If depth on paper means anything at all when it comes to mixed martial arts, then the UFC was at a rare disadvantage on Saturday, going head-to-head (sort of, with offset start times) against Bellator MMA.
UFC Vegas 52 was something of an afterthought. Aside from a big Bellator card in Hawaii (more on that in a moment), there was the Fury-Whyte boxing spectacle in London — which, with the time difference, was an afternoon appointment for viewers in North America.
The Fight Night card was basically squeezed between those two events, kicking off just after Tyson Fury had floored Dillian Whyte with an uppercut, and wrapping up just as Bellator’s main card was getting underway. And while it surpassed the previous week’s card, UFC Vegas 52 didn’t boast much star power — and even lost a fight during the broadcast.
Sadly, that fight wasn’t Mike Jackson vs. Dean Barry, a foul-filled affair that had no business being booked outside of a regional show. Jackson, a part-time fighter and media member who was only in the UFC as a foil for Mickey Gall and CM Punk years ago, was the recipient of the aforementioned fouls— two low blows and an eye poke (rake? gouge? Barry pretty much gripped the eye socket like a bowling ball), and wound up taking home a DQ win in the end.
Thing is, as tends to happen, a weak card on paper did punch up in weight. The main card in particular started strong, with back-to-back submissions from Canadian talents Marc-Andre Barriault and Charles Jourdain. Claudio Puelles would secure kneebar submission number three against Clay Guida in the co-feature, while Jessica Andrade executed a standing arm-triangle sub in the main event. Both of those submissions will enter the record books, as Puelles has the most kneebar wins in UFC history, while Andrade has the only successful standing arm-triangle.
But while those were good fights, they didn’t have much relevance outside of the main event. Bellator 278 and 279 had three title fights between them, not to mention four fights from the promotion’s bantamweight grand prix, which launched over the weekend.
Honestly, Bellator’s yearly trip to Hawaii, which had been delayed a few years due to the coronavirus pandemic, always has a big fight feel. But look no further than Cyborg vs. Blencowe 2, and Medeiros vs. Sanchez from Saturday’s Bellator 279 card, for fights that were both wildly entertaining, and had the highest stakes possible (in the case of Medeiros, he likely won himself a new job). Not to mention the big finish to Raufeon Stots vs. Juan Archuleta.
It wasn’t a perfect weekend for Bellator, mind you. The return of “post-liminary” fights was an unwelcome sight, and the Bellator 278 main event finished with a questionable stoppage. Still, the double header in Honolulu had the edge.
Of course, in a week or two, the script is likely to be flipped. When the UFC heads to Phoenix for UFC 274, featuring lightweight champ Charles Oliveira throwing down with human highlight reel Justin Gaethje, there will be no bigger game in town. Still, for the second week in a row this past weekend, the UFC was beat, on the entertainment side of things at least, by the consensus number two, perhaps a sign that the endless onslaught of Fight Night events at the Apex needs to be rethought.