The Real Winners and Losers from UFC on Fox 31
For seven years, Fox was home to the UFC. The network platform helped legitimize MMA in the world of mainstream sports. Now, that run has come to an end. UFC on Fox 31 was the final installment of the UFC-Fox partnership, and it went out with a bang.
Lightweight contenders Kevin Lee and Al Iaquinta took to the cage for a second time to find out who would move into title contention in 2019. Milwaukee's Fiserv Forum played host to the UFC's penultimate fight card of 2018.
It would be Iaquinta who would get his hand raised at the end of 25 grueling minutes. He had the more significant strikes and defended well on the mat to stymie Lee. Iaquinta puts himself back into play as a 155-pound championship-caliber fighter.
In the co-main event, Edson Barboza's superior striking won the day against rising stud Dan Hooker. The sickening thud of Barboza's strikes echoed throughout the arena for over two rounds before Hooker finally fell to the mat.
After a full night of fights, the UFC heads off to ESPN to kick off the new year. And now we take one final look at the winners and losers from a UFC on Fox event. Let us close this chapter and open a new book with the real winners and losers coming out of Milwaukee.
Winner: Jack Hermansson
Jack Hermansson moved himself from the fringes of middleweight relevancy into contendership with his first-round submission on Saturday.
Hermansson was looking for the sub early and often, and the opportunity presented itself toward the end of the first frame. When Gerald Meerschaert briefly forgot to protect his neck, Hermansson locked up a guillotine and forced a tap.
The victory is Hermansson's second straight win and his fourth in his last five. His lone loss? To Thiago Santos.
The UFC's middleweight division isn't stacked, and there are plenty of opportunities for fighters to thrust themselves right into the hunt. Especially with fighters like Santos moving up to light heavyweight. It creates an opening. Hermansson took full advantage of the opening with a big win and announced himself as a contender.
Winners: Jared Gordon and Joaquim Silva
Yes, both Joaquim Silva and Jared Gordon are winners. Sure, Gordon ended up unconscious with only the fence keeping him on his feet, but we all know MMA is more than the wins and losses that go on one's record.
Gordon and Silva put on a wild show.
It was a straight donnybrook inside the Octagon, and both men had their moments. Gordon likely won the first two rounds, but Silva tagged Gordon on several occasions to make his own mark in those frames. The fight was very much in the air going into the third. Silva was just the one to close the show.
This is the kind of fight that keeps MMA fans around. It wasn't the best fight technically. It wasn't a championship masterpiece. What was it? Two fighters showing grit, heart and determination.
These two men stepped into the cage on Saturday and laid it all on the line. Fans appreciated that kind of mentality. Both men left a little bit of each other in Milwaukee after that battle, and both men should be applauded for the sensational fight they put on in the Fiserv Forum.
While the UFC was putting together its final week on Fox, its chief rival was out and about stealing its thunder.
The UFC has talked for years about running an event in Hawaii. It's a hotbed for MMA, and the promotion's current featherweight champion is Hawaiian. But while the UFC has been all talk, Bellator took action.
Bellator put on not one, but two, events in Hawaii while the UFC suffered through winter in Milwaukee. Bellator 212 saw Michael Chandler reclaim his Bellator lightweight championship, Javy Ayala pummel Frank Mir and hot prospect A.J. McKee shine.
And Hawaiian champ Ilima-Lei Macfarlane put her title on the line in the main event of Bellator 213 on Saturday while Lyoto Machida made his organizational debut on the same card.
All in all, Bellator put together two complete cards in paradise to steal the weekend.
Winner: Charles Oliveira
Do Bronx wasted no time in exacting his revenge on Jim Miller.
The two met back in 2010 when Charles Oliveira was just a young pup coming up in the UFC. Miller upset the young buck by beating him at his own game. A quick submission forced the Brazilian to tap out. That would not be the case in the rematch.
Oliveira took Miller down early, and he had him wrapped up immediately. A rear-naked choke was sunk in, and Miller was forced to tap.
But I have to be honest with you all, I nearly made Oliveira a loser. Why is that?
Oliveira, in the post-fight interview, once again stated his intent to go back to featherweight. Someone needs to tell him to stop the flirtation with a return to 145. He has missed the 145-pound mark four times in his UFC career. Meanwhile, he is 4-1 in his last five outings at lightweight.
