The dust is still settling on UFC Fight Night 41, the first ever UFC event to be held on New Mexico soil and in its wake, the after effects of the monumental event will start revealing themselves. Dozens of storylines will come out from this weekend and while most of them have been covered by national media, the UFC’s arrival in Albuquerque, New Mexico left a lot more to reflect on than just what went down inside the Octagon on Saturday Night.
I know that most of my opinions will not be popular to the hardcore fans of New Mexico combat sports and that is okay because it would not be the first time I stray from conventional thinking but something needs to be said of the poor marketing and advertisement of the event. The UFC did not sellout Tingley Coliseum and it didn’t appear as if they even got close despite the best efforts of the local UFC fighters who came out late in the week to use social media to encourage fans to buy tickets. Saturday morning, early on the day of the event, Ticketmaster appeared to have at least 1,200 tickets unsold and at the UFC “Meet and Greets”, dozens of pairs of tickets were being freely handed out. It is hard to argue that it was a disappointing turnout and several reasons can be brought out to formulate the reason for that result.
The pre sale of the UFC tickets should be considered a mess. The fiasco behind the purchasing of pre sale tickets definitely affected the buzz for countless people leading up to the event. I chose early on to skip attempting to attend the show as media and instead elected to purchase tickets to enjoy my first UFC event in New Mexico. What ended up happening was that I joined at least several dozen people who would buy into the promise that if I buy tickets pre sale from a local gym, that I would get a great deal on ticket prices and great seats. What ended up happening is that I wasn’t charged for several weeks, the tickets I received were not any better than what I could have bought just two days after pre sale and like many others, promises that were made during the process were not kept. Fortunately for me, I did not experience the bank issues that several others had to deal with. The UFC offered me and countless others the opportunity for refund and I would be inclined to believe dozens of people accepted that offer.
The marketing of the event was undoubtedly questionable and before I get into that let me put some context into this argument. MMA fans are broken into “casual” and “hardcore” fans. The casual fan base represents easily 90% of the fan base while the hardcores make up for the remaining 10%. The casuals can be described as the true “fans”, the people who collect memorabilia and seek out autographs, follow very little online and really make a vacation out of attending big time events. The hardcore fan base is made up by people who read this site and many other sites on a regular basis, they know all the back stories of the fighters and involve themselves emotionally into the fight scene. The hardcore fans are often people who train at a local gym, know the fighters, are part of the fighter’s groups of friends and family or like me, have been part of the fight community in some capacity over an extended period of time.
Of all the casual fans that I know, not many knew much about the event other than the date and venue. Many of those weren’t thrilled with going to Tingley, a venue that many consider to be “outdated”. There wasn’t a lot of buzz until the end of the week and the turnout really reflected that. The Santa Ana Star Center would have undoubtedly been sold out and may have moved more people to want to make a weekend out of the UFC experience. While Tingley definitely delivered an eccentric feel once the main card started, it couldn’t have been the result all parties involved wanted with so many seats unfilled.
Another reason that I believe led to not selling Tingley completely out was the headlining act wasn’t really a local fighter and did not bring a marginal fan base with him. I heard several fans in the arena scream out for “Khabib” instead of “Rustam” which is troubling to think about being that Rustam Khabilov trains in Albuquerque while Khabib Nurmagomedov, another lightweight contender from Dagestan trains out of American Kickboxing Academy.
While Carlos Condit was unavailable due to injury, Albuquerque would have benefitted tremendously from Condit, Holly Holm or even Damacio Page being highlighted on a UFC event in Albuquerque. In this same long-winded breathe it is worth mentioning that the Tuff’N’Uff show in Las Vegas, Nevada that only features amateur fighters was able to put over fourteen thousand (14,000!!!) in the seats of the Thomas & Mack Center on the same night of the free UFC card in Albuquerque shown on Fox Sports 1. Albuquerque’s UFC event sold about 8,800 tickets in a venue that was seated to hold around 10,000.
Senior Director of Public Relations for the UFC, Dave Sholler apparently told the media in attendance post-fight that the UFC would be returning to Albuquerque. I believe that to be a typical cliché response to give people of the city that his brand is currently residing within. There was a zero chance that he would say “The UFC definitely isn’t coming back here” and I would definitely argue that Albuquerque will be a tough sell for a second show. Even Bellator MMA, who had a strong showing in February of 2013 has moved on from shows in Albuquerque despite three shows in 2013.
