UFC 189 wasn’t just a triumph for mixed martial arts. It was a triumph for combat sports as a whole. Everything delivered: the promotion, the presentation, the atmosphere and, most important of all, the quality of the fights. By the time Conor McGregor and Chad Mendes had closed the show, there was little doubt we had witnessed something special.
However, the MMA fanbase is unlike those of other sports. Our expectations tend to be a little steeper. Even when our sport surpasses all reasonable expectations, we are inclined to dig for the cloud beneath the silver lining—real or imagined. And UFC 189 was no exception to this custom.
The imaginary cloud on this occasion was Herb Dean’s stoppage in the main event, which some viewers judged to be premature (Warning: NSFW language):
Toward the end of the second round, McGregor connected with a straight left hand. Mendes, hurt and exhausted, dropped to his knees and turtled up against the cage. The Irishman followed up with four more right hands, prompting Dean to step in with three seconds remaining in the round.
Should the referee have taken the clock into consideration? We asked precisely that question 25 years ago, when Julio Cesar Chavez stopped Meldrick Taylor with two seconds remaining in the fight. Should Dean have given Mendes more of a chance irrespective of the clock?
Whatever side you come down on is largely irrelevant. I’m inclined to think the stoppage was a tad early, but a vocal minority didn’t stop at human error. They heard hoof beats and assumed unicorns. If you purchased stock in tin foil recently, you can probably retire after UFC 189. The hats were out in force, with all sorts of crackpot theories being posited.
Was the referee in Zuffa’s pocket? Did Mendes take a dive? After all, he didn’t protest the stoppage. Was he given the fight because Frankie Edgar couldn’t be bought off?
Exactly how mired in a pro wrestling mindset must one be in order to think that the above conclusions are not merely plausible but the most likely explanation for what occurred? Alex Jones would distance himself from these theories.
It seems some perspective is in order.
UFC 189 was arguably the most important card in the promotion’s history. The organisation invested an obscene amount of money in promoting the event, meaning the product was likely to attract more eyeballs than all but a handful of its previous pay-per-views. Having sought legitimacy for almost 15 years, the UFC chose this occasion to put the company and the sport at risk by bribing fighters/officials.
If this seems plausible, it might be time to invest in a critical thinking course.
It would be novel if we could just celebrate MMA on those rare occasions it reminds us why we love it. There is no shortage of storylines, narratives and talking points for us to pore over in the coming weeks. Must we try to undermine the sport’s legitimacy even as it is being elevated?
For all the complaints directed at the UFC—often justifiably so—did the promotion do anything to delegitimize the sport Saturday night? No, but a minority of the sport’s malcontents have earned that particular distinction.