He looks healthier and more dangerous at 155. There is no need to put his body through the rigors of making the featherweight limit. Especially when his body has failed in that attempt numerous times.
Still, the swift victory ensures that Oliveira exits Milwaukee as a winner with a lot of options on his table when the calendar turns to 2019.
Losers: Dan Hooker's Body, Legs and Corner
Dan Hooker deserves a lot of credit, but that man is just too tough for his own good. Which begs the question: Where was his corner to save him?
In typical Edson Barboza fashion, he attacked the legs and body of Hooker throughout the fight. Hooker was limping after the first round and showed visible signs of the bodywork in the later stages. A case could have been made for the corner, or doctor, stopping the fight between the second and third rounds.
But Hooker was sent back out for more of a beating.
Barboza pelted Hooker repeatedly. Hooker remained standing. Barboza continued to crush Hooker until the talented opponent finally wilted. Barboza took his time and laced in a final hook to the body that sent Hooker to the mat. Barboza finished the up-and-comer.
Hooker went to the back to be attended to by the medical staff. The additional punishment he took was unnecessary and a direct result of poor work from his corner to save him and poor work from a referee who did not stop the fight when it was clearly over.
Nothing should be taken away from Hooker. But he will be feeling the effects of the beating for days to come.
Winner: Al Iaquinta
"Raging" Al Iaquinta won the first meeting but entered the rematch as a significant underdog to Kevin Lee. This seemed to be a way for Lee to erase the loss on his record and regain his stature as a future champion.
Iaquinta showed just why he is a top-10 lightweight. He wasn't the fastest man in the cage. He wasn't the best athlete. But he was the better fighter.
And that is all that was needed.
Iaquinta was able to be more efficient and accurate with his strikes. Iaquinta's strikes also landed harder. Lee was able to take him down a couple of times, but he wasn't able to do much with the position. Iaquinta defended the submissions, worked back to his feet and punished Lee.
In the fifth round, aquinta hurt Lee. Then he began talking to his foe. Iaquinta made it known he is the better man than Lee.
In the post-fight interview, Iaquinta called out Conor McGregor. He said that McGregor tapped to Khabib Nurmagomedov while, on a week's notice, he "took it like a man" and went the full 25 minutes. He isn't wrong, and a meeting between McGregor an Iaquinta would be electric.
Iaquinta won the fight, put together a strong post-fight interview and established himself as a top-five contender entering 2019.
You don't get a much bigger win than that.
The UFC spent significant airtime discussing how much Fox helped the promotion's growth and how good of a partner it had been. It was a nice gesture, but ultimately it only highlighted that Fox is losing out on a key partner as the deal comes to a close.
The UFC is heading off to ESPN while Fox is left trying to find ways to fill a massive programming gap.
When Fox made the UFC deal initially, it helped launch Fox Sports 1 and provide hours upon hours of content. Lengthy and numerous fight cards, weigh-in shows, post-fight shows and a weekly studio show as well. Now what? How does Fox fill that time?
While the Fox card ratings dipped over time, it was still a steady product that produced excitement and engagement from key demographics. The fights on Saturday highlighted the exciting product that Fox will be losing.
It was a big move for the UFC to thank Fox so openly, but the promotion essentially told the broadcaster it is the little brother and now it's time for the UFC to go off and join the big brother—ESPN. That has to sting.
UFC on Fox 31 Full Card Results
- Al Iaquinta def. Kevin Lee by unanimous decision (48-47, 48-47, 49-46)
- Edson Barboza def. Dan Hooker by KO at 2:19 of the third round
- Rob Font def. Sergio Pettis by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
- Charles Oliveira def. Jim Miller via submission (rear-naked choke) at 1:15 of the first round
- Zak Ottow def. Dwight Grant by split decision (28-29, 29-28, 29-28)
- Drakkar Klose def. Bobby Green by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
- Joaquim Silva def. Jared Gordon by KO at 2:39 of the third round
- Jack Hermansson def. Gerald Meerschaert via submission (guillotine choke) at 4:25 of the first round
- Zak Cummings def. Trevor Smith by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
- Dan Ige def. Jordan Griffin by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
- Mike Rodriguez def. Adam Milstead by TKO at 2:59 of the first round
- Juan Adams def. Chris de la Rocha by TKO at 0:58 of the third round