Last Saturday’s eighth installment of the UFC on Fox series, UFC on Fox: Johnson vs. Moraga, was another fan-pleasing affair. That is, pleasing for the fans that are already on board with the UFC and MMA, as the initial ratings indicate a decline in overall viewership. The numbers will make this event the lowest rated MMA event ever on network television.

The UFC’s event schedule is in full swing these days and we don’t often get to take a breather between shows like we used to. There are four events in the month of August alone, so it’s likely that fans will continue to be more discerning when it comes to the importance of staying in on the weekend.

It’s not that we’re being inundated with the brand’s offerings in a bad way, but that sort of blitzkrieg approach comes with strings attached. More and more, MMA doesn’t mean bigger numbers and new fans. The UFC on Fox events make this fact clear. Typically, the non-hardcore fans seem to have interest in the big fights and aren’t going out of their way to catch every smaller card or keep up with the divisions. The latest Fox card falls into the category of a smaller card that the larger audience didn’t care about going out of their way to see.

For hardcore fans with a Ph.D. in UFC, it was another fun event, save for the stinker between Jake Ellenberger and Rory MacDonald. In a lot of ways the event was reminiscent of a good Strikeforce card. It’s like the ghosts of Strikeforce continue to linger to this day. We see the promotion’s former stars standing out in the UFC and now a wider audience gets to appreciate the merit of a good women’s bout. The former Showtime cards were similar to this one for Fox in that they featured plenty of match-ups intended solely for violent entertainment, sprinkled with a couple of ladies, a co-main with divisional importance, and a main event with a title on the line.

Voila. A recipe for a great night. At least for those that really care. Now, as for what actually happened…

It appears that the biggest winner of the night was Robbie Lawler for his head kick knockout of Bobby Voelker in the second fight on the main card. But let’s not be so fast to laud—or better yet, hype—him as the next big thing yet.

Lawler’s original opponent was to be Strikeforce’s final welterweight champion, Tarec Saffiedine, who is coming off the momentum of an inspired win over veteran Nate Marquardt. Unfortunately, he was scratched from the card due to injury and so was his replacement, but the UFC was able to wrangle Voelker in their stead. Voelker proved to be a better opponent as a showcase for Lawler’s entertaining style.

Lawler, a former middleweight, is known as a guy who will likely knock out anybody outside of a division’s elite. If he’s not facing a grappling-oriented fighter, then audiences are probably going to see him thump somebody good. That’s why Voelker was such a great choice as his opponent. Voelker proved in Strikeforce that he’s willing to fight like a wounded animal, without a care towards how ugly his face might become from taking punishment. Voelker facing Lawler gave television audiences a violent affair, like the matchmakers intended, but it quickly became a one-sided beating at the hands of Lawler.

At the end of the fight, commentator Joe Rogan praised Lawler as though he was the most exciting fighter in the world and was just now coming into his own. That’s somewhat perplexing given the perspective that comes from looking at Lawler’s career as a whole.

Sure, Lawler walked into his UFC return (his most recent prior fight for the promotion was in 2004) and blasted the respected Josh Koscheck in four minutes. However, Voelker is a step down in competition and served as a way to showcase Lawler to fans. Lawler’s penchant for violence will make him an easy sell to audiences, but he has a steep climb ahead of him once he starts taking on the UFC’s relevant welterweights. Missing out on fighting a guy like Saffiedine is certainly something that took away from the significance of Saturday’s bout, but Lawler did make the best of it.

Lawler can knock out anyone, that hasn’t changed, but it hasn’t become anything new either. When we look at his Strikeforce career, we see that his losses were to any name of note that he was forced to confront. He went 3-5, losing to the likes of Tim Kennedy, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, Jake Shields and Lorenz Larkin. Three of those losses were in the last few years alone, but granted they were at middleweight. Lawler has looked great thus far in his UFC tenure at welterweight, but blasting through mid-level guys is nothing new for him. I won’t be so quick to believe that Lawler, even with his victory over Koscheck, is going to do well against the upper level of the UFC just yet based on his track record.

It’s great that he’s making a solid run in the UFC at this stage in his career, which could likely be his last shot at real glory, but for the UFC to sell anyone on the fact that he is something more than the good fighter he always has been is a real Strikeforce move.

Let’s talk flyweights. Or more specifically, let’s be happy and enjoy what we got from the main event of champion Demetrious Johnson vs. John Moraga rather than cry over why people don’t love the flyweights as much as everyone else.

It was a brilliant performance from the champion. What’s better is that is seems as though the MMA world at large is coming around to appreciating his work for what it is.

We know that Johnson deftly moves in and out of range with his strikes and uses his wrestling to mix up his attack, all of which usually leads his fights into the dreaded territory of judges’ decisions. Sure, he hadn’t finished a fight in his entire UFC run with that approach until Saturday, but for the first four rounds of his fight with Moraga you wouldn’t think it was a problem if you heard the crowd reacting to him.

Fighting for a crowd in a state that Johnson calls his home might have had something to do with it, but it also showed that the audience had MMA smarts and could enjoy a tiny-man battle where the consensus has always been that flyweights will never earn much favor.

According to FightMetric, Johnson outstruck Moraga with double the strikes, had 12 takedowns to Moraga’s one, and passed his guard 13 times. So it was a thoroughly dominating performance and one that was exciting to the fans watching in attendance. Many of the tweets, from fans to professional fighters, reacting to the fight were positive ones for the flyweight division.

