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We endured the worst Ultimate Fighting Championship offering of 2019 a week ago, but fans still had high hopes for UFC Fight Night 147 and its ability to deliver. When I say “high hopes,” I think most people are primarily concerned with just getting entertaining fights, but we saw some notable action every which way possible, some of it illegal and some of it that did not even happen in the cage.
I think it’s safe to assume that if you’re reading this, you belong to the sort of folk that enjoy Jorge Masvidal. I mean, there’s a reason he was put in a UFC headliner, even though he was coming off of back-to-back losses; kudos to the promotion for simply realizing that “Gamebred,” until the day he retires, is going to be an eternal fan favorite. However, Masvidal took it old school on Saturday in London. This isn’t the tournament era of MMA, but he still found a way to go 2-0 in a single afternoon.
There’s a ton to unpack from this card, to say the bare minimum. Let’s just try to sort things out, regardless of how suddenly hyped you might be for a Masvidal-Leon Edwards fight after UFC Fight Night 147:
The Miami Hustle Goes Transatlantic
What else can you say for Masvidal’s week? He showed up in London with beautiful tresses, bringing back his old school hair from the days of clobbering unfortunate souls in street fights, dressed like some kind of marina-living villain out of a movie, and then promptly destroyed Darren Till. It was trademark “Gamebred,” to boot. Till soundly won the opening round and landed rangy left hands, but anyone who has seen Masvidal fight quickly got a creeping suspicion that something else was around the corner.
In barely eight minutes, you saw the beautiful and frustrating nature of Masvidal. He repeatedly looked for takedowns, tried to flex his grappling on Till and carelessly ate punches, yet somehow, the minute the fight started, there was this strange metaphysical sense that he wasn’t going to cough up this one on the cards. One harsh right hand followed by a devastating left snapped Till’s head back like he was in a car accident. Keeping perfect punching posture while charging forward, Masvidal drilled his unconscious counterpart three times in combination before he even hit the mat. Oh, and the time of the bout? Three minutes, five seconds into Round 2. That’s 305, baby. That’s Miami, Dade County, Florida. It doesn’t always come together, but when Masvidal manages to do his thing, it’s poetry in motion on multiple levels.
What comes next? Well, in a general sense, Masvidal is what he is. We appreciate him for being a fantastic, stylish offensive fighter who has effortless charisma and just oozes swagger, but we know that fighters that take the right tactical approach can get the better of him with the judges. That’s part of the cognitive dissonance in this case. We all know he was put in a main event for an entertaining affair, yet this is his first win in over two years. Having said that, I think post-fight proceedings have firmed up things a little bit. First things first, though.
‘Rocky’ is Here
I posited in my Parlaying and Praying column that Edwards was the most unsung talent on UFC roster, along with Gregor Gillespie. Well, Gillespie might be 13-0, but he does not have a fight lined up. Meanwhile, the Brummie just found a way to get into the spotlight.
In fairness, it was an uneven performance of sorts for Edwards. Gunnar Nelson pressed him immediately, taking him down and bullying him against the fence, but “Rocky” managed to deftly fight back to his feet, take the Icelander down and surprise him with his own grappling prowess. In traditional form, once Edwards got a sense of Nelson’s timing and tactics, he took over the fight, dominating the second round with his footwork, counters and especially making use of strikes off of clinch breaks, even dropping Nelson with an elbow and nearly finishing him in Round 2. With that said, Edwards seemed like he was confident that he was up 20-18 on the scorecards, became listless in the final frame and appeared content to just cruise, which is never a good look. Nevertheless, despite the efforts of dissenting judge Howard Hughes, the split verdict came in the right way and Edwards got his hand raised.
“Rocky” is now 9-2 in the UFC, with seven straight wins, and frankly, he should probably be 10-1, as he was jobbed by the judges in his promotional debut against Claudio Henrique da Silva. The only man to legitimately beat Edwards inside the Octagon? Newly minted welterweight champion Kamaru Usman -- hardly a slight. Edwards has put in consistent work over the last four years and change, and he should be moving up in the world. Ironically, Edwards sabotaged his own chances to get a highly ranked contender next time out.
Who Shot First, Han or Greedo?
Is this a brawl or an altercation? What’s the label we put on this? These sorts of words when used to describe unsportsmanlike situations in MMA are either intellectually lazy or pure online clickbait. I’m not condoning getting into backstage fistfights, but we’re talking about people who fight in a cage for a living, and sometimes, situations can get tense and sentiments can run high. However, Edwards is a crafty, clever sort of fighter, so when he started shouting at Masvidal, who was in the middle of a post-fight interview, what did he think would happen? This guy didn’t get famous first and foremost because he was an MMA fighter; he got famous for street fighting. When Edwards put up his dukes in Masivdal’s face, what outcome do you expect? Who has the big cut under his eye now?
Jokes aside, even if Edwards maybe got a little more than he bargained for and, at least in the minds of MMA fans, will have to take an L, this was calculated. I think he got caught up in the moment and misread, not necessarily the situation but at least the man with whom he was dealing. Regardless, the scheme worked even better than he could have imagined. Edwards might be on a seven-fight winning streak, but going back to Usman and his arduous trudge toward a UFC title shot -- maybe even an unsympathetic figure like Colby Covington and his interim title silliness -- we know that just being a brave soldier, just going out and winning your fights while hoping to be rewarded, seldom works.
