There’s a lot going on in Los Angeles on any given Saturday night. Not only can you hit the club, you can do it in short sleeves-in late October. Maybe that’s why the Ultimate Fighting Championship has such trouble drawing fans here?
After avoiding the city for three years, the UFC was back in LA, trying to sell the nation’s second largest media market a subpar fight card. Los Angeles wants the best and pushed back. Why were they getting a second rate main event featuring two Brazilians, one with a penchant for running all night long and sipping urine and another with a penchant for getting beaten up by aging UFC legends like Mark Coleman? To make things worse, the semi main event “starred” a fighter (the overweight Ben Rothwell, who did nothing beyond getting punched in the face 100 times) who had never even made an appearance in the UFC.
Needless to say, there were thousands of tickets left unpurchased. Even with UFC President Dana White giving them away as quickly as he could lay his hands on them, many of the patrons at the hideous Staples Center must have been dressed as empty chairs. It was fortunate for the fans who opted to stay home, because the best moments that night occurred outside the cage.
Thousands of Michael Jackson fanatics were herded and carefully coached, trying to break Mexico City’s record for the most simultaneous dancers attempting to recreate Jackson’s legendary Thriller dance. As we waited for our media credentials the dance instructors could be heard blocks away, imparting a series of increasingly complicated commands.
“Left, Right, Turn, Pivot, Pivot, Turn.”
Those were instructions for the dancers, but they must have become tattooed in the brain of UFC Light Heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida. Machida danced through five rounds, seemingly to his own beat, apparently unaware at times that he was in a fight. The champion had much to live up to. The UFC had marketed him hard, finally finding a character that worked for the quiet Brazilian who still trained with his father and lived in the same town he grew up in, Belem, Brazil. The UFC press handlers made sure everyone knew that Machida was the least hit fighter in UFC history, turning a weakness into a strength, or at least gamely trying to.
Most fans who come to see a cage fight, strangely enough, come to see people get hit. Selling a fighter based on his ability to avoid the kind of slugfest fans have come to rely on is a hard sell indeed. Wrapping Machida’s innate caution in Eastern mysticism worked to a point. Commercials prior to the show shamelessly aped The Karate Kid, to the point that I was eagerly awaiting some kind of digitally created interaction between Machida and the late Pat “Mr. Miyagi” Morita.
Somehow, no one remembered to tell Mauricio “Shogun” Rua that Machida was not to be touched. In a carefully controlled and masterful performance, Rua (who got dap from his inebriated former rival Mark Coleman before the fight) kicked Machida’s legs and ribs until they were red, swollen, and a little gross. Ringside celebrities like the Black Eyed Peas will.i.am and Janet Jackson watched behind dark glasses, occasionally looking up from their phones long enough to notice they were, perhaps, watching history unfold. There was about to be a new champion crowned. And then it happened.
Three judges, perhaps still reeling from referee Steve Mazzagatti’s unfortunate early stoppage in the co-main event (“He doesn’t deserve to watch one of our fights, let alone referee it,” White said about the embattled ref after the show) somehow saw a different fight than everyone else on the planet. The scores came back, unanimously, for Machida. As the crowd booed, in the end denied the title change that might have made the sting of sitting through a largely dull evening of fights a little less sharp, Machida awkwardly tried to explain his thoughts on being given such a large gift.
Hilariously manager Ed Soares translated the champion’s remarks, even the ones made in English. As we all suspected, the translation did not match the champion’s words, leaving open the question of what these foreign fighters are actually saying during press conferences and interviews. The crowd continued to let its unhappiness spill out, the boos perhaps offering a cathartic relief and preventing hundreds of fist fights later that evening. Ringside Coleman shot the bird to no one in particular, perhaps to an unfair world, and attempted to console Rua.
Post fight everyone agreed that Rua had won the fight, and White was sure fans needed an immediate rematch. The 16,000 people booing in the arena, and a lukewarm response to the fight on the internet, might indicate that fans were asking for anything but another Rua-Machida fight. White gamely pressed forward.
By now the entire spectacle has been long forgotten. A carefully timed announcement that UFC megastar Brock Lesnar would not be fighting in Vegas at UFC 106 next month has pushed this story right out of the news cycle. But there are 16,000 people in Los Angleles who will remember the night they saw the title change that never was.
Joe Stevenson continues to dismantle any and all competition. He’s like a scrappy ACC basketball team running through the Big South conference, but struggling when he has to face North Carolina or Duke. After six months with Greg Jackson, Stevenson is a different fighter, throwing some kicks and mixing his standup and ground and pound attack nicely. Jackson’s is the perfect team for the affable Stevenson. “Some friends will lie for you,” Stevenson said about his new team. “These are the kind of friends that will help you bury bodies.”
Cain Velasquez simply wrecked Ben Rothwell in the semi-main event. Any doubts that Cain is a real contender were quickly erased. Rothwell is an outstanding veteran fighter, but Velasquez tossed him around like he was a training dummy. Rothwell was hard pressed to do anything at all in the fight, and while the stoppage by the increasingly controversial Mazzagatti was early, it didn’t change the obvious final result and likely saved Rothwell some brain trauma. The soft-spoken Velasquez told us he was ready for the winner of the now-postponed Carwin-Lesnar match. He’s ready and deserving of the next title shot.
The UFC’s next show will be free on SPIKE TV. It’s actually a better card than this one was, featuring and intriguing matchup between Randy Couture and once promising prospect Brandon Vera in the main event. Vera’s training partner, WEC star Dominic Cruz was hanging out over the weekend and said Vera was looking better than ever. His faster hands and more polished standup will be the difference in the fight Cruz says, an assessment I’ll sign on to.