Little-known middleweight Trevor (Hot Sauce) Smith lost but left Seattle with a US$50,000 bonus cheque in his pocket and praise from UFC president Dana White.
“I told Smith ‘I didn’t even know your name yesterday,“’ White told reporters after Smith and Ed (Short Fuse) Herman won fight of the night honours Saturday with a wild, bone-rattling 15 minutes of action. “‘I know your name today.“’
In contrast, Canadian welterweight contender Rory (Ares) MacDonald won comfortably but drew a tongue-lashing from his boss and boos from the KeyArena crowd of 7,816 after a methodical co-main event victory over Jake (The Juggernaut) Ellenberger.
Such is life in the UFC, where winning often isn’t enough.
The organization is set up to reward performance, with most fight contracts carrying an automatic matching win bonus. So an undercard fighter on a basic purse of $8,000 can double his pay with a victory.
Each card carries $50,000 bonuses for fight of the night (for the winner and loser) and for submission and knockout of the night. The UFC is coy about the rest of its bonus structure but is known for cutting discretionary cheques for outstanding performances.
“You want more money? Go get it,” said White, who has been under fire in recent months over fighter pay. “Go get it. Believe me, guys who deserve more money, we pay them. We pay the guys who make a difference.”
Smith (10-4) and Herman (21-7 with one no contest) are not likely to win any titles but they put on a show, connecting on a combined 160 significant strikes in three rounds, according to FightMetric. Both fighters were repeatedly wobbled throughout the free-swinging fight, which drew oohs and aahs from the crowd.
Herman’s post-fight celebration was interrupted by a precautionary trip to hospital where he was given a clean bill of health — at least as clean as it can be after such a beating.
In a fight where defence seemed optional, Smith was good on 87-of-108 significant strike attempts while Herman connected on 73 of 129.
In contrast, MacDonald connected on just 46-of-118 significant strike attempts. Ellenberger’s figures were even worse, 19 of 97.
Still Ellenberger looked like he had been in a fight, his face marked with bumps and bruises.
In the UFC, which is driven by pay-per-view buys and TV ratings, winning is not the only gauge of success. There has to be entertainment as well.
MacDonald, ranked second among 170-pounders, clearly did not do himself any favours with his boss.
“That fight sucked so bad,” said White, who said his Twitter “was insane tonight with people blowing up” over the bout.
“If people are going to stay home Saturday, especially if they’re going to spend money (on a pay-per-view), you better fight,” he said.
“I don’t think he moved down the (rankings) ladder but do you think anybody’s screaming to see him in a fight again? ... We live in a business unfortunately where you’re as good as your last fight,” he added.
Lose with panache in the UFC and you may still have some job security. Boring wins can get you a pink slip, as welterweight Jon Fitch learned. Fitch fought Georges St-Pierre for the welterweight title in 2008 and went 14-3-1 in the UFC but was cut after a 1-2-1 run.
White’s rationale was that Fitch was expensive and on the downside of his career. It didn’t help that 13 of his UFC fights went to a decision.
One can argue MacDonald’s win over Ellenberger in a key welterweight contender showdown was a triumph of strategy if not entertainment.
Ellenberger (29-7) could not find a way to close the distance and the taller MacDonald (15-1) punched away from the outside. It was effective if not enthralling.
Still the bout may go down as one of the worst received UFC co-main events, judging from the fan response throughout. The 30-27, 29-28, 30-27 decision was greeted by even more boos.
Firas Zahabi, who trains MacDonald, called it “a great fight.” And while respectful of Ellenberger’s talents, he said it was up to the American to escalate his attack when he was down two rounds.
“It would be foolish to be leading and then take a risk,” he said. “If you lose a fight like that, people will tell us we’re dummies.”
The strategy was to use the jab and have Ellenberger, a powerful counter-puncher, face the risk/reward of closing the gap. If he slipped a punch, MacDonald looked to elbow him — something that worked in the first round and made Ellenberger more cautious as a result, according to Zahabi.
Straight kicks were another tool in the MacDonald arsenal, to discourage the shorter Ellenberger from slipping underneath.
“You can’t slip a push kick,” Zahabi said.
While the renowned trainer acknowledges that entertainment is part of the puzzle, he pointed to former light-heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida and boxing star Floyd Mayweather as examples of fighters who don’t always manage to put on a show.
“You’ve got to take the good with the bad,” Zahabi said. “Some days we’re going to be entertaining, some days we’re going to be a little less. Believe me, we always want to be entertaining. But Jake Ellenberger is a very dangerous guy and he hits incredibly hard.
“And he’s known to break jaws and faces, literally. So I wanted Rory to be careful and not get hit hard.”
White saw it differently.
“I don’t think he did anything,” White said. “He threw a few jabs and some front kicks. That’s all he did.”
White also brought up Machida, ranking MacDonald-Ellenberger alongside the UFC 157 snoozefest between Dan Henderson and Machida, “another fight in the co-main event slot that overshadowed the main event and stunk the place out.”
UFC co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta was also down on the Seattle co-main event.
“Lorenzo texted me and said ‘This is terrible.’ And I texted him back and said ‘Ellenberger’s freezing.“’
“And when he froze, Rory did nothing,” he added.
Adding to White’s displeasure was that Ellenberger, an accomplished fighter who had won eight of his last nine bouts, had failed to deliver after talking trash in the buildup to the fight.
“Hard to describe the emotions of adversity,” Ellenberger tweeted when the dust had settled. “Never an easy road to the top. Just disappointed in my performance. Didn’t perform close to how I can. No excuses.”
For his part, a stony-faced MacDonald said: “I think I did exactly what I was supposed to do. I kept up my end.”
It doesn’t help that MacDonald has a hard time getting his story across.
A native of Kelowna, B.C., who fights out of Montreal, the 24-year-old MacDonald is a man on a fighting mission. He may be a personable type away from the cameras but he has the personality of a boulder at the podium. It has taken him time to get used to the media, he has acknowledged, and he clearly has a ways to go.
He was received with cheers and boos at the weigh-in Friday. But there were far fewer cheers Saturday.
Asked why MacDonald should change a winning strategy, White replied: “because we live in a world where people want to see guys who actually put on exciting fights.”
So will that performance impact the kind of fighters MacDonald is matched against?
“No. Rory’s one of the best in the world,” said White. “He didn’t look it tonight but the fact of the matter is he is. ... This will be a learning experience for him, hopefully.
“Because you don’t want to put on a bunch of performances like that. It’s not good for anybody. It’s not good for him, it’s not good for us, it’s not good for the sport. It’s not good for Fox (TV). It’s definitely not good for pay-per-view.”
St-Pierre, who also works under Zahabi in the same Montreal gym as MacDonald, has also been criticized for playing it safe in his fights. But he remains a popular champion so he can do what he wants. Plus he keeps winning.
GSP was likely nodding in appreciation from his viewing position Saturday. St-Pierre — who takes on No. 1 contender Johny Hendricks in November — and MacDonald have said they won’t fight each other but the day of reckoning is approaching.
Carlos (Natural Born Killer) Condit and Martin (The Hitman) Kampmann meet next month in another welterweight fight with title contender implications.
Ever the promoter, White dismisses talk that GSP and MacDonald won’t fight. But he warned that performances like Saturday’s won’t accelerate such a championship showdown.
“If you’re Rory and you’re that good and that talented, then you impose your will on him (Ellenberger) and you show the rest of the world ‘Not only do I belong in the top five but I should be fighting Georges St-Pierre.’
“He should have people screaming for him to fight Georges St-Pierre. That’s how it all works.”