In its ambitious quest to become a player in the sports mainstream, the UFC has been expanding its reach around the world. On Saturday, the promotion did a little of that while also wielding its dominance against something that's as round as a globe: the clock.
The first of the day's 22 fights began in Berlin at 12:32 p.m. ET. The final one, around 6,300 miles away in São Paulo, ended at 12:41 a.m.
This was a mauling marathon, and fans with the cardio and savvy to go the distance were treated to a sprinkling of moments worthy of their time. Those who live for discombobulation got five knockouts with all but one coming in the first round. This long day ended with a bang, but a somewhat anticlimactic one.
Stipe Miocic, who stands at No. 4 in the SI.com heavyweight rankings, needed just 35 seconds to win the Brazil main event by starching Fabio Maldonado. This was not unexpected, since Maldonado is a light heavyweight who is known to get hit a bunch. He can take a punch from a 205-pounder, but now he knows what it feels like to be touched by a big boy. Or maybe he doesn't. The memory might be fuzzy.
Miocic (12-1) did what he had to do. He was scheduled to face Junior dos Santos, the division's No. 2 man, in a bout that represented a pathway to a title shot. The heavy-handed Santos hurt his hand in training and had to pull out. Maldonado, a São Paulo native, bravely stepped up. This helped UFC with its promotion desperately needing a main-event fighter whom the Brazilian fans could get behind. It was good for Miocic as well, because he didn't lose a payday. But it also was a bit thorny, putting the big guy from Cleveland, Ohio, in a position where nothing less than a dominant victory was going to ensure him his place in line.
The day's other main event, over in Germany, was less about holding a place in line than making a move toward the front. Neither Gegard Mousasi nor Mark Muñoz is in the SI.com middleweight Top 10, but both have been there. They understand from hard-won experience that the fighting life is better when your smiling face can be seen in the title picture.
Mousasi (35-4-2) has reason to smile today, while Muñoz does not. The former Strikeforce and dream champion put on his most imposing performance since joining the UFC last year, getting the best of Muñoz (13-5) everywhere their fight was fought for the entire 3:57 it lasted. Gegard won it with a rear-naked choke, gaining control on the canvas by out-grappling the former NCAA Division I wrestling champion.
Expect to see Mousasi's name when the June rankings appear in a couple of days.
You'll spot Iuri Alcantara there, too. He started the day in the precarious No. 10 position at bantamweight, and he didn't slip up even a little. He didn't have time to. The Brazilian (30-5, 1 NC) took out Englishman Vaughan Lee in just 25 seconds, utilizing lethal counterpunching to get out of the cage unscathed.
The only other ranked fighter to step into the cage did so in São Paulo, where he was born, grew up, and still lives and trains. The pressure of performing in front of friends and neighbors didn't trip up No. 8 welterweight Demian Maia. He won. But he did seem a bit stiff, and despite gaining full mount on UFC debutante Alexander Yakovlev on more than one occasion, the jiu-jitsu ace was taken the distance by the Russian.
For Maia, the day was a success with some reservations. Much the same could be said of the UFC and its two fight cards.