The UFC has officially completed their return to competition and, wow, did they deliver. Man, we saw some amazing moments in the octagon this week. Add in the extensive safety measures of a global pandemic, subtract the crowd and multiply it by 3 events for what formulated to be a great success for MMA in the mainstream media. Here are 5 takeaways from a pandemic week in a sport with no social distancing capabilities.
- Francis Ngannou – The soft spoken, hard hitting heavyweight crushed Jairzinho Rozenstruik with a blitz of brute force that one usually only sees in a comic book. It wasn’t pretty from a technical standpoint but it was terrifying from a blunt force trauma perspective, and at heavyweight, I think that’s almost more important. Since the fight, we have gotten to view some trash talk between Francis and Bones…we’ll wait to see if it comes true. However, I’m not sure if Rozenstruik is awake at yet.
- Cejudo Retires – In a rather unexpected move, Triple C announced his retirement after a drubbing yet controversial finish of former champ Dominick Cruz. It appears as though Cejudo found a girlfriend and decided to close the chapter on his fighting career. The response of his announcement in the empty arena was eerily similar to the response from the rest of the world in the aftermath – crickets. In fact, there was way more buzz created by the Keith Peterson Twitter banter with Dominick Cruz than there was about the retirement of Captain Cringe.
- When Is Enough Enough? – The headlining bout between Anthony Smith and Glover Teixeira was signed under the anticipation of a war, with both athletes capable of dishing out as much as they could take in terms of punishment. Round 1 went to Smith, with flyweight output in a light-heavyweight bout. But that kind of pace is reserved for smaller bodies for a reason…it’s exhausting. Once fatigue took over, Glover began to pummel his opponent for so long, he literally apologized to Smith for beating him up so badly. Anthony picked his teeth up and handed them to the ref mid-fight. His mouth was rearranged so badly that his mouthpiece wouldn’t fit any longer, and yet the ref allowed the fight to continue. Toughness is not a question when a man decides to fight for a living…but some precautions must be made in terms of fighter safety and career longevity.
- Justin Gaethje vs Tony Ferguson – Holy smokes, the Homer Simpson of MMA sure did show out against El Cucuy as the main event of 249. For anyone that didn’t see this fight yet, go apologize to your parents for not better understanding priorities. Gaethje broke through as a real threat to Khabib. Ferguson showed us that he’s too tough for his own good. Both fighters kept it standing out of fear of the, uh, virus…right, Stephen A. Smith? What we got was a fight worth waiting for through this global crisis. Crowd or no crowd, these warriors fought bell to bell because that’s who they are.
- Empty Arenas…Are Kinda Cool – Nearly every competitor I spoke to this weekend liked the feel of the empty arena. We got to see pure MMA, without crowd influences on boring stand ups or timid exchanges. We got relaxed athletes in a near-sparring type environment that got to perform at their best with minimal nerves. We got to hear coaches advice and the pop of a solid shot. We got the real moments of mid-fight conversations between combatants. This was good for the sport, in its purest form. Empty arenas seemed to create the perfect environment for optimal performances.
So I could go on and on about other thoughts from the weekend. We could touch on inconsistent judging or the Walt Harris and Alistair Overeem battle. We could talk about OSP jumping up in weight for an odd but entertaining bout with Ben Rothwell or the blood bath that was Landwehr vs Elkins. We could discuss young fighters like Bryce Mitchell and Kevin Holland in their career-best performances. But when we look back at the past 3 events from an aerial view, this is what stands out to me.