Christian Palma/AP Images

Much of the lead-up to UFC 180 focused on Mark Hunt’s chance to complete his Cinderella run to the interim heavyweight title.

After Saturday night’s final plot twist, however, it turned out Fabricio Werdum was the hero of this story all along.

Despite some dicey early moments, Werdum was always the more complete MMA fighter here. He weathered Hunt’s best stuff in the first round and then caught him with a perfectly timed knee in the second, forcing the referee to halt an onslaught of punches and hammerfists on the ground just a few ticks shy of seven-and-a-half minutes into the fight.

Hunt dominated the pre-fight narratives, but it was really Werdum who saved UFC 180 after Cain Velasquez dropped out with an injury. He spent the last two months living in Mexico City to get acclimated to the altitude and along the way was adopted as the favorite of local fans. He showed off his Spanish skills on the mic, danced and laughed during pre-fight festivities and kept the party going right up to the moment UFC President Dana White wrapped the title belt around his waist.

Justin Ford/USA Today

While there were plenty of serious battles in the cage, titles won and legacies secured, the real fight Saturday night was taking place on television sets across the world. 

In one corner was the defending champion and Kleenex of MMA—the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Practically synonymous with the sport since its debut in 1993, the promotion is the home to most of the world's best fighters, the best television deal and an infrastructure that puts most to shame.

In the other corner is the upstart Bellator promotion. Now headed by former Strikeforce boss Scott Coker, the promotion has taken UFC's place on Spike TV and, after biding its time for years, is finally ready to compete with the big dogs.

Normally, it wouldn't be fair to compare these competing cards. The UFC, after all, was on pay-per-view. Bellator was free on cable. Surely you'd expect more from the card that cost $54.95?

USA Today

SAN DIEGO — It was a night filled with a sparkling new sheen for North America's second-largest mixed martial arts promotion.

When Viacom ousted former Bellator founder and CEO Bjorn Rebney earlier this year, the company promised a new direction. By installing former Strikeforce founder Scott Coker, it brought in a man with more than two decades of promoting experience.

And on Saturday night—in the first true Bellator event with Coker's fingerprints on it—the promotion showed that bringing in Coker was perhaps the smartest decision it has made since the Ultimate Fighting Championship left Spike TV for Fox Sports.

The first place you noticed the new upgrades for Bellator? The new stage and massive screens for fighter entrances. The screens, accompanied by loud, thumping music, were used to signal the arrival of all main card fighters, and the graphics packages were perfectly tailored to each fighter. They reminded you a little bit of PRIDE and a whole lot of World Wrestling Entertainment's live-television product.

David Becker/Associated Press

Fight fans will have their fingers on the remote control on Saturday night, as MMA's top three promotions will go head-to-head on live television for the first time. World Series of Fighting and Bellator will both start at 9 p.m. ET with stacked cards, joining the UFC prelims on Fox Sports 1 already in progress at 8 p.m.

It's an absurdity of riches including some of the sport's most exciting fighters and compelling figures. While Tito Ortiz vs. Stephan Bonnar and Mark Hunt vs. Fabricio Werdum have gotten the bulk of the attention, plenty of excellent fights lurk on the undercards.

Choice can be a good thing—but it can also leave fans looking a bit like a deer in the headlights. Which fights are worth watching, and which are fine to click right past? Deciding might be a bit overwhelming.

Luckily, we are here to help. We break down all three cards and then pick our favorite fights of the night. 

Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

Mark Hunt couldn’t wait to get out of there.

That’s the impression you got on Wednesday if you sat through all of Hunt’s long, uncomfortable interview with MMAFighting.com’s Ariel Helwani. Just a few days prior to taking on 4-1 favorite—via Odds Shark—Fabricio Werdum for the interim heavyweight championship at UFC 180, Hunt appeared distracted, displeased with his situation and deeply ambivalent about this weekend’s outcome.

In other words, he didn’t sound like he was about to pull off the upset.

