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By: Jamie Penick, MMATorch Editor-in-Chief
Last night's UFC on Fox 3 event wasn't the most star-studded card the UFC has put together - and ultimately that more than anything may negatively affect the ratings for the event - but the action provided in the cage may have been enough to sway some new viewers to give the sport a chance.
That's truly what the UFC was hoping for when they put the card together, because it was a significant dip in name value from their previous two events. Going from a Heavyweight Championship fight to a former champion fighting in a main event alongside a number one contender fight to known but not major names in Nate Diaz and Jim Miller was a risk on that front.
However, November's Junior dos Santos vs. Cain Velasquez event had already drawn heavy criticism for having one minute of fighting on a one hour broadcast; January's second event on Fox drew criticism for three underwhelming fights providing for a lackluster example of what the sport can provide. For this third outing, the UFC had to give fans something more exciting, they needed to provide a casual audience with a variety of styles and finishes, and in addition to that they needed to find out how they could draw with this type of card compared to the previous two entries.
We won't know how that third point played out for a few days when numbers come in, but there shouldn't be any complaints as far as the fight card itself was concerned. The four fight main card was fantastic, and gave the UFC everything they were looking for when they booked the fights.
The opening heavyweight bout between Lavar Johnson and Pat Barry wasn't the most technical affair, and of the four main card bouts featured the lowest ranked fighters in their respective divisions, but it was almost exactly what the UFC expected. Both were swinging heavy strikes with bad intentions early, and Barry moved to bring the fight to the ground when he felt himself getting in trouble. His ground game has improved, and it was certainly a sight to see him attempt a submission, but it's still far and away the least polished part of his game.
Barry failing to get the submission was pretty much the end for him, as he seemed to still be a bit dazed from some of Johnson's hard shots earlier in the round. As they restarted on the feet, Johnson's power became the key factor, and Barry simply attempted to cover up enough to avoid a truly damaging blow. Unfortunately for him, the barrage simply added up to bring an end to the fight.
The UFC was certainly happy with the fight, as UFC President Dana White tweeted afterward that he "knew that was gonna be a great fight." They also awarded Johnson a bonus for "Knockout of the Night" for his efforts. All in all, the kick off to the event went according to plan.
Up next was the middleweight bout between Alan Belcher and Rousimar Palhares. Where Johnson-Barry was expected to be a sloppy but fun heavyweight battle, this fight provided excitement from the opposite level of the spectrum.
Palhares wanted nothing to do with Belcher's striking, and immediately brought the fight to the ground, where most expected him to have a significant advantage. Belcher then proceeded to engage Palhares in a technical ground battle, with him first searching for a very rarely seen twister submission before getting into an offensive-defensive battle with leg locks.
It was great, technical ground fighting, and showcased a completely different side of the sport to the Fox audience than they've yet gotten to see through the first two events. Ultimately, Belcher shocked many by not only getting out of some bad looking spots, but staying on the ground after he escaped and working in Palhares' guard.
Of course, Belcher was more than comfortable there, as he destroyed Palhares with his attack from a postured up position, providing yet another exciting finish on the card. The UFC couldn't have been happier with how the fight played out, as it featured great ground work and a vicious finish all in one.
The welterweight co-main event between Johny Hendricks and Josh Koscheck may have not provided a finish, but it was still an exciting back and forth battle between two elite fighters at 170 lbs. Both fighters possess very similar skill sets, and while that talking point was ratcheted up in the weeks leading into the fight, it truly did play out in the fight itself.
Hendricks has some really heavy hands, and while he's not the most technical striker in the world, he's not too shabby in that department, either. That pretty much describes Koscheck's striking as well, and both fighters tested the chins of their opponent and engaged in some really fun exchanges and flurries throughout the fight. It also showcased solid wrestling from both, and again provided a different style of fight for fans tuning in than the fights that preceded it, and once more that's what the UFC was looking for.
The main event truly couldn't have gone better for the UFC. Nate Diaz has always been a talented fighter, but at 27-years-old he seems to be coming into his own and shoring up some of the weaknesses that he has had in the past. Key among that was how he fought against wrestlers in the past compared to what he did against Miller.
Miller wasn't rushing him with takedown attempts, and in fact didn't have the best gameplan himself in trying to strike with Diaz and work the clinch game, but the times he did attempt to bring things to the ground Diaz either countered effectively or made him pay for the effort.
Diaz's mixture of striking and ground acumen were a huge combination in the fight, and for the UFC he was the epitome of a well-rounded mixed martial artist in this fight. He hurt Miller in the striking game, dropping him at the end of the first round; then, he did the unthinkable in submitting him in the second. Diaz is a submission specialist, but to do what he did against a fighter who had never been stopped before was immensely impressive.
Yet again, the UFC got a fantastic, technical, and exciting bout out of the matchup they booked, and it provided a challenger for the UFC Lightweight Championship in the process.
Whether the event drew the type of interest that the previous Fox events pulled remains to be seen, but even if it wasn't a home run from a ratings standpoint, it was everything the UFC could have hoped for when they booked the event. There's something to be said for things going according to plan, and that's exactly what happened for the UFC on Saturday in New Jersey.
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Jamie Penick, editor-in-chief
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