Posted 12/17/2013 by Mike Fagan in Untethered MMA

UFC on Fox 9 Review

UFC on Fox 9 featured unappreciated greatness. In the main event, flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson knocked out number-one-contender Joseph Benavidez in just over two minutes. Behind him in the co-main, Urijah Faber beat up Michael “Mayday” McDonald before locking in a guillotine choke in a matchup for the right to fight the winner of the unification bout between Dominick Cruz and Renan Barao.

Johnson’s greatness is going unnoticed. Since moving down to flyweight, he’s competed on free TV five times. Those five cards have averaged 2.27 million viewers, and that number is anchored by the 4.4 million viewer average pulled in on Fox last January (a card the UFC promoted more for Quinton Jackson’s last UFC bout than the flyweight title main event). If we factor that out, Johnson’s four remaining TV appearances have averaged 1.74 million viewers. (He was, however, one of the few who benefited from Jon Jones’s “sport-killing” decision to refuse a fight with Chael Sonnen. Originally scheduled to headline with Benavidez, he instead co-headlined under Jones and Vitor Belfort, pushing what might have topped out at 250,000 PPV buys to 450,000.) The UFC has been smart to give away lighter weight title fights, which, outside of B.J. Penn, don’t draw money historically. Unfortunately, people still aren’t tuning in.

Johnson’s career – his UFC run in particular – has been remarkable. He earned himself a title shot at bantamweight, a weight class he fought in because the UFC didn’t offer anything lower. That he was talented enough to rattle off four straight wins against larger competition is impressive enough. That he was competitive with Cruz is even more so. (Johnson virtually matched Cruz in total strikes [his 145 to Cruz's 146], and he actually outlanded him in significant strikes 63-60.)

His flyweight reign has been exemplary. The only blemish on his record is a draw with Ian McCall in the opening round of the flyweight title tournament. Since then, five straight wins. Five straight wins over fighters currently ranked one through four as challengers for his belt.

On the other hand, people know Urijah Faber. He’s one of few lighter weight fighters to have any sort of crossover success, appearing in commercials for AMP, K-Swiss (alongside Danny “Kenny Powers” McBride), and Metro PCS. And he’s synonymous with California/Sacramento MMA, thanks to an apt nickname and Tupac entrance music.

But Urijah Faber has never won gold in the UFC. He probably never will. Dominick Cruz’s knee injury offered him his best shot, whether it came by beating a returning, rusty Cruz or picking up an interim title over someone else. Unfortunately, that “someone else” turned out to be Barao, who is currently a -250 favorite to beat a returning Cruz in February.

He hasn’t been without opportunity, either. After losing his WEC belt to Mike Brown in November 2008, Zuffa offered him four title shots in nine fights. Faber lost all four. It’s a black mark on his record that looks even blacker if you believe Zuffa was doing in its power to wrap gold around a marketable waist.

Faber’s only lost six times in 36 pro fights, and outside of an early-career loss to Tyson Griffin (who had a good UFC lightweight run), all those losses have come to current/former UFC/WEC title holders. He’s beaten former champ Brian Bowles, current number ten Scott Jorgensen, current number nine Takeya Mizugaki, current number five Eddie Wineland, current number four Raphael Assuncao (at featherweight), and current number two McDonald. He could probably step back up and be a favorite against anyone outside the top four at featherweight, too.

Johnson and Faber are being overlooked, if for different reasons. Johnson’s the king of a weight class that fans (and the UFC, if we study their usage patterns) don’t care about. Faber’s a victim of circumstance, reigning as champion of a developing division in a proxy organization before ending up as second- or third-best in the big league.

-So after the collective ball-washing the media gave Duane Ludwig, his fighters went 2-2 on the show, and only one (Faber) looked terribly impressive. Chad Mendes started very strong, almost finishing Nik Lentz early in round one before taking his foot off the gas for the rest of the fight. He still wound up taking a unanimous decision, but he looked tired and tentative the majority of the fight. On the flip side, Danny Castillo beat up Edson Barboza in round one then let the win slip away in the latter rounds. Oh, and that whole Demetrious Johnson bricking Joseph Benavidez thing.

Streaks happen in MMA. Randy Couture looked like the best fight prognosticator in the world back in the spring of 2007. The UFC looked like they’d average at least one million-buy PPV each year between 2006 and 2009. Matt Brown looks like a credible fighter again! These things come and go. Ludwig’s probably had a net-positive effect on the Team Alpha Male boys, but it’s unrealistic to expect the trend to continue indefinitely.

-Mac Danzig continues to fight at 155 pounds, for some reason. His UFC record now falls to 5-8, with only one of those five wins coming over an active UFC fighter (Mark Bocek back in 2008). He’s small for the weight class. According to Reed Kuhn’s work at Fightnomics, Danzig’s height (68”) and reach (70”) would make him an average-sized featherweight. (That work is also from 2011, Danzig might be just under the featherweight average at this point.) It’s amazing the UFC’s given him this much rope so far, but it’s hard to imagine the company keeps him around without a change in weight.

-For the second event in a row, judges bumble the scoring system. After Ryan Bader fell short about five 10-8 rounds short in Australia, Danny Castillo earned just a single 10-8 for a completely dominated first round against Edson Barboza. That said, it cost him a draw and not a win, though I was also in the minority who scored the second round 10-8 for Barboza, making Castillo’s round one moot.

Mike Fagan is a weekly contributor to MMA Owl. He also hosts Untethered MMA every Thursday at 7 p.m. ET. Follow him on Twitter.  


Mike Fagan