The first time the UFC travelled to Western Canada back in June 2010, the event was a huge hit. That card featured Chuck Liddell’s final MMA bout, a fantastic fight between Carlos Condit and Rory MacDonald, and a rare Mirko Cro Cop submission victory. The organization’s last four trips out west however, have not been quite so kind to fans. In the last 20 main card fights in Western Canada there have been 16 decisions, two TKOs, one injury and one no contest. Decisions aren’t always a sign of a bad fight, but amongst those 16, there haven’t been a whole lot of exciting ones. Unfortunately UFC 174 seemed like just another card that fell victim to the Western Canadian curse. While Demetrious Johnson (20-2-1) put on an impressive performance in the main event to retain his title over Ali Bagautinov (13-3), most onlookers had tuned out by that point — or didn’t find the bout particularly competitive in the first place. Johnson dominated the full 25 minutes with excellent work from the clinch, introducing his knee to Bagautinov’s face in a variety of different ways. On twitter, I compared the Dagestani’s strategy to the one Kenny Florian used in title bouts against BJ Penn and Jose Aldo. He was outmatched wherever the fight took place, so he attempted to push his opponent up against the cage and rack up points for control. As Johnson took unanimous 50-45 scorecards, obviously that left something to be desired in the judges eyes.
Next for Johnson should be the rematch with John Dodson. Both fighters should be on the same schedule, meaning that bout can have a fairly quick turnaround. UFC 177 on August 30th still needs a headlining bout, and although the organization may be hesitant to put Johnson’s name at the top of the marquee again, what other options do they have at this point? Just as Johnson was in control of his bout throughout, so was Rory MacDonald (17-2). The one fighter who was able to rouse some interest in the Vancouver crowd used his high volume of strikes and more varied attack to keep Tyron Woodley (13-3) from getting any offense going. MacDonald also scored a takedown on the wrestler in the final round and did some solid work from the top. While his performance won’t be enough to leapfrog the Robbie Lawler/Matt Brown winner for a title shot, he now has a legitimate top five win and one more victory should earn him a shot at the belt. The only reasonable option is the Hector Lombard/Dong Hyun Kim winner, since he would have to sit out far too long to just wait for a title shot.
You know Western Canada gets all the bad breaks when a Rafael Cavalcante (12-5, 1 NC) bout goes to decision. The Brazilian had never seen the final bell in his MMA career before Saturday night, but that’s exactly what happened as he had to suffer through 15 minutes of Ryan Bader (17-4) simply being too much for him. Bader was able to get takedowns early and often, while ‘Feijao’ couldn’t mount any sort of sustained offense on the feet. We already know that Ryan Bader isn’t going to turn into the next champion at 205lbs, so rather than having him step up to face one of the top fighters in the world (and likely lose), I’d prefer to see him finally provide a test for Ovince St. Preux. The card really died a slow, painful death during the first two rounds of the Andrei Arlovski (22-10, 1 NC) and Brendan Schaub (10-4) bout. The opening ten minutes featured 26 significant strikes landed, and a whole lot of Arlovski pushing Schaub up against the cage. In the final stanza, Schaub got a takedown and flailed away with some ground and pound from the top, but when the fighters returned to their feet his face looked like it had been put through a meat grinder. Still, most scored the bout for Schaub and there was some dismay when Arlovski was awarded the split decision. While the initial reaction was that this decision was as bad as last week’s Diego Sanchez verdict, it was not. Neither fighter did enough to lay claim to the first two rounds, and Schaub won the third. Arlovski winning at least gives the UFC a recognizable name to put on future cards, but his ceiling at this point is very limited. Perhaps this can finally be the time for the Arlovski/Frank Mir fight that never materialized a decade ago. Speaking of St. Preux (16-5), he picked up a victory over Ryan Jimmo (19-4) due to injury. Jimmo blocked a St. Preux kick at some point in the bout and broke his forearm, which he then made clear to the referee during a scramble. St. Preux took the opportunity to go for a pro wrestling style hammerlock before the official could step in an stop the fight. Luckily for Jimmo, the submission was applied on his uninjured arm, or things could have gotten much more complicated. It was St. Preux’s best win in terms of the name he beat, but the performance prior to the finish and his other UFC appearances still don’t have me sold on him as a contender at 205lbs. That’s why Bader would provide the perfect foil. Tito Ortiz aside, he does an excellent job of separating the top of the division from its mid-tier. It’s a shame for fans in Western Canada, but UFC 174 simply didn’t turn out to be an exciting event. The matchmaking was there, but numerous main card fighters put on lackluster performances and left the entire card leaving something to be desired. With a week off to regroup before the organization returns with an Auckland-San Antonio double header, perhaps fans will be able to muster a bit more enthusiasm for some of the bouts on those cards. The biggest takeaway from this card is: if I’m an MMA fan in Western Canada (luckily I’m not) and the UFC is bringing a summer card to my city, I’m thinking long and hard about attending with the way they’ve been turning out lately.