Add in Johnson’s fifth-round submission finish of Moraga and we have a breakout performance from the champ. It was something that nearly everyone enjoyed watching, which adds up to a big night of love for the 125-pounders, ratings be damned. So, for the time being, let’s enjoy what great work Johnson has done for the smaller fellas before the complaints start back up again.

Apart from the main event, the most exciting fight of the night came from an early preliminary bout and from an oft thought-about source: Ed Herman.

His fight against Trevor Smith was a slugfest that saw both men getting hit with ample blows. Each returned the favor by landing big with counters. It’s amazing that the fight wasn’t finished, as both men were hurt multiple times, but they also respected each other’s power enough to ensure that running in for the finish wouldn’t lose them the fight. It was the kind of battle that got fans on their feet, showing that basic violent appeal is the most straightforward way that the UFC can draw in casual television audiences.

At the end of the night, Herman tweeted out a picture of himself being loaded into an ambulance and described himself as being hurt all over. You’d hope that he’s going to be well compensated for going out and putting his body on the line to give the UFC exactly the kind of show that it wanted. Well, since the salaries were released, it appears that he most certainly has; he was one of the night’s top earners.

A guy like Herman represents how great performances should ideally equal good pay in MMA. He’s not the most well-known or best-ranked fighter, but he’s been on a decent run over the last few years. His position is similar to fellow UFC on Fox 8 participants Melvin Guillard or Lawler. Although they can’t seem to put themselves over the top, they are usually at their best when they destroy mid-level competition. That’s really how they earn their livings in this sport. Just look at the numbers and you’ll see they were the three top earners of the night.

The fight might have taken some time off the tail end of Herman’s career, but the instant rewards could be worth it if he can make the most of it and invest wisely. Different fighters might have different approaches, such as fighting smart and using a wrestle-heavy albeit not exciting game plan, but they’re less likely to receive a bonus for such an approach.

Now, on the other side of the fighter pay debate we have someone like Herman’s opponent, Trevor Smith. Although we don’t know if he received any locker-room bonuses or paid medical treatment, his salary is listed at $8,000. He was one half of what made the fight so exciting and received just as much punishment as Herman, so we’d like to expect that he is being compensated more than his listed salary.

We could say the same for a few of the losers from Saturday night with similar paltry earnings in the $10,000 range. It really doesn’t seem right that they earn so little, but sadly, they didn’t set the world on fire and that’s just the way it is. Some might continue to fight on, earning a larger base pay, and others might wash out and eventually retire early, as we’ve seen with a few other former UFC fighters recently. However, that’s the way the system is in MMA at the moment and it’s not like a fighter is completely unaware of that risk going in. I can show them my lifetime earnings from my writing about MMA and then maybe they can take me out and buy me a drink.

Other notable moments included Liz Carmouche getting her first UFC win. The former Marine’s time in the UFC has her standing out as her own star now more than she ever has in her career. Her fight with Jessica Andrade felt like it gave off a special spark of energy from the crowd. It brought me back to a time of watching Strikeforce cards right before Mauro Ranallo would tell us how the women always steal the show.

The two female fights might not have stolen the show, but they were solid offerings and Carmouche definitely walked away looking good after her domination of Andrade. It’s a good feeling to see women now competing right alongside the men on the biggest stage, where it once was just a internet fanboy forum discussion. For the fans that especially enjoy the women, we know they bring a different kind of offering to the cage, and that’s always a nice addition.

Last, there’s former Strikeforce lightweight title challenger Jorge Masvidal, who sent Michael Chiesa walking out of the cage in a scene reminiscent of an embarrassed Forrest Griffin after his loss to Anderson Silva.

Masvidal spent most of his pre-fight interviews talking trash about Chiesa, calling him easy money and even accusing him of carrying herpes in his beard. It appeared that the veteran’s talk had gotten into Chiesa’s head according to the way that he left the Octagon after tapping to a d’arce choke with one second to go in the second round.

It wasn’t even a bad loss for Chiesa, who was expected to taste defeat in the bout, but ended up showing promise for himself. In the first round, he displayed an excellent one-two punch combination that came after the two broke from Chiesa delivering a knee. The unexpected combo dropped Masvidal and most definitely earned Chiesa some respect. However, Masvidal is a tough guy and he’s been around for a lot longer than Chiesa. Eventually he took control and earned his second UFC win and his first stoppage in eight fights.

Chiesa shouldn’t take the loss too hard. One of the criticism’s one could make against him is that his striking could use some work. He was able to show improvement in that department against Masvidal, but soon found himself overwhelmed when “Gamebred” wouldn’t relent. It just shows that he still has room to grow and more experience to gain in the cage. No shame in that.

So, it might have been the lowest rated event in UFC on Fox history, but does that mean it was the worst? This writer doesn’t think so, but I wonder if that even matters when compared to the bigger picture for the UFC of gaining new fans and chugging along with its busy event schedule.

The UFC attempted to gain interest with bouts specifically designed to entertain and most delivered. The card was topped off with a flyweight title fight, showcasing the least popular division, but it ended up being the best flyweight title fight the UFC has ever had. Yet none of that helped with more fans wanting to tune in.

Maybe it’s that the casual fan is more discerning than any of us have given them credit for.

Photo: Robbie Lawler (L) connects with a head kick (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

About The Author

David Massey
Staff Writer

David Massey studied Humanities and Art History at the University of Central Oklahoma. He first found interest in MMA from the first TUF show and has been hooked ever since. He began posting on mmajunkie then submitting Sunday Junkie entries and that began his interest in writing about MMA. Through twitter David found other MMA enthusiasts and began contributing articles to marqueemma.com. He looks forward to growing as a writer and being a part of the sport he loves.