I hope I am wrong on this one but in a realistic outlook, money speaks volumes and from what has been reported, an event featuring Conor McGregor vs. Diego Brandao in Dublin, Ireland sold out in two hours. That was the turnout that we needed from the New Mexico fan base.
- The big story coming out of Saturday Night is the blatant hometown decision that awarded Diego Sanchez a victory over Ross Pearson. While the Sanchez fans will be in up in arms about it, there is no justifiable way that anyone can logically argue for two rounds to be awarded to Sanchez let alone three. It is a shame that Pearson lost because he put on a masterpiece of a defensive attack where his head movement and footwork prevented Sanchez from ever landing anything truly significant in any exchange over the course of 15-minutes,
- The judge, Jeff Collins who handed in the 30-27 score for Sanchez definitely needs to be sent to more judging training. Sanchez was knocked down and beat up in the second round and as many journalists online have stated, it may be the worst scorecard ever turned in by a judge in UFC and major MMA history. As Kenny Florian tweeted “A 30-27 for Diego Sanchez? Those judges should be ashamed.”
- Collins has at least 30 MMA fights to his resume as a Judge and this is his first really bad card. Collins scored a close fight between Josh Koscheck and Mike Pierce in favor of Koscheck in a fight many felt Pierce won. He was also the lone judge to score the fight for Gleison Tibau against Evan Dunham that resulted in a split decision. Those fights were within reason to argue so this was his first documented bad scorecard.
- This isn’t the first time Sanchez was awarded a controversial decision. Many seem to forget that Sanchez has several of note on his record and some blame of the robbery could be shouldered by Pearson and his team. Pearson needed to hone in on better fighter IQ and understand he needed to be more offensive in his output being that he was in the backyard of Sanchez and that Sanchez has won more rounds than not by swinging away without accurately landing significant strikes. Much like his teammate Leonard Garcia, the fighting style seems to sway judges to believe that throwing without accuracy incorrectly means that they are “dictating the pace”.
- Many fans have come out in protest that nothing will be done about the outcome citing that it happens and commissions do not overturn decisions. This is one of many reasons why MMA is not mainstream and why we will not see MMA in the Olympics for decades. Decisions like this have long term effects on people’s lives and career; for Pearson the loss is catastrophic and the money he was robbed of could be life altering. For those of us who sit comfy in desk jobs, imagine if your boss made a horrible decision on your evaluation and now instead of a raise in salary you are facing a demotion. This is alarming that more people aren’t pushing for change in the wake of this fight or any other robbery in the past. This will go down as one of the worst decisions in history with Michael Bisping/Matt Hamill, Leonard Garcia/Korean Zombie (and Nam Phan), Phil Davis/Lyoto Machida, Mike Easton/Chase Beebe, and Diego Sanchez/Martin Kampmann.
- Regardless, Sanchez winning in his backyard generated a very loud crowd and while the fight is rightfully considered a “robbery”, the fans in attendance definitely loved watching Sanchez get the win. The crowd erupted for Diego and it was definitely one of those moments to give you goosebumps when you realize that Sanchez is the pioneer of MMA in New Mexico. While many arguments can be made to dispute that, Sanchez appearing on TUF 1 and becoming the first ever winner of “The Ultimate Fighter” put Albuquerque on the MMA map.
- Jackson’s MMA went 2-2 on the night and had it not been for the incompetence of two judges, they would have been 1-3. But that isn’t all that surprising as three of four fights featuring Jackson’s MMA fighters had the hometown gym representative the underdog in most betting lines. Sanchez was the lone underdog to win, and Dodson, the only favorite was also able to gain victory in his hometown.
- Speaking of Dodson, he earned validation in Albuquerque on Saturday night. He had already beat John Moraga years ago and he had already cemented himself as the Flyweight division’s number one contender but a loss on Saturday night would have been a huge setback. Dodson fought patient and methodical and in the second round, landed an absolute brutal knee to the nose of Moraga to complete a very thoroughly successful fight in his hometown.
- The doctor stoppage in that fight was definitely justified when watching the scene unfold but now we have learned from Moraga and his camp that in fact, Moraga did not suffer a broken nose and that the blood stopped flowing shortly after the fight was waved off. I don’t think there is controversy in the stoppage however, as Dodson crushed the face of Moraga and the doctor couldn’t have imagined the nose wasn’t damaged.
