighters were able to neutralize each other’s attacks.  It was not an exciting series of slugfests or submissions by any means, but it was far from a snoozefest.

Yet, to the new fan, that might have been exactly how it appeared.  Worse still is the fact that going the distance means leaving it in the hands of three ringside judges, which, as any avid follower of the sport can attest, is akin to blindfolding someone, spinning them around three times and having them pin the tail on the winner.

Which brings us to the night’s second failure—the verdict in the lightweight tilt between Gleison Tibau and Khabib Nurmagomedov.  Nurmagomedov emerged victorious by taking all three rounds on all three of the judges’ scorecards.

The decision was a perfect illustration of how aggressiveness will always out-point effective takedown defense, well-placed counter shots and smart yet conservative offensive output.

Nurmagomedov swung for the fences throughout the fight.  At times, the Russian Sambo specialist’s striking style was reminiscent of Kamal Shalorus, who, oddly enough, was skillfully defeated by Nurmagomedov in January.  Needless to say, most of the Russian’s haymakers did not find their mark, and those that did failed to do much damage to Tibau.

Nurmagomedov’s other line of attack came in the form of takedown attempts.  Numerous times, the black belt in judo shot for Tibau’s legs and lower body, putting the Brazilian against the fence, but meeting with futility when it came to taking the veteran to the mat.

As Nurmagomedov failed to connect with his home run swings and came up empty in his takedown attempts, Tibau landed effective countershots of his own.  According to the FightMetric stats for the contest, not only did Tibau manage a perfect 13 for 13 in stuffed takedowns, but he also landed more significant strikes in each of the three rounds.  The stats site does not give Tibau credit for scoring any takedowns of his own, but the American Top Team fighter did manage to catch Nurmagomedov off-balance on at least a couple of occasions and momentarily brought the fight to the ground.

This is actually a scenario where the first-time fan might be less perplexed by the outcome than the more informed longtime fan.  To the casual viewer—and obviously to the judges as well—Nurmagomedov moved forward, and therefore it didn’t matter what he actually accomplished.  Less significant strikes?  That’s okay, because he attacked.  A double-digit total of failed takedowns and not a single successful one?  That’s okay, because he attacked.

Well, it’s not okay.  Mixed martial arts is a nuanced sport, one where defensive skill should be valued when it renders an opponent’s offense null and void.  Nurmagomedov might have attacked, but Tibau stifled any true offense from the Sambo master and countered it effectively.  The fact that Tibau not only lost the fight but lost every round according to every judge is a failure of epic proportions and reflects poorly on the sport and its officials.

And speaking of reflecting poorly, we come to Forrest Griffin.

The scoring of the Tibau-Nurmagomedov encounter might elicit its own chorus of “WTF?” but the truly baffling display of the evening came in the form of Griffin’s post-fight antics after the final bout in his trilogy with Tito Ortiz.  Griffin exited cage left immediately after the bell of the final round, prior to the reading of the scores.

It was criminal on the part of the production crew that we didn’t get to witness what commentator Joe Rogan described as UFC President Dana White sprinting after Griffin.  But what was even more criminal was how Griffin stole the spotlight from Ortiz.

Now, sure, Ortiz is a polarizing figure, and I’ve never been a huge fan of his.  However, despite Ortiz’s varied post-fight injury excuses and any other character flaws that fans can’t stand about “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy,” the fact remains that he stands as an iconic fighter in the UFC’s history and deserves respect as he says his final goodbyes.

Griffin, when asked if he might also retire following the fight, had claimed he wouldn’t do that as it would steal the spotlight from Ortiz.  Yet, what Griffin did was no different.  He shifted the focus from a moment in which Ortiz could say farewell, and made it a moment in which everyone could talk about how much of a headcase Griffin has become.  Stranger yet, Griffin’s “Run Forrest Run” routine came after a fight that Griffin took on the scorecards.

It’s one thing to be funny, or to clown around, but Griffin’s poor showing of sportsmanship was unacceptable.  It surely confounded many a viewer on Saturday, and could leave some fans feeling like the sport is edging too close to pro-wrestling territory.

Had it not been for the hype, UFC 148 would have been just another card with a few missteps and some entertaining moments.  But with the anticipation of the rematch between Silva and Sonnen, all eyes were watching.  Unfortunately, what they saw was lackluster action in the early portion of the card, questionable scoring in a sport that features what seems like an ever-increasing amount of decisions and a complete lack of respect and sportsmanship.

Some of these things can—and should—be fixed.  Others are just a part of the game, a part that we must learn to accept.  And accept in the same way that some fans should accept that sometimes there’s no controversy in a big fight, and that a legal knee really is just a legal knee.

Photo: Forrest Griffin has his hand raised in victory (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

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  • gordon

    Quite a few of the match ups lately have been pretty poor maybe the ufc has outgrown itself,lot of respect for mike russow put to put him up against fabricio verdum was mickey mouse in disguise,a lot of improvement is needed in those areas maybe the person who does these match ups needs retiring.

  • Richard

    Personally, I thought Forrest’s sprint from the cage was bad…but the interview of Tito didn’t bother me at all. And if it took a little luster and spotlight from Tito…it is just karma! Remember Tito heckled Mark Coleman during his goodbye speach. I guess if some felt Forrest interupted Tito’s moment, what comes around goes around.

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