The fighters put a satisfied face on at the post-UFC 130 press conference, as did boss Dana White. Performances were assessed, future predictions were made and a few laughs were had. (See: Roy Nelson celebrating in jest after a bad loss to Frank Mir.)
It was impossible, though, not to feel disappointment in the air.
Over the previous few hours, boos had rained on the cage as the top-billed attractions played out not as evenly matched affairs but lopsided beatdowns. Seven of the card's 10 fights went to decision. A few stars may have emerged, but their luster was dimmed by listless headliners.
One on-site reporter tweeted that more than half the audience streamed out of Las Vegas' MGM Grand Garden Arena before the end of the main event, fed up with a plodding match between Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Matt Hamill. Another saw beers tossed at the cage. Somebody blew an air-horn minutes before the final rounds of the fight, as if to say, "please, make it stop."
The co-main event between former champ Frank Mir and Roy Nelson was all but over after the first round. Nelson tired quickly in the second and fought, for the first time in his career, exactly like he looks. (Although his portly stature has worked wonders for his marketability.) Mir, who's had his own struggles with the scale, expertly picked apart his opponent. But instead of the fight being a showcase of his talents, it was a sad, uncomfortable bully session that should have been over sooner than later.
Most of the time, boo birds are "just bleed" types. This time, however, they had a good read on things. There was something missing Saturday, and at the most crucial moment. A prize fight shouldn't just harness the impulse to watch a car crash. It should be an investment in two people offering maximum effort in competition. Anything less, and you feel cheated.
Jackson and Mir would have risked giving up generous leads in trying to finish their opponents. But that's part of the contract with the audience. It's not just about stepping in the cage and surviving. Fans pay to see risk.
Jackson tried unsuccessfully tried to turn the tide of boos in the arena with some snappy one-liners. But on his way back to the locker rooms, he reportedly asked press row, "Was it really that bad?"
After the bout, Jackson gave credit to Hamill's toughness but also said he had fractured his hand in a drunken off-season episode with a friend, despite earlier statements that he isn't the kind of guy to complain about injuries. Hamill said he was embarrassed he couldn't take Jackson down and was unhappy with his performance, yet said it was a "good fight."
It's easy to command action from the bleachers. Until you've put your own health on the line for the entertainment of others, it's impossible to fully understand what competitors go through. Jackson would be the first guy to say that -- he's often railed at fans' unreasonable expectations. And he would likely have greater empathy than the average couch-dweller had he seen a dud such as the one he participated in. But he wouldn't be able to shake the feeling that what he saw was more like required viewing -- the fighting equivalent of an art-house flick or jazz -- than a guilty pleasure akin to, say,
So continues the war between sport and entertainment. There's no permanent solution to the problem. It's plagued boxing, and it's going to plague MMA as the sport continues to grow. You can't order fighters to feel less pressure or fight more aggressively or knowingly put themselves in vulnerable position. You can only dole out incentives for such behavior and hope for the best.
There are hundreds more fights on the horizon. If there's a dud, as in the case of UFC 130's main event and Saturday's headliners, you move along and hope for better next time around. If you're just tuning in, you change the channel.
And now, a stock watch:
A caveat: Story got punched -- a lot. Right to the jaw. Shots you'd forgive a fighter if he or she lapsed into unconsciousness with just one. Story took many -- way more than he should. That may work now at 26 years of age. A couple of years down the road, it most certainly won't, and it will place him in danger of long-term damage. Story, a salt-of-the-earth, swell guy, needs to bring more defense to his striking game. He'll be thankful when he's 35. That said, a fight with Jake Ellenberger would be a great battle for the No. 3 spot on the welterweight ladder.