Dos Anjos vs. Nurmagomedov: Main Eventing the Prelims Wasted a Rising Star

Matthew RyderFeatured ColumnistApril 20, 2014

Apr 19, 2014; Orlando, FL, USA; Rafael dos Anjos (red gloves) fights Khabib Nurmagomedov (blue gloves) in their lightweight fight during UFC on FOX 11 at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes you don't know what you've got till it's gone.

That job you quit that was better than you realized, that girl you let get away that maybe you shouldn't have, that team you played on in high school that just couldn't win the big game.

If only you'd had another chance, an opportunity to walk the same path knowing then what you know now, maybe things would have been different.

You'd be a CEO. You'd be happily married with kids and a white picket fence. You'd have that trophy, reminding you of the time you were part of the city champs.

That's part of the human experience, though. Part of the way things shake out. You don't always know what you have; you don't always know what to do with it.

Unfortunately, that applies to entities founded on the human experience as well. Entities like, say, a fight promotion. Entities like, say, the UFC. The organization proved as much by putting Rafael dos Anjos and Khabib Nurmagomedov, the battle to be the next hot thing at lightweight, on the preliminary fights for UFC on Fox 11.

If making stars is the goal in a new age where stars aren't plentiful and most men (and women) plain aren't that appealing, the Dos Anjos vs. Nurmagomedov scrap played out almost as if it were from a script.

Nurmagomedov, the quirky, charismatic Russian who walks to the cage clad in a totally unexplainable giant afro wig, beat Dos Anjos from pillar to post. He was reserved when he needed to be but ferociously forceful when it was suitable, and he walked away from the bout with a signature win over a guy who was on fire coming into their fight.

The win pushed Nurmagomedov to 6-0 in the UFC, and not one of those wins has been against a guy who'd be considered less than a respectable test. In fact, there was plenty of talk that the successful party in Orlando, Fla. would be considered a fresh contender in a division that is desperately in need of one.

And it was relegated to Fox Sports 1.

That's right. Two guys who had been a combined 10-0 since 2012 and were on a fast track to a title shot were buried under lightweights who were ranked beneath them and guys like Brad Tavares and Yoel Romero, all of whom made the network showcase on Fox.

From an entertainment perspective, that's not the end of the world. Romero put on a great show, and the lower-ranked guys—Donald Cerrone and Edson Barbozaprovided a chaotic war with a shocking finish. But from a sporting perspective, from the perspective of selling divisional relevance and fresh contendership, it was a misstep.

Dana White mentioned several times that Dos Anjos and Nurmagomedov were serving as the main event of the prelims, a slot that holds some esteem when those prelims are happening before a pay-per-view. The idea is that, be it through excitement or the stakes of combat, that fight will draw attention to the main card just in time to land some impulse buys from fans on a Saturday night.

Only this time, the fight in question was the last fight on a preliminary card for a free, wide-reaching network television show. Less people saw the fight because it was lost in the Fox Sports 1 shuffle, sandwiched between Fight Pass prelims and the Fox UFC Saturday event.

And so, instead of building a contender with literally millions of people watching, the UFC left a contender twisting in the wind. He dominated a bout with only a few hundred thousand viewers enjoying his handiwork.

That's not ideal in any circumstance, but when it's a fighter as obviously ready to be sold as Nurmagomedov, it's even worse.

He's interesting because he's the rare case of an aggressive, high-impact grappler who throws people around with ease and never takes a backward step.

He's interesting because of the would-be Drago Effect, the idea of a Russian coming to the cage and demolishing anyone who dares to get in his way.

He's interesting because he's now 22-0 and no one in the UFC has had any answer for anything he's done.

Oh, and there's that little story that went viral about him wrestling actual live bears for fun...when he was nine.

You don't think that's a package that the UFC can sell? A wig-wearing, bear-fighting, undefeated Russian who's romping through the lightweight class without breaking a sweat?

It all boils down to the slightest piece of mismanagement in terms of constructing the UFC on Fox 11 card. Call it the main event of the prelims if you want—call it a showcase even though it wasn't. The bottom line is that Rafael dos Anjos and Khabib Nurmagomedov should have been fighting on network television on Saturday night.

Everyone kind of knew it before the fight, but after another dominant performance from Nurmagomedov, it's that much more obvious afterward.


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