LOS ANGELES – After every weigh-in, UFC president Dana White gathers his fighters and delivers a short motivational speech.
On Friday, he delivered a very succinct message to those who would be fighting the next night on the UFC on Fox 4 card at Staples Center.
"If people are channel surfing, give them a reason to stay on Fox," White told them.
Almost to a man, the fighters delivered. It was one of the finest top-to-bottom fight cards the UFC has put on in quite a while, filled with great action, dramatic finishes, devastating knockouts and expert submissions.
At the end of the day, though, it was one of the UFC's nearly forgotten former champs who was the star of the day.
Lyoto Machida knocked out Ryan Bader with a short and devastating right hand at 1:32 of the second, earning himself a shot at the belt he once owned. He'll face the winner of the title match between champion Jon Jones and Dan Henderson that headlines UFC 151 on Sept. 1 in Las Vegas.
Bader didn't lay a glove on Machida, who fought like the man who dazzled everyone as he rolled toward the title in 2008 and 2009. The victory left the normally low-key Brazilian brimming with confidence. He was dominated by Jones at UFC 140 last year, but if Jones beats Henderson, Machida said he'd feel good about his chances in the rematch.
"I have to have belief in myself," Machida said. "For sure, I can beat him."
The title shot was up for grabs Saturday, with White having said the fighter who looked the best among Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, Brandon Vera, Machida and Bader would get it.
Rua knocked out Vera in the fourth round of a rousing battle in the main event, but White was more impressed by Machida's near-flawless effort.
"Everything I've seen from Lyoto Machida looks like he wants this [title shot] worse than Shogun does," White said. "Shogun hasn't shown me anything that he's demanding to fight Jon Jones again. Machida has, and more than just the knockout.
"You have this situation where, everybody's an expert. Everybody's a genius. Everybody's got an opinion. But you can't put a number or a ranking or a rating on someone's heart and determination."
[Related: Kevin Iole's complete UFC on Fox recap]
There was plenty of heart shown on Saturday's card, and not just in the final two fights. It was shown by Mike Swick, who hadn't fought in 910 days because of a series of injuries and illness. At one point, he was told his career might be over because of esophageal spasm.
But Swick was determined to get back and was welcomed by the crowd of 16,080 with a standing ovation when he walked to the cage for his match with DaMarques Johnson.
He then delivered an amazingly brutal knockout in the second round that had the place roaring. He caught a Johnson kick and quickly upended him. In nearly the same motion, Swick went after Johnson with a punch and landed a crunching right to the chin of a prone Johnson.
That first punch put Johnson out, but Swick landed two equally punishing shots, raising the ire of some who saw it. Paramedics brought in a stretcher to aid Johnson, but he ultimately walked out of the cage of his own accord.
That bit of minor controversy was the only bad part of what was a great night for Swick, who was highly apologetic at the post-fight news conference. In a similar situation in April, middleweight Brian Stann was in top position on Alessio Sakara and knocked him out. Though the referee didn't notice, Stann did and didn't fire another punch.
Swick's situation was a bit different, as it happened more quickly.
"At the time, I was just in the mode and I definitely didn't notice [he was out]," Swick said. "I've seen fighters where guys have done that and I was like, 'Aw man, that's excessive.' But you know, I hit him with some very hard shots in the first and it didn't put him down.
"He was still coming after me. When I had the opportunity, I was unloading everything I had trying to get the fight over with."
Joe Lauzon and Jamie Varner also put on an exceptional show and anyone who had the remote in their hand and stopped on Fox during that fight surely would have stayed.
There was rarely a break in the match as the two fought a pitched battle that earned them a $50,000 bonus for Fight of the Night. Lauzon, who has a knack for earning fight night bonuses, added another $50,000 when he got the Submission of the Night, as well.
His triangle choke forced Varner to tap in the third, ending a fierce and high-paced battle that will have plenty of clips on the UFC's next highlight reel.
Lauzon said his biggest concern was getting tagged by the heavy-handed Varner. However, Lauzon said Varner injured himself in the second round and that opened things for him.
"Boxing-wise, the only thing we were worried about was his overhand right," Lauzon said. "In the second round, he broke his hand and I knew he hurt his hand. I had zero fear, zero worry about anything. It ended up being a little more boxing, but I always want to fight on the ground.
"I'm a jiu-jitsu guy first and I love to ground and pound and set up submissions. But, for me to go out there and shoot for the takedown right off the bat, he's going to see it coming and I'm going to have to pay for it. I have to use my head to set up my takedowns."
Rua managed a number of takedowns on Vera, but that was only because Vera was stinging him with punches, kicks and knees. Rua had Vera in trouble early, but Vera lived up to his pre-fight promise to put on a main event-worthy performance.
Fans howled on Monday when White said on a conference call that the Rua-Vera winner would land a title shot. Vera entered the bout with a 1-2 mark with one no contest in his last four.
He took the criticism personally and fought like it on Saturday.
"There was a lot of trash coming out of people's mouths," Vera said. "Like Dana said, people forget real quick. Tonight, I wanted to put on the performance of my life. I got to fight one of my heroes and fight someone I looked up to since before I got into the game.
"The outcome wasn't what I wanted, man, but I think you guys enjoyed the fight, man."
It was that way round after round and fight after fight.
And when it was over, White struggled to put into words what it meant to him. The show went head-to-head with the Olympics on NBC, which are drawing massive television ratings.
The hard reality when the numbers finally come out will probably show that the best card competition-wise of the four that have been on Fox will have by far delivered the poorest numbers. White generally is ready to brawl with anyone who disses the UFC on Fox ratings, but he was philosophical after the great show on Saturday.
"I'm not even thinking about [the ratings]," White said. "We put on a great performance here in Los Angeles. The place was packed. Ticket sales were awesome. We did a $1.1 million gate for a fight card that was available to everyone on free television.
"These guys went out and put on an amazing show, [filled with] incredible performances. Whatever the number is, it is."
After that kind of a show, it was hard not to be positive.
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