Through the Past Darkly: Reflections on UFC on FUEL TV 9


gegard-mousasi-18.jpgMaybe this week’s strange turn of events wasn’t such a raw deal for Gegard Mousasi after all.

Don’t get me wrong, it sure seemed it like it a few days ago. Back when all we knew was that the Mousasi had lost a chance to face the blue chip opponent he’d spent weeks training for, and had instead been given an unknown underdog with a completely different style and body type, it seemed like he’d entered no-win territory. He thought the same, or at least said he did. Together we lamented the sad switcheroo that was brought about by one ill-timed facial laceration and one slightly overprotective athletic commission.

Poor Mousasi. Guy couldn’t catch a break.

But after seeing how he performed against Ilir Latifi in Saturday’s UFC on FUEL TV 9 main event in Stockholm, and then hearing about the injury that he brought into the bout, maybe the change of opponents was the biggest break he could have hoped for. He said it himself. The knee injury that he would only describe as “nothing small,” would have knocked “95 percent” of fighters off the card, according to Mousasi. He hung in there and relied on his jab to carry him through.

Against Latifi, the jab was enough. Against Gustafsson, probably not.

Give Mousasi credit for still wanting to get in there with a top contender anyway. That’s gutsy. It’s also pretty risky. I don’t know how many of us would have liked his chances against “The Mauler” on two good knees. If he’d gone in there and gotten tooled by Gustafsson, who would have wanted to hear about his bum knee afterward? Who would have seen it as anything other than an excuse, and a useless one? Either Mousasi so despises the practice of withdrawing from a fight due to injury that he’d rather make his UFC debut on one leg, or else maybe his injury was the type that got more severe with the retelling. Or, a third option: Maybe Mousasi just has that much faith in himself, injury or no.

Maybe that faith would have paid off, if only Gustafsson could have kept his face from getting sliced open. Maybe it would have just gotten Mousasi beaten up on live TV. We may never know. One thing still seems clear, though: If your knee is so bad off that you’ve got to lean on your jab like a crutch, better to do it against the shorter, slower replacement than the taller, lankier contender. Here’s one bad break that could have been a lot worse.

Conor McGregor lives up to the hype and gets off welfare

If you only get your news from Twitter, and if you only follow Irish MMA fans, you could have been forgiven for thinking that Conor McGregor vs. Marcus Brimage was the main event in Stockholm. It’s hard to remember the last time a prelim bout featuring a UFC newcomer had this much fan interest behind it. McGregor proved worthy of the hype with his first-round TKO of Brimage – a bonus-worthy finish that he executed with veteran poise in his octagon debut.

That’s impressive stuff, but am I the only one who felt a little concerned when he started talking about his sudden financial shift? The 24-year-old McGregor said at the post-fight press conference that he was “collecting the social welfare” before this bout. Now he has a $60,000 KO bonus to go with his show and win money, so you’d hope he might find a way to make it last.

“I’m just up here hearing $60,000,” McGregor said. “I’m just thinking of what I’m going to spend it on. Maybe a nice car and some suits or something, some custom-made suits. I don’t know.”

… and now it’s all gone. I get it: There’s nothing sexy about a fighter who goes from crushing poverty to comfortable, responsible middle-class living. It’s way cooler to talk about all the stuff you’re going to buy now that you’re a thousandaire. But dude, 60 grand is not a life-changing sum of money. Why not get a decent used car, buy a suit off the rack, and save the rest for those nights when it’s someone else’s turn to make big plans with his bonus money at the post-fight presser? Because, don’t kid yourself, those nights are coming. You don’t want to have to get back on the social welfare when it happens.

Beware the backstage injury

If you thought Mousasi had it rough, consider Ross Pearson‘s dilemma. While warming up backstage before his co-main-event bout with Ryan Couture, the British lightweight said he may have broken his foot on his coach’s elbow. Say he did. What exactly is he supposed to do about it in that situation?

We’ve seen guys get scratched from cards due to backstage warm-up injuries before, so it’s not like it’s never happened. Thing is, it’s still rare and weird enough that fans may never let you forget it if it happens to you. All you have to do is mention Kevin Randleman‘s name, and it’s guaranteed someone will bring up the time he slipped in the locker room and knocked himself out. Nobody wants to become a warm-up cautionary tale, so you kind of have to go out there and fight and win. Because, while bringing up your training injuries after a loss might make fans groan, telling them that you hurt yourself while warming up tonight will only make them laugh. It’s one step away from blowing out your ACL while trying to put your pants on in the morning.

Fortunately for Pearson, he was able to pull it together and put the hurt on Couture for a second-round TKO win. Maybe that explains why he felt comfortable revealing the boneheaded nature of his pre-fight injury. After seeing that left hook of his in action, who’s going to make fun of him for being unable to get through a warm-up in one piece?

The easiest money Matt Mitrione ever made

It was part sprawl and part hip check, but combined with a glancing blow by Matt Mitrione, it was enough to stop Phil De Fries cold. The British heavyweight looked like a golden retriever who had just sprinted to the end of his chain before being yanked to a stop by forces he had not anticipated and could not overcome. Even Mitrione seemed a little surprised to look down and see De Fries lying there, just waiting to be finished off. Almost seems like a shame to go all the way to Sweden on a business trip and only work for 19 seconds once you get there. Actually, never mind. That sounds awesome.

Dana White makes a valid point, but the timing is a little too convenient

The “Fight of the Night” bonus went to two deserving recipients after the display that Brad Pickett and Mike Easton put on, but it just as easily could have gone to Reza Madadi and Michael Johnson. Both bouts gave us a little of everything, from the feet to the floor, and both reminded us that maybe we pay a little too much attention to the main event in these situations. Especially for a cable TV fight card in the middle of the day, it’s the lesser-known but still thrilling to watch fights like this that make changes at the top seem like minor hiccups rather than catastrophic collapses.

That seems like the point UFC President Dana White was trying to make after the event when complaining about the fan reaction to the main event switch.

“The media didn’t do it to us this time, but some of the fans did, and it drives me crazy when people start talking s— about a card that has never even happened yet,” White said.

Of course, that never stops White or the UFC from talking about how great a card is going to be before it’s happened. It also doesn’t stop them from pouring all their energy and effort into hyping the main event while mostly forgetting about the undercard. The UFC knew that, especially in Sweden, this was all about Gustafsson. Pickett and Easton, as well as Madadi and Johnson, were more of a pleasant surprise than anything else. The UFC can’t try to sell these shows based only on the main event, and then act shocked when that’s all people pay attention to.

White had a point when he said that this card had proven to be “full of talented people.” It’s just that the UFC didn’t care enough to talk too much about them until it had no other choice.

Delivering a solid undercard shouldn’t be something that the UFC gets extra credit for; it’s something that fight fans should expect when they pay money for a ticket or take a few hours out of their Saturday to watch. Especially in a sport where any one fight can be ruined by injuries or illnesses or just surprisingly crappy performances, you have to sell the whole package rather than one superstar. The UFC knows that better than anyone. That’s a big part of how it got here. Maybe it just needs a reminder every once in a while. Fortunately, it can usually find one located somewhere on its own prelims.

For complete coverage of UFC on FUEL TV 9, stay tuned to the UFC Events section of the site.

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