We've finally reached the end of our UFC drought.
This Saturday, the UFC will return to the airwaves with a compelling light heavyweight clash between Alexander Gustafsson and Thiago Silva at the second UFC on Fuel event. It's the first headlining bout for Gustafsson and the UFC's debut in Sweden.
We'll take a deeper look at that show in the coming days. For now, let's take a look back at Friday's double-bill of The Ultimate Fighter Live and Bellator 64.
Spike TV: A+
A Spike executive recently said that they are the best in the business at promoting live mixed martial arts. While I'm not sure that's an accurate statement (after all, the UFC handles production on all of their own content, including The Ultimate Fighter) it's still easy to see the kind of quality they're bringing to the Bellator product. To spot the difference, just look at Bellator's television broadcasts prior to the Viacom purchase.
It's a stark difference. Viacom and Spike are infusing Bellator with money and a little tender-loving care, and the result is a drastically-improved television broadcast. The lighting is improved. The pre-taped fighter video packages are excellent. They're not quite on the UFC's level, but you can't expect them to be there just yet. They're improving by leaps and bounds, though. Kudos to Bjorn Rebney and the guys at Spike for making the Bellator cards easier to watch.
Ben Askren: A
What Ben Askren does in the cage is not pretty, at least in the traditional sense. It's infuriating to fans of the sport who prefer their MMA product to be a little less grappling-heavy.
Do you like Ben Askren's style?
But here's the thing: until someone can stop Askren's takedowns, he has zero reason to abandon them. He goes in the cage with one clear mission: to take his opponent to the ground and keep them there. He doesn't risk getting caught by going for submission attempts. He doesn't worry about battering his opponent with ground and pound. He simply plants his opponents on their backs and keeps them there with the best wrestling game in the sport.
It doesn't matter if you hate it, either. Askren simply doesn't care, as he showed with his post-fight interview after smothering Douglas Lima for five rounds. He's a natural heel, and he doesn't really care if you like him. In fact, he seems to thrive on hatred from fans.
Lima was a legitimate challenger, and Askren easily disposed of him. Outside of a rematch with Jay Hieron, I can't see many true challengers remaining for Askren in Bellator.
Mike Richman: A
Richman was supposed to be a cakewalk for Chris Horodecki, an easy way for "The Polish Hammer" to get back on track after a draw with Mike Corey at Bellator 57. After all, Richman's biggest career moment came in a losing effort during the elimination rounds for The Ultimate Fighter: St-Pierre vs. Koscheck.
Richman had other plans. He dispatched Horodecki in just 1:23 with the nastiest KO of the night, earning the biggest win of his career.
Travis Marx: B
Marx went into his fight with Masakatsu Ueda as a +400 underdog, the biggest of the night. He left with a unanimous decision win. That's a pretty good night for a guy who counts a win over Rad Martinez as his biggest career win.
Marlon Sandro: D
This grade also applies to Sandro's opponent, Alexandre Bezerra. This was a fight between two countrymen who don't really dislike each other, and the result was a boring fight. Sandro is a fascinating character in the sport and could be one of the best in his division, but his uneven performances of late have hurt his standing.
Sandro barely defeated Bezerra by decision. In fact, I had Bezerra winning the fight, and I know many other media members who scored it the same way. This was an underwhelming performance from Sandro. He'll need to step his game up in the next round if he hopes to have real title aspirations.