Reflections On The Bizarre Event That Was UFC 210

Once you’ve attended a number of UFC events, you start to recognise the formula. There’s a rhythm to a UFC live show, something that doesn’t exactly come through on television. UFC 210 felt as if it would unfold just like any other PPV — until it spiralled into an absolutely bizarre evening of action, announcements, and controversies, all of which made up for a card that was anything but stacked.

Sometimes, a train wreck is entertaining. UFC 210 was certainly entertaining.

In reality, the UFC 210 weirdness started a day earlier, at the early morning weigh-ins. There was titty-gate and towel-gate, both of which led to much ado about nothing. Pearl Gonzalez, set to make her UFC debut, was initially told by the New York State Athletic Commission that she would not be able to fight due to having breast implants. A noticeably distraught Gonzalez led to rumours that the fight was, indeed off; the media quickly picked up on the story.

Much to Gonzalez’ embarrassment, no doubt. She certainly deserves to be remembered as a fighter, not a girl who had her breasts done, after all.

Yet the internet is what the internet is. Luckily, the “all news is good news” motto sometimes does hold true, and Gonzalez likely gained some fans from the uproar, even if it wasn’t for the reasons intended. Still, a virtual unknown overnight became a common name among fans. And the fight remained on the card, as the NYSAC soon made the realisation (sadly, well after media and fans did) that the rule in question applied to boxing only.

Another “oops” moment for the NYSAC.

Then there was Daniel Cormier’s strange weigh-in, which saw him miss weight, exit the room for all of two minutes, then return, and clutch a towel while weighing in. Cormier claimed it was to hide his manhood; keen observers noted that it was an old wrestling trick for making weight. Either way, Cormier made weight. Welcome to towel-gate. If you don’t believe that Cormier resting his hands on the towel shielding him helped shave off a pound or so, explain how the champion lost 1.2lbs in two minutes. It’s a weight loss secret we’d all love.

Yet there was no inquiry, no NYSAC rep ensuring an investigation. The title fight was on, and that was all that mattered. While Jon Jones said it was “the dirtiest thing I’ve seen in sports” few others really complained. Everyone wanted this title bout to be on.

Come Saturday, towel-gate was all but forgotten. Buffalo’s UFC faithful, with support from their counterparts to the North (plenty of Canadians showed up at the venue to support Patrick Cote, and get a chance to see the Cormier vs. Johnson 2 fight they almost witnessed in Toronto last December) filled the venue early. A strong debut with Magomed Bibulatov opened the show, as he took a unanimous decision win over Jenel Lausa. Nevermind those reports linking Bibulatov to a brutal dictator.

Then an odd turn of events: every time Daniel Cormier was shown on the big screen, in video packages advertising the main event, he was booed. Heavily. Now, the New York crowd was heavily behind the locals — and possibly the judges as well, which might explain how Des Green managed to score a 30-27 on one judge’s scorecard in a split decision win over Josh Emmett. Anthony Johnson, however, is a Georgia native who attend college in California. Not exactly a local product. Yet Cormier was treated harsher than whatever visiting team might be playing the Buffalo Sabres on another night.

Weirdness began to compound, though not always in a negative way. Charles Rosa’s flashy, and perhaps unwise, approach in his bout against Shane Burgos led to an emphatic Burgos finish in the third round. A package announcing Urijah Faber would be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame, narrated by Ron Pearlman, was aired — though after Bruce Buffer made a brief announcement prior, fans were left wondering as to whether Faber himself was in attendance. He wasn’t.

Then came the main card. Charles Oliveira opened with a submission win over “Ill” Will Brooks. Thiago Alves took a decision against Patrick Cote. Cote, always a gamer, began goading Alves late in the fight, trying to draw the Brazilian into a slugging match.

He wound up on his punches, making windmills, doing everything he could to get the fans — and Alves — going. Afterwards, he stripped off his gloves, laid them on the canvas, and announced his retirement. Speaking to Joe Rogan, he thanked the fans for a great fifteen years. It was a shock, especially to the Canadian fans in attendance, though likely a smart move by Cote, who handles French commentary for the UFC and doesn’t need to be fighting at this point in his life.

Still, it threw off that rhythm UFC cards have. That was far from the end of it.

Pearl Gonzalez, allowed to fight despite those earlier implant concerns, lost an active fight that saw plenty of action on the ground. Cynthia Calvillo is likely to become the strawweight flavour of the month with the win, as she’s now 2-0 in her two UFC appearances, and has fought on the last two UFC PPVs.

