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The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday touched down in Argentina for the first time with UFC Fight Night 140 in Buenos Aires. Two days prior, Bellator MMA returned to Israel with Bellator 209 in Tel Aviv. With them came some good, some bad and some ugly.
THE GOOD: BLUE LABEL WHERE EVERYBODY KNOWS YOUR NAME
Santiago Ponzinibbio made the best of his homecoming main event at UFC Fight Night 140. The Argentinian cemented his place in the welterweight division by destroying perennial Top-10 contender Neil Magny in an impressive display of strategy, power and endurance. Well-placed leg kicks robbed his opponent of mobility, setting up the fourth-round kill shot.
The “Gente Boa” has methodically picked apart his opposition and set himself apart from other notable names at 170 pounds who haven’t quite broken through to title contention. While wins over Gunnar Nelson and Mike Perry certainly carry cache, having a finish over a man who had gone 13-3 since 2014 and only lost to elite competition means so much more. Group Ponzinibbio alongside two-time title challenger Demian Maia, former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos and Bellator title contender Lorenz Larkin. That is exceptional company to keep as he makes his case for an opportunity to take the top spot in the welterweight division.
Putting forth this performance in the UFC’s debut event in Argentina only raises Ponzinibbio’s profile further. The UFC has always sought out stars to open up international markets. A crowd count rivaling other South American shows raucously cheering as its man makes his triumphant entrance into the upper echelon of the division just might be the boost he needs to emerge from a talented group seeking to dethrone Tyron Woodley.
Scotch puns aside, Johnny Walker’s performance on the main card was neat. In fact, his whole year has been top-shelf. UFC Fight Night 140 marked his fifth victory of 2018, with four of those wins coming by stoppage. Since making his way in front of the general audience with his August appearance on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, Walker has risen to the occasion as the level of competition has increased dramatically. Dispatching a UFC veteran like Henrique da Silva was a great way to introduce himself to the public.
Knocking out Khalil Rountree with ease in the opening frame puts an even bigger exclamation point next to his name. Just a few months ago, Rountree made a statement with his underdog knockout win over kickboxing legend Gokhan Saki. “The War Horse” quickly separated himself from the pack in a light heavyweight division lacking depth. Walker has essentially stolen his thunder and put the weight class on notice. Along with Dominick Reyes and Anthony Smith, Walker is a well-needed addition to a division that has been a constant state of turmoil for years.
THE BAD: LIVE FROM TEL AVIV
When Bellator announced its partnership with streaming service DAZN, the upsides were very clear. The company would not be stuck in the leftovers of confused branding that emerged from the ashes of Spike TV. Bellator would find itself positioned alongside other notable names in the combat sports world and could benefit from the cross promotion. Having a streaming option would also do away with the absurdity of tape delay -- or so we thought.
Bellator 209 aired on the traditional Paramount Network nearly a full day after it took place in Tel Aviv, Israel. However, DAZN did not make it available to stream until it was on Paramount’s airwaves. The practical reasons for a tape delay on a basic cable network are understandable to an extent. With dozens of other offerings, there’s a lot of shuffling necessary between the shows and respective advertisers to accommodate a niche product with declining ratings. On the other hand, a tape delay on a streaming service is inexcusable. Explain the point of on-demand programming on a nearly unrestricted Internet platform if the content isn’t available when it is most relevant and compelling? The fact that back-room deals or hidden clauses in the Paramount deal are likely responsible is laughably ironic. The relics of television’s past are desperately trying to hold back television’s future.
While it is unlikely a huge audience would have been tuning in live, there is a benefit to making the option available beyond the basic idea of live sports. Diehard fans have shown themselves to be more than willing to wake up at ungodly hours to watch MMA. Pride Fighting Championships, Dream and Sengoku enjoyed a committed fanbase that made a ritual out of sacrificing sleep and the civilized world to watch live.
What also makes this exceptionally bad is that Bellator effectively buried one of its best fighters in the mess. Patricio Freire won a unanimous decision against Emmanuel Sanchez in one of the more entertaining title fights of the year. By not making a live stream available, the pathways were open for spoilers to hit social media timelines. A crowded fight schedule, tape delay and the spoilers that come with it could be all that’s needed to send potential viewers somewhere else. Considering that both Invicta Fighting Championships and the Legacy Fighting Alliance had offerings that overlapped with the broadcast, fans were given plenty of reason to tune out the action in Israel.
THE UGLY: DEHYDRATE, RINSE, REPEAT
It’s an unfortunate trend that keeps repeating itself week in and week out. With every weekend filled with fights, some sort of mistakes or oversights have us questioning the institutions and culture of mixed martial arts. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that UFC Fight Night 140 had its fair share of blunders. There were two submissions that oddly required second sets of taps to get referee intervention. There was, once again, more painfully slow pacing and cornermen who allowed their fighter -- Magny -- to take unnecessary damage.
This time, we once again turn our attention to the dangers of cutting weight. Cynthia Calvillo had a rough time on the scale ahead of her bout against Poliana Botelho. Calvillo looked malnourished and drawn out at weigh-ins. She could barely stand up straight and needed assistance to stay put on the scale as her body noticeably shook in a failed effort to make the 116-pound limit for strawweights.
This is not a knock on Calvillo’s effort to make her contracted weight. Missing weight isn’t automatically an indictment on discipline or commitment in training, as many outside factors can affect the delicate science of weight cutting, especially when international travel is involved. Instead, this is yet another case where an institution that allows an athlete who is physically compromised to fight someone else a day later should be held accountable.
By fight time, Calvillo looked much closer to her normal self and pulled off a slick submission win over Botelho. While it would be easy to dismiss this incident as much ado about nothing, the results call everything into question even more. Botelho losing a fight against an overweight opponent will not do her any favors in her career aspirations, and the UFC has been notoriously forgetful when contracts are negotiated. Ending her five-fight winning streak just doesn’t seem worth it for the extra 20 percent of Calvillo’s purse.
The possible outcomes are all negative. Fighters who are unable to make weight and are clearly not in good health in those efforts still answer the opening bell. The fighters that succeed in reaching that number on the scale risk their status and future earnings by accepting bouts outside of the original contract. It’s a confusing mess that unfortunately has no end in sight. Let’s hope that it doesn’t take something catastrophic to force the system to reexamine itself.