Sunday, May 6, 2012 | 2 a.m.
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Chief among the areas the UFC prides itself on are delivery, parity and variety.
UFC on FOX 3 excelled on all accounts Saturday at the Izod Center. There was hardly a dull moment in any of the four nationally televised bouts, which featured three upsets. Conclusions spanned the board with two victories by knockout, one by submission and one by decision.
“I loved the card tonight,” UFC President Dana White said. “It was a great card. No complaints.”
White didn’t talk to the media after the previous FOX event. He later noted that the card failed “to deliver”, which is his favorite term to use when an event excites.
With the increased number of viewers on free network television, the UFC places extra importance on putting its best product forward on FOX. It was up for debate whether the first two FOX cards played out that way.
But there was no question Saturday. Nate Diaz became the first man to stop perennial lightweight contender Jim Miller in the main event with a second-round submission and put the finishing touches on what most fans would consider the UFC’s best event so far in 2012.
“Tonight was one of those nights where, if you looked at the card, you knew it was going to be exciting,” White said. “These guys delivered.”
That much was evident by the post-fight talking points. Instead of questions directed towards White about whether he was disappointed, most inquiries had to do with what’s next for two fighters the UFC hopes are budding stars after exposure to millions of viewers.
Is Johny Hendricks, who defeated Josh Koscheck by split decision in the co-main event, next in line for a welterweight title shot? What about Diaz, will he wait for a lightweight championship bout or take another fight before Ben Henderson and Frankie Edgar rematch?
“I’m down for whatever,” Diaz said, “whatever they say.”
Diaz would rather wait, according to White, a decision he supported. White is unlikely to grant Hendricks the same luxury.
Although Hendricks won his fourth fight in a row at UFC on FOX 3, White noted it was going to be “a long time” before Georges St. Pierre and Carlos Condit face off for the 170-pound title. St. Pierre is still recovering from ACL surgery.
It sounded like White considered it unwise for Hendricks to put his career on hold for that long. But Hendricks said he would be willing to wait.
“It just depends what happens,” Hendricks said. “Whenever I get back home and heal up, we’ll talk and go from there.”
Hendricks and Koscheck captured the spirit of the night. Both rocked each other on occasions and fought through 15 minutes worth of momentum swings and changing fortunes.
Koscheck used his foot speed to out-land Hendricks in the first round. Hendricks found his power to clearly win the second. The fight came down to the final five minutes, which Hendricks seemed to control until Koscheck took him down and dominated at the end. Two of the three judges felt Hendricks was successful enough early in the third round to win.
“I’m not up here to (expletive) and cry about a decision,” Koscheck said. “I should have finished the fight. When it goes to the judges, you’ve got to have luck on your side. Tonight, he had luck on his side.”
Hendricks hardly argued Koscheck’s point.
“It’s hard to know really what the judges want, so you just go in there and do what you think you need to do to win the fight,” Hendricks said. “Of course, we’d all like to finish them. But sometimes you can’t. Tonight was one of those times where