UFC Fight Night 31: Fight for the Troops Review
By Mike Fagan, November 7th, 2013
That was a fun night of fights. I guess. I had a hard time giving the TV my full attention. I just don’t care about a lot of the fighters that appear on cards like this or on Facebook/Youtube prelims of bigger cards. And there’s a few reasons for this.
1) The size of the roster. Joe Rogan, citing matchmaker Sean Shelby, said 395 fighters make up the UFC roster. By my count last night, the “List of current UFC fighters” Wikipedia page lists 390 fighters. To give you a comparison, the NBA allows each team to suit up 13 players a night. With 30 teams in the league, that’s 390 active players. But more than half of those players are seeing significant court time multiple days a week. UFC fighters fight, if they’re lucky, four to five times a year, and more like two or three times. Then there are the guys who go one or two and out. That, by necessity, requires most fans to tune a lot of these guys out.
2) The UFC compounds this problem by refusing to differentiate their fighters. Everyone is “well-rounded” or “ever-improving” or has “perfect” technique or whatever generic superlative du jour. In the previews preceding fights, no one ever loses. They have “struggles” and “setbacks.” This bland promotional strategy leads to guys blending into each other. What’s the difference between Sam Stout, Spencer Fisher, and Jeremy Stephens? Or Brian Foster, Mike Pierce, and Jake Ellenberger? Matt Wiman and Matt Grice? Going back a few years, Paul Taylor and Paul Kelly?
It’s less of a problem at heavyweight, light heavyweight, and women’s bantamweight, because they lack the volume of the smaller male weight classes. People don’t get lost in the shuffle. And, especially at heavyweight, the nature of the game forces differentials to surface. Cain Velasquez is the champ, he’s Mexican-American, and he’s an unrelenting wrestler. Roy Nelson is a fat, hillbilly looking guy with good jiu-jitsu and a power right. Stefan Struve is tall and lanky, but fights like he’s short and stubby.
It’s also easier for certain types of fighters. Rousimar Palhares (RIP) is the scary leglock guy. Scott Jorgensen has vitiligo. Clay Guida has big hair.
But going back to Spencer Fisher and Jeremy Stephens. I’ve been following MMA regularly for six or seven years now. I still get these two mixed up in my head. I, honest to god, couldn’t tell you which guy missed a fight because police arrested him on an assault warrant. I would probably have a better idea if I followed the sport prior to 2007. But I didn’t. And most other fans didn’t either. So, in my eyes, these are two white, middling lightweights (Fisher is 9-8 in the UFC, Stephens is 8-8) with similar enough skill sets who may or may not have beat the hell out of a guy in some Midwestern state.
So, what’s the solution? You could trim the roster a bit, though Dana White will tell you “the roster is too big” as justification for cutting Yushin Okami one day and that they “need guys to fill all their fight cards” the next.
More than anything, be more honest about your fighters. It tells a better story. If Germaine de Randamie sucks on the ground (she does), it’s OK to say she sucks on the ground. If Yoel Romero’s age is a factor in him becoming a title challenger, then tell us how he’s 36, how he only has 7 fights, that he lost his Strikeforce debut to Rafael Cavalcante two years ago (listening to the commentary, I would have thought he was undefeated), that he didn’t fight in all of 2012 (due to Strikeforce’s deterioration?), etc. If Rafael Natal is a big step down from Lyoto Machida, then tell us that Tim Kennedy has a much better chance of not getting punked in front of his fellow troops.
People like stories. Sports fans like stories. It’s why the Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin is a big deal. It’s why Derrick Rose sitting out a whole year was a big deal, why his comeback is a big deal. It’s why Tiger Woods has been a big deal his whole career: young phenom to greatest ever to “Will he catch Jack?” to sleeping with diner waitresses and taking clubs to the face to his comeback to “Maybe he won’t catch Jack?”
These stories need not be complex. Just give us some honest context.
-The Fort Campbell crowd was great. No booing during the action. Popped for all the high spots. It creates a better atmosphere on TV. The pacing on this show sucked, but that had to do with the telethon aspect of the thing, so I’ll give ‘em a pass. But it’s still an issue on most cards, because it sucks the energy out of the crowd. The UFC does very little in-between fights to keep the crowd entertained, and that can be a problem when you go 15 or 20 or 30 minutes in between fights.
-Kennedy tore his quadricep a week before the bout, which explains his performance. Right before the knockout I tweeted, “Roger Gracie would beat this Tim Kennedy.” Kennedy looked slow, plodding, tentative. Fortunately for him, a leaping hook caught Natal square and led to a pretty fun way to end the show.
-Liz Carmouche is women’s bantamweight’s version of Michael Bisping. I’ll let you figure that out.
-Yoel Romero looked more like he was sparring than fighting for much of his fight. Sometimes it’s important for an inexperienced fighter to maximize his or her cage time. He looks bricked up at 185, but I’m not still not sold on his ceiling.
-Here’s a great GIF of the Bobby Green-James Krause ending. We can’t tell where referee John McCarthy is standing, but McCarthy’s determination that Green threw a legal kick was quick and firm. That Krause embellished (whether it was a low blow or not, he popped off the mat when he realized McCarthy called the fight for Green) only hurts his case. I think the kick looked fine on replay, though I couldn’t fault McCarthy either way in the heat of the moment.
Mike Fagan is a weekly contributor to MMA Owl. He also hosts Untethered MMA every Thursday at 7 p.m. ET at FightFansRadio.com, also available as a podcast via iTunes.