The UFC ended its twelfth season of The Ultimate Fighter last night at the Palms in Las Vegas, Nevada. The card was a fairly exciting night of lengthy bouts, most of which delivered for the entire 15 minutes. The card also featured the reemergence of two of MMA’s most heated issues. The first was the rhino in the sports living room: poor judging. The judges assigned by the NSAC were so horribly unqualified that it was borderline felonious. One decision was so ridiculous that in the following bout Joe Rogan stated that one of the fighters had easily won the round but, “If these are the same judges from the last bout the winner may be a mouse over in the corner or the lady selling beer”.
The second was the vague and often pointless striking regulations in the unified rules which led to two point deductions and a warning during the co-main event which were either unavoidable and not the fault of the offender or served absolutely no point in terms of fighter safety. All in all, the TUF finale was a solid show marred only by the continued incompetence of the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC).
On the preliminary card, the UFC found the winners of both the Submission of the Night and Knockout of the Night. In a stunning 51 second flash KO via knee, Pablo Garza (10-1) made himself $30,000 richer in his unaired UFC debut against WEC veteran Fredson Paixao (10-4). The Submission of the Night honors went to TUF season 12 semi-finalists “The Deadliest Catch” Cody McKenzie (12-0) who finished fellow TUF 12 cast member Aaron Wilkinson (1-2) just two minutes into the fight with a modified Guillotine Choke that seemed to function as a vicious neck crank also. The fight was aired prior to the co-main event on the televised card and showed a vast amount of improvement on the part of McKenzie.
The first main card bout proved to be the battle no fans would want to miss. TUF 12 fighter Nam Phan (16-8) faced long time WEC featherweight division killer “Bad Boy” Leonard Garcia (15-6-1) in the UFC’s first ever 145lb. contest. The fight was a mostly one-sided beating that earned the men Fight of the Night Honors. Nam Phan showed the world just how good his karate based stand-up is as he consistently out-struck Garcia, landing two strikes for every one of Garcia’s and clearly controlling the fight for all three rounds. Phan was shocked to hear the judges award Garcia the Split Decision victory in one of the most universally condemned decisions of the modern MMA era. The call by the judges elicited a chorus of boos from the crowd, a minute-and-a-half long rant by Joe Rogan about the incompetence of the NSAC, and a figurative mob of MMA fans and journalists complete with pitchforks and torches storming the home of one Keith Kizer. The bout was historic in many ways – a great fight, the debut of a division, and the culmination of all that is bad with MMA judging.
Rick Story (10-2) faced Johny Hendricks (9-1) next and continued his four-fight winning streak with a hard fought Unanimous Decision win. Story controlled the stand-up with crisp striking and clean combos and showed much improved wrestling to keep the former OSU four-time All-American wrestler from taking the fight to the mat. The next bout saw former middleweight title contender Demian Maia (13-2) continue to climb his way back to a title shot with a display of truly world class Jiu-Jitsu in his victory over “Da Spyder” Kendall Grove (12-8). Maia used his boxing to collapse the pocket against the lanky Grove and then used his inside position to control Grove for the entirety of the bout. While he was unable to finish Grove, Maia spent so much time on “Da Spyder”’s back that some suggested his nickname be “The Backpack”. When the final bell sounded Maia walked out with a Unanimous Decision win.
The co-main event featured a contest between the UFC’s ultimate light heavyweight gatekeeper “The American Psycho” Stephan Bonnar (13-7) and Igor Pokrajac (15-7), a member of the Cro Cop Squad looking to break into the UFC’s toughest division. The fight was a back-and-forth affair that saw the majority of its action in the clinch where Bonnar controlled the Croatian with knees, elbows, and a solid double collar tie. The second of MMA’s major issues reared its ugly head three times during the fight as well. Igor was deducted a point for illegally kneeing Bonnar in the head while grounded and was later warned for an up-kick to Bonnar’s head while grounded, and Bonnar was deducted a point for striking the back of the head. The issues came from two separate problems in MMA officiating: certain illegal strikes that serve to keep the action going and pose little to no risk of injury such as kneeing a grounded opponent in the head from the bottom, and penalizing a fighter for striking an illegal target when he only hits the illegal area due to a direct action of his opponent. When a fighter is punching and his opponent turns his head, there is no way for him to stop the strike before it connects with the now illegal target. This is the same kind of “Gaming the System” that sees fighters warned for illegal knees because an opponent in a bad position puts a finger on the mat so he is no longer “standing”. The referee needs to have authority to make judgment calls in such situations and the rules need to be amended to include exceptions when a fighter causes himself to be hit in illegal areas.
The main event was the fight for the three-year six figure UFC contract between Team GSP’s Michael Johnson (12-7) and Jonathan Brookins (12-2). As usual, Johnson used his athleticism and explosiveness to gain the upper hand by handily beating Brookins in the first stanza. Brookins weathered the storm but took a lot of damage in the first five minutes of the bout. While he showed much improved fighting abilities and greatly increased stamina from his days on the show, Johnson still began to gas early in the second round. From the second minute of the second round onward, the fight was all Brookins’. Johnson continued to expose big holes in Brookins’ stand-up game but no longer had the energy to stop the takedowns or escape the ground control of the superior grappler. The judges awarded Brookins a hard fought Unanimous Decision and Dana White awarded him the six figure contract.
Overall the UFC’s night was marred by the complete lack of intelligence, training, and competence from the NSAC’s officials. Even though every televised live fight went to a decision, there really wasn’t a boring fight on the card. The fans would have gotten more than their money’s worth had the night not been soured early by the robbery of Nam Phan. As a whole, the fans spent the majority of the evening crying for the decapitated head of Keith Kizer as opposed to watching the fights. Hopefully this night’s tragedy will serve as a wake up call to the powers that be. MMA promotions pack seats because of entertainment value and that value is killed by a night’s entertainment being ruined by incompetent officials. The commissions make their money off those ticket sales. Hopefully Mr. Kizer makes the connection there and realizes that when 90% of the fan base says there is a problem, there is indeed a problem that needs fixing.