- Erik Perez is a highly touted prospect and at 24-years of age the loss to Bryan Caraway shouldn’t be one of significant damage to his career. When they talk about losses, they often talk of the lessons that can be learned and for Perez, it needs to be fighter IQ. Perez owned a significant advantage striking over Caraway and decided to take the fight to the mat where Caraway owns the ground advantage over many of the division’s fighters.
- The term “controversy” seems to be prevalent for this event and that was no different in this bout as it came out post-fight that Caraway fish-hooked Perez in his attempt to lock in the rear-naked choke. Perez’s coach Greg Jackson dismissed the foul by giving Caraway the benefit of the doubt and I respect Jackson for that. Even if Caraway got away with the foul, Perez still got put on his back and still had Caraway earn back mount in each of the two rounds.
- Anyone who comes out to Salt ‘N’ Pepper “Push It” has my fandom so I wasn’t all that bummed when Caraway had his arm raised. I thought it was a classy move that he gave props to Ricky Lundell, who is a well-known coach in Albuquerque and works with Erik Perez and Caraway’s girlfriend, Meisha Tate.
- Caraway didn’t win the award of best walkout song however, despite beating out Moraga’s Bone Thugs N Harmony walkout, the winner for the night was Ross Pearson who came out to a classic from The Fugees, “Ready or Not”.
- Rustam Khabilov headlined the event as the featured New Mexico trained fighter and despite losing to top ranked Ben Henderson, definitely showed he belonged amongst the upper echelon of the Lightweight division. Khabilov arguably won three rounds on the former UFC/WEC Champion and at worst won one round and fought competitive for the duration of the four rounds. He was caught by Henderson in the fourth and it happens to the best fighters in the sport.
- Ben Henderson is arguably the most methodical fighter in MMA and can make his case for being the most cerebral and versatile fighter in the game. Even when Henderson seems to have flaws or shows signs of weakness, he adjusts extremely well and that is why he will always be one of the most successful fighters in MMA. Henderson joins Demetrious Johnson as the fighters in MMA with the highest Fighter IQ.
- Greg Jackson is the most recognizable coach in all of MMA and is notorious for giving fans memorable moments. He once told Georges St. Pierre “I don’t care! This is how champions are made! Fight on it and hit him with your groin!” in reference to a groin injury that GSP suffered during a Title Fight. This time around, it seemed as if Jackson talked in his best Russian accent with broken English included when talking to Khabilov between rounds. While it was an odd moment, it definitely shows Jackson’s connection to his fighters.
- Eye pokes marred the Edwards/Hallman fight and made the actual action regrettably forgetful. Hallman is a very good-sized 155er and his future in the division should be interesting to watch after a marquee win over a veteran like Edwards.
- The fight between Jason High and Rafael Dos Anjos was a good one that was yet again marred by controversy. High got some highlight reel slams in but Dos Anjos was able to land that power shot to put High down. The initial controversy started when the fight was stopped premature and also that Dos Anjos seemingly landed several shots to the back of the head in the finishing sequence. The controversy most discussed today was that High pushed the referee with some decent force and is now facing some serious consequences. Check out my colleagues post on the details here.
- The undercard was very forgettable for the most part but there were some highlights tossed in the handful of fights that went down before the Fox Sports 1 broadcast. One of those was a fight finish from Jon Tuck when he landed a heel kick to the body of Jake Lindsey while he had the back mount. I don’t think I have ever seen that before.
- Sergio Pettis was one of the fighters who received the loudest pops from the crowd but that same crowd turned on him quickly when his timidity in the striking game once again showed itself and Pettis and Meza failed to engage in any exciting of note. As much of a star brother Anthony Pettis is, I believe that most hold Sergio to too high of a standard. He is still very young and unpolished.
- Scott Jorgenson won a spirited fight against Danny Martinez in a bout that could have been scored either way. I think that FIT NHB’s Ray Borg and Jorgensen could be a “Fight of the Night” type fight should Borg get past Ryan Benoit later this month.
- The line of the night that I heard from inside the arena: “F*** them up Burque Diego, show them they are in the “505”!!”
- The event was solid, plenty of exciting moments that made for a memorable evening. The fight card lacked that high climax even though it seemed that as each fight passed, that moment was coming. Fight fans were definitely treated to high level action and Ben Henderson, who will go down for now as the biggest MMA star to ever fight in New Mexico.