Barring some injury or promotional foolishness, we have a hot dispute to settle in the cage, which perfectly pairs a hardcore fan favorite with a fantastic fighter who deserves more shine. Sure, it would be nice if it happened in a more gentlemanly sort of way, but this is the era of the UFC actively instructing fighters to win fights and call out future opponents. This is the future the company built, and while incidents like Masvidal-Edwards may push the boundaries of good taste, again, prizefighting promotion isn’t always built on being socially savory. In response to Masvidal, Edwards said, “Now you’re f---ed.” Well, let’s settle things in the cage.
Diakiese Not Dead
I don’t relish the fact that Joseph Duffy lost at UFC Fight Night 147. It was the Irishman’s first fight in a year and a half, and he’s now 2-3 over his last five bouts. He’s always entertaining to watch and, in my own encounters, a generally likeable dude. Nonetheless, there’s a pleasure in seeing Marc Diakiese get the job done in the biggest win and most crucial spot of his career.
When Diakiese came up through the British Association of Mixed Martial Arts, he was knocking out opponents in 30 seconds flat as a matter of routine. He was signed to the UFC and his first three wins inside the Octagon made him look like a future star on performance alone, never mind the always valuable fact that he’s a Brit. More than that, he also showed a keenness toward personal branding and social equality, posing for a photo spread for Gay Times. As a promoter, you couldn’t be more thrilled with what you had on your hands. Then, the cruel nature of this sport struck. Diakiese dropped three consecutive bouts over two years. His clash with Duffy was an absolute must-win scenario for Diakiese, who gave himself a sensational present on his 26th birthday.
Now, this isn’t to act as if the “Bonecrusher” is all of a sudden going to go on some massive winning streak and grab the UFC title. However, what is spiriting about his performance isn’t simply that he got his hand raised but that he got back to his bread and butter. After his first career loss to Drakkar Klose, Diakiese seemed to just retreat within himself. In the losses to Dan Hooker and Nasrat Haqparast, he seemed conservative to the point of paralysis in the cage, always feinting but never pulling the trigger, constantly putting himself on the defensive rather than showing the offensive flair that bought him to prominence. Against Duffy, he worked an incredibly diligent but active game. He was rock-solid using his leg kicks to maintain distance but also wasn’t scared to engage in the grappling department. He swept all three rounds, he knocked Duffy down, he outstruck him fourfold; he took him to the mat three times. I’m not sure what comes next for Diakiese and it’s entirely possible that he never lives up to the potential people saw in him during his rise, but if nothing else, when charismatic and entertaining fighters can overcome competitive dilemmas and up their game, that’s always a good thing.
No Fence Riding (or Grabbing), Please
Nicolae Negumereanu, late replacement or not, may have gotten totally whipped in London, but incredibly, he was not even the biggest loser in his lopsided fight against Saparbek Safarov. No, that distinction belongs to referee Leon Roberts.
Now, I think based on the beatdown that ensued, Safarov’s superior wrestling and Negumereanu going for leglocks repeatedly while getting smashed in the face, it’s fair to say that the Dagestan native is the superior fighter. Does that mean he “deserved” to win? In the first two rounds, Safarov’s repeated fence grabs were legitimately shocking. It’s one thing when a fighter cinches his fingers in the fence for a minute; sure, it’s unnerving, but grabbing the cage is typically regarded as MMA’s most forgivable blatant foul. However, there’s only so many times you can go to back to that well, and Safarov did it over and over and over again. Confusingly, Roberts missed the first half dozen fence grabs, then warned Safarov for the next half dozen of them, before finally taking a point as Safarov smashed on Negumereanu from above.
We’ve all had bad days on the job, and as I’ve expressed, in my opinion no official in sports has it tougher than an MMA referee. Roberts, to my mind, is one of the best referees in this entire sport, but that’s also what makes this situation so confusing and frustrating. We’re not talking about the third person in the cage having a bad angle and missing a grab or two. No, Roberts seemed temporarily blind initially, as Safarov wantonly locked his digits into the fence. Roberts warned him repeatedly as he continued to do so before taking a long overdue point. Then Safarov went right back to grabbing the cage in Round 2 and wasn’t given any further meaningful reprimand.
For Roberts, this is was an aberrant instance of poor judgment, and Safarov, with or without flagrant cheating, proved to be a better fighter. Nonetheless, I think this raises an interesting question about how we view penalizing fouls in general. Fundamentally, certain fouls are viewed in a different light: an intentional soccer kick to a downed opponent is not going to be forgiven by fans the way that a fence grab is. However, it’s still an infraction and needs to be policed. If you knee a downed fighter in the head twice, even inadvertently, you’re probably about to lose a disqualification. What’s the conversion rate for fence grabbing? How many is too many, even if they aren’t necessarily impacting the overall outcome of the fight? When we treat some rules as negligible in comparison to others, it only furthers and reinforces one of MMA’s most uncomfortable truth, that cheating prospers 99 percent of the time.