Hunt began the interview by stoically stating he had “other things” on his mind, and after 21 minutes of questioning admitted he “doesn’t care” what happens when he meets Werdum in the cage. In between, he confessed he had to lose more weight than he anticipated for this bout, didn’t know that Mexico City’s altitude would affect him so much and dropped hints that there might be trouble at home.

Jeremy Botter

It is 1:10 p.m. in a banquet room of this San Diego Dave & Busters. Outside, throngs of fans play Skeeball and shoot hoops and play video games that are far larger and brighter than the arcade games of my youth.

At the front of the room, Tito Ortiz sits, alone, at a long table that will soon play host to most of the main card competitors for Saturday's Bellator 131 event. Ortiz is wearing sunglasses indoors. He has headphones jammed deep in his ear canals, and I imagine he is playing Angry Birds or perhaps Star Wars Commander. Perhaps he is thinking about Stephan Bonnar, his opponent for Saturday night.

Or perhaps he is thinking of nothing at all.

Ortiz has arrived an hour early for the press conference. This, especially the part where it is taking place in a Dave & Busters, has a distinct Strikeforce feel. Because this is where Strikeforce used to run its events. And now that Scott Coker is in charge of the Bellator traveling circus, it is back to the D&B, where good times are had by all.

USA Today

One thing we can say in UFC 180’s favor: There is no shortage of intrigue.

As the UFC prepares to make its first trek to Mexico City on Saturday, the future of injured heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez casts a large shadow. If all goes smoothly, either Mark Hunt or Fabricio Werdum will emerge from that gloom with an interim title and a date with Velasquez some time in 2015.

We just don’t know who it will be. Or when Velasquez will return. Or where they’ll fight, though the early plan is for the Octagon to return to Mexico. Best laid plans, as they say.

In addition to that, Kelvin Gastelum tries to make his case as a top-10 welterweight, and Dennis Bermudez attempts to keep his eight-fight win streak alive at featherweight.

Photo by Lucas Noonan courtesy of WSOF

Jessica Aguilar (18-4), who defends her strawweight championship against Kalindra Faria (15-3) in Tampa, Florida, on Saturday, has two messages to the women's MMA world.

First, she's happy where she is, fighting for the World Series of Fighting and flying the flag for women's MMA on NBC sports. 

"They've given me this opportunity" Aguilar told Bleacher Report in an exclusive interview. "They believe in me. They are treating me like a champion. They are just two years in, and they've come so far. I'm really grateful to them."


She's the best in the world. And don't you forget it.

USA Today

Is it too dramatic to say that on Saturday Melvin Guillard and Justin Gaethje will battle over World Series of Fighting’s very soul?

Yeah, OK, that’s probably a little bit over the top.

Still, when Gaethje defends his lightweight title against the longtime UFC veteran this weekend—on a night when America’s three largest MMA promotions all simultaneously vie for our affections—the stakes will seem fairly high.

If Gaethje wins, it’ll constitute a nice feather in the cap of WSOF’s highest-profile champion. As arguably the mid-major company’s only real homegrown star, it’ll advance his undefeated professional record to 13-0 and provide further justification of the flattering things people are already writing about him.

USA Today

Luke Rockhold and Ovince St. Preux more than earned their keep last weekend.

During back-to-back UFC events that featured some 21 fights, Rockhold and St. Preux turned in the only truly impactful performances. Rockhold thumped Michael Bisping en route to a second-round submission, while St. Preux shocked Mauricio “Shogun” Rua with a 34-second TKO.

In fact, if last Friday and Saturday nights proved anything, it’s that—now more than ever—guys like Rockhold and OSP have tremendous significance for the UFC. For all the talk of oversaturation, their fine showings reminded us that when the fighters are recognizable and the stakes clear, the product in the Octagon is still better than ever.

Too often when we talk about the value of fighters, we use narrow and perhaps increasingly outdated metrics. Traditionally, we’ve concerned ourselves exclusively with pay-per-view buys, meaning that only those at the very top of the food chain were regarded as having any value at all.