The co-main event is where things really derailed. Chris Wiedman vs. Gegard Mousasi should have been the best fight on the card. It was a fight that hardcore MMA fans were hotly anticipating. A former UFC middleweight champ (Weidman) taking on a former Dream and Strikeforce champ, Pride veteran, and all around underrated fighter (Mousasi). A fight fan’s dream. A win for the New Yorker, and Weidman was back in the title hunt. A win for Mousasi, and he was practically knocking on the door of a title shot as it would put him on a five-fight winning streak in the UFC, over stiff competition. Oh, and Mousasi was fighting out his contract.

Mousasi had promised Weidman wouldn’t take him down. Not even once. He was wrong. Weidman was able to score several takedowns in the first round — but couldn’t do much with them. Mousasi, meanwhile, seemed to be winning the standup battles. Then, in the second, Weidman put both hands on the mat as the two battled, making him a grounded opponent. In New York, under the new ABC rules governing MMA, a fighter must have two hands, palm or fist down, on the canvas to be considered grounded.

However, Mousasi took advantage of the fact that you can pretty much wrench you opponents hands off the floor and knee him anyway. Mousasi’s knee connected as Weidman’s hand came up. Ref Dan Miragliotta initially ruled it an illegal knee. The boos were thunderous. Weidman was the hometown boy, after all.

Weidman was given five minutes to recover, as he sat on the mat, seemingly dazed, One, then two, then three doctors/NYSAC reps were consulted. The crowd grew restless, and when the fight was called off, they lost it. Fans in the stands argued the call, but no more so than after the final decision was read: a TKO win for Mousasi. Upon review, Miragliotta ruled the knee was, in fact, legal.

Weidman would later argue that video replays are not allowed in New York, so the ref’s original call of an illegal knee should have stood. There will likely be an appeal. In any case, an already restless, irritated arena was more than happy to launch of a chorus of boos towards champ Daniel Cormier when he entered for the main event. It seemed like this fight might finally turn the night into a triumphant return to Buffalo for the UFC. After all, the last time they’d been in Buffalo, Ken Shamrock fought Oleg Taktarov to a draw over thirty-three minutes. That was in 1995.

If you’d thought the weirdness would stop, and we’d get a great main event out of Cormier and Johnson, you were wrong. “Rumble” strangely opted to wrestle Cormier early, and while he did find success, he quickly wore himself out. Cormier came out for the second ready to push the pace, and Johnson soon found himself laying on the canvas, flattened out, eating punches, seemingly unable to defend himself before D.C. locked in a rear naked choke. In the end, the mighty Johnson fell quicker than the first time the pair fought. The crowd was stunned. As incredulous as they were upset. What sort of gameplan was that? Why wrestle one of the best wrestlers in the UFC’s history?

What happened next, well, no one saw it coming. Not the fans, not the UFC. Anthony Johnson, just thirty-three years old and consistently in the top five in the world, retired. He’d taken another job, a career in a totally unrelated field. The decision had been made months in advance. You had to wonder whether his heart was really in it, witnessing his performance at the end. Johnson said it was, said he wanted to go out with a win, but the man tapping to Daniel Cormier seemed to want nothing more than to have the match over and done with Saturday night.

It was a shock, just as Daniel Cormier’s heel turn in the cage post-fight was a shock. He verbally decimated Jimi Manuwa, who sat cage side and may now be the next contender not named Jon Jones to fight for light heavyweight gold in the UFC. “I like Corey Anderson, but you just beat Corey Anderson. Sit down young man!” Cormier chided him. As for Jon Jones, who sat cage side as well? “Who? Who? Who? Is that guy even eligible to fight yet?” Cormier taunted. “When he gets his academics back in order, he can come back to the classroom” the champion later added.

Knowing Cormier’s love of the WWE, it felt like something from their world — though perhaps Chael Sonnen might be a better example. In taunting Manuwa and setting the framework for what could potentially be a fight for after the inevitable Jon Jones rematch, Cormier seemed to be following Sonnen’s gameplan, always having his next fight lined up. Smart business, especially since Cormier’s time in the sport may be coming to an end.

Heel turns, retirements, controversial finishes, hall of fame announcements, questionable gameplans, pre-fight hoopla: UFC 210 may not have been a great card. I’m not even sure it was a good one, but I’m certainly glad I was there to see it.