If you sat down on Sunday night for UFC on Versus 4, you couldn't help watching with just a little bit of skepticism and maybe consider a couple of alternative selections using picture-in-picture.
Heavyweights Pat Barry and Cheick Kongo as headliners? Rick Story vs. Charlie Brenna-who? What on earth happened to Nate Marquardt?
Dude, where's my card?
Finding the silver lining, though, is the duty of the fight fan. After all, a card shuffle could bring a more intriguing matchup. It can provide a guilty pleasure. And if nothing else, it's still two guys fighting in a cage. It's entertaining, and there's no reason to rip a card to shreds because fate and the chaos of matchmaking had something else in store.
Then again, UFC on Versus 4 tested one's patience. Perhaps the most relevant bout of the card -- Marquardt vs. Story -- was scrapped, leaving a replacement with a fraction of the importance: Story vs. Brenneman. The headliner? Kongo, a guy coming off a draw and eight-month injury layoff, against Barry, who has been hopscotching between wins and losses in his UFC career. The rest of the card was some interesting prospects and veterans trying to get back on the right foot. Not exactly the hottest ticket.
Sometimes, though, it seems like the competitors on these cards can hear the complaints, and they collectively resolve to rub our faces in the dirt by putting on adrenaline-injected displays of heart and cajones. Suddenly, you're forgetting what everything means and just enjoying good fights.
The fight between headliners Kongo and Barry went off like a bottle rocket, and while the co-main, Story vs. Brenneman, didn't, the meaning behind it had an equal impact. By that time, there had been some great fights and some good ones to satiate the combat appetite.
The lesson? Sometimes, it's good to put your inner critic on mute.
Now, a stockwatch:
A bad performance or loss against Barry could have put Kongo's career into a serious nose dive. He badly needed a win. You'd understand, then, why Barry predicted the Frenchman would try to grind him out against the cage rather than take his chances in a firefight, as was the case with Browne, and before that, against Paul Buentello. Instead, it was Barry who was shooting for a takedown with Kongo shrugging it off in a fight that crept along before it combusted near the midway point of the first frame.
Here's the thing: The punches that hit Kongo weren't of the chin-rattling, synapse-splitting, time lost kind. Two of Barry's big shots caught Kongo on the side of the head and robbed him of his equilibrium, much as Matt Serra did at UFC 69 when he took Georges St-Pierre's belt in the then-MMA upset of the decade. Kongo was wobbly, to be sure, and another shot might have made him a goner. It was his improbable luck, though, to catch Barry coming in with the same balance-taking shot, which set up the uppercut to the jaw that put Barry out cold.
Regardless of the circumstances around it, the knockout was still an amazing feat and bought Kongo more in career capital than he ever could have imagined. I've heard some suggest that the 5-0 Matt Mitrione is a good charge for his next outing, and while that's a winnable fight, it's not one that moves Kongo much up the ladder. I think the winner of the Brendan Schaub vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira match is a more sensible next step.
How big a leap? Well, Brenneman still isn't anywhere near a belt, and I can't imagine the he would disagree. His methodical control of Story on the mat, while effective, isn't the type of style that makes promoters gush with glee. At the very least, though, he earned a fight against a decent name, an opportunity to showcase more of his skills and make his case for meeting someone in the division's top 15. The winner of Carlos Condit vs. Dong Hyun Kim? The winner of Rory MacDonald vs. Mike Pyle? John Hathaway? All sound good to me.
Mitrione never got bogged down on the mat, but it begs the question: if he can be taken down by a guy like Morecraft, how is he going to do against the heavyweight divison's top-level grapplers? The answer, of course, is: not so hot. So it's a matter of timing. How soon will we know whether he can really hang on the mat? Put him against a guy such as Mike Russow and we may find out.