The UFC made their debut on the ESPN platform last night from Brooklyn, New York with a card filled of entertaining fights and there were finishes aplenty. Whether it was Donald Cerrone’s performance and war against Alexander Hernandez, Henry Cejudo’s win or the controversy in the co-main event, the card had it all. However, in the lead up to the card the UFC made two questionable decisions that both came back to bite them on Saturday night.
When it was first announced that former NFL player Greg Hardy was signed to fight on Dana White’s Contender Series with the long term view of grooming him to eventually be able to step up to the main roster, disgruntled fans and media members made their feelings known. Hardy was expelled from the NFL under a dark cloud when he was convicted of domestic violence and many didn’t believe he deserved the chance to compete in the world’s leading MMA promotion.
Personally, I didn’t mind the UFC’s decision to bring him into the Contender Series as we have heard so many stories about how MMA has turned people’s lives around by giving them the discipline and structure that they need. The majority of people deserve a second chance in life and I was willing to give Hardy the benefit of the doubt to see if he could be another of those stories. However, bringing him onto the full UFC roster at this early stage, allowing him to compete on a landmark card such as this one and even giving him the opportunity to co-headline the show were decisions I was absolutely not in favour of. The UFC were clearly hoping that the controversy surrounding Hardy would cause discussion from sports media and fans and as a result, draw more eyeballs to this card.
In the second round of his fight against Allen Crowder, Hardy struck his opponent with a blatantly illegal strike when Crowder still had one knee firmly on the ground. Crowder has deemed unable to continue due to the knee to the head and was consequently awarded a disqualification victory. I don’t think this was intentional from Hardy and was simply a case of him being inexperienced and not having been in similar situations before. However, general sports fans who don’t know an awful lot about MMA may have tuned in last night intrigued to see how Hardy performed. Those fans, alongside others who may simply have read internet headlines after the fight, will now have the impression that Hardy deliberately cheated which he will also get backlash from. No matter what your opinions on him are, that isn’t fair.
If the UFC had allowed Hardy to gradually build up experience on the regional scene until he had more than a handful of professional fights, the foul more than likely would not have happened. Hardy is a rookie in the game and rookies will make rookie mistakes. As it all too common in the promotion today, prospects are pushed too quickly in the hope of getting big matchups and paydays straight away which isn’t good for fighter development. If Saturday’s incident had happened on the regional scene, the amount of people watching would have been greatly reduced and this wouldn’t have been anywhere near as big of a story as it is now. Hardy could have learnt from it, disappeared back to the gym and not made the mistake again in the future when building his record some more. Due to the significance of the card, the co-headlining status and the amount of eyeballs watching, Hardy now has an even harder road to redemption than before which was unthinkable before the event.
Another questionable decision that the UFC made in the lead up to this card was the choice to book a champion v champion fight with the aim of closing the flyweight division after the bouts conclusion. Although it was never made official, is has been widely known that the promotion has been looking for an excuse to get rid of the division for the last year or so. By making this super fight, they hoped that TJ Dillashaw would move down, take out the flyweight champion before moving back up to bantamweight so they could swiftly move the division aside. If Dana White planned on keeping the division around he would have said before now rather than continuously delaying comment on its status. In reality, this plan totally backfired.
Cejudo came out aggressively from the bell and clipped Dillashaw behind the ear before landing punch after punch until referee Kevin MacDonald had seen enough after 32 seconds. The stoppage has caused much controversy with many people believing that the bout was stopped prematurely but I’m ok with the referee’s decision. Could the fight have been allowed to play out a little longer? Yes, but Dillashaw had been dropped twice, continued to take unanswered shots and was wobbly getting back to his feet after the fights conclusion.
The UFC now find themselves in the scenario where Cejudo is still the flyweight champion so they can’t just ditch the division with a title holder still in place. Dillashaw can’t move back up to the bantamweight division now and continue putting his belt on the line as though nothing has happened. He can’t credibly go back to defending his title after just being demolished by a flyweight in less than a minute. He has 2 options. 1) Try to convince the UFC to give him a rematch at flyweight to redeem himself or 2) Defend his bantamweight title against Cejudo to regain credibility as the bantamweight champion. Scenario 1 would allow the UFC a second crack at trying to follow through with their original plan if Dillashaw was successful in a rematch whereas scenario 2 will leave a flyweight champion around for a little longer which the UFC won’t have wanted. Both scenarios mean a rematch will need to take place which will continue to stagnate the bantamweight division which has only seen 4 men fight for the belt in the last 3 years.
This will all cause the UFC headaches that they really won’t have wanted but are a consequence of making all of these champion v champion fights that have quickly lost their appeal due to being used so frequently over the past few months. There was so much good that happened inside the octagon on Saturday night but due to the UFC’s matchmaking decisions and apparent desire to get rid of the flyweight division, a spanner has been thrown into the works. Executives will be heading back to the office on Monday morning wondering how on earth they can find a way to get rid of the flyweight division now.