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Signal to Noise: UFC on FX 8’s best and worst

There was much to love about Saturday night’s UFC on FX 8 event from Jaragua do Sul, Brazil. Former Strikeforce champions made their MMA debuts, flyweights shined and there was a spinning heel kick that ended up on ESPN’s SportsCenter. Then again, the card wasn’t overly impressive and the main event featured a fighter, fairly or not, who is reigniting the debate about the role of testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) in MMA. It’s time to separate the winners from the losers, the best and from the worst and the signal from the noise. Credit Where Credit Is Due Award: Vitor Belfort We’ll get to the TRT issue in a moment because it’s inextricable from the situation at this point. For now, though, let’s talk about the kick. Under no coherent concept of ‘good’ was that kick anything but. The timing, set-up and ferocity of it all was positively sensational. Moreover, it’s one thing to want to spinning heel kick a reporter. It’s quite another to be able to do it to one of the best middleweights on earth. The kick ultimately found it’s way onto ESPN’s SportsCenter’s Top Plays, which is the least it deserved in available accolades. If nothing else, Belfort is now in the running for Knockout of the Year while Rockhold is sent to the kind of career drawing board he’s never been forced to saddle up to. Not bad for an old man. Questions Where Questions Are Due Award: Vitor Belfort Sorry, but this discussion of Belfort’s achievements is impossible to have without a frank discussion of the impact TRT is having on his late-career resurgence. His physique looks dramatically improved and he’s beating competitors in ways he did not at light heavyweight or heavyweight. Moreover, he’s doing so at an age when skill development – particularly for techniques like a spinning heel kick that require a fair amount of athleticism – almost exclusively tapers off or gets worse. And let’s not forget it’s not as if he’s still performing at a high level that is slightly less high than his previous high. He’s winning in MMA after spending several years being, at best, highly inconsistent. None of us are able to quantify just how much TRT is impacting his game. Others who’ve used the drug found the potency or effect to be less than inspiring. But what we can say for certain is this idea of a compartmentalized impact, e.g. it benefits training but didn’t cause the kick, is complete nonsense. While it’s hard to pinpoint the precise contribution of TRT in any one scenario, it’s essentially omnipresent. The impact is fluid as it pertains to training, recovery, reflexes, athletic skill development, speed, power and more. These are just as relevant in camp as they are in the first round of a middleweight main event. There’s a debate to be had over whether the attention Belfort receives for TRT use is fair relative to his peers, but there’s no arguing that there’s not been a better poster child for the drug than Belfort himself. And frankly, trying to explain his success at this juncture in his career without a nod toward TRT is a task I’ve yet to find anyone capable of competently answering. Good Ref/Bad Ref: Leon Roberts, Kevin Mulhall Let’s not overstate either the good or the bad. Generally speaking, the refereeing and judging on Saturday night was agreeable. Not perfect or even great necessarily, but relatively good. On the bad side, there were a series of highly dubious stand-ups from referee Mulhall that are difficult to understand. On the good side, referee Roberts performed his job ably, stopping fights right on time and not interfering in ways that changed the bout’s complexion. Some of the judges’ scoring created a few head scratching moments, but mercifully there wasn’t anything in outlier territory. I wouldn’t call this an officiating ‘win’, but there also isn’t a ton to bellyache about. They did well enough to not rage with righteous indignation and that’s often better than normal. Best Proof Flyweights Deserve Better Card Placement: John Lineker I’ve long argued that while I personally enjoy the flyweight fights in the UFC, I understand why others don’t. They sometimes do a lot without doing a lot to their opponent to change the complexion of the bout. Mercifully, Lineker does not have this problem. His style may be a bit on the reckless side, but no one can accuse him of being unable to make something happen. That’s why his placement on the fight card is hard to understand. UFC is already dealing with a situation in Demetrious Johnson-John Moraga that is not advisable, namely, having the champion defend his title against a challenger who has only fought on Facebook preliminaries. In Moraga’s case, you can at least argue on the cards he was on, his placement was relatively justified (although he could have been placed at different events). No such argument is available here. Rafael Natal vs. Joao Zeferino wasn’t terrible, but I cannot possibly fathom what the upside was in putting decent middleweights on the FX portion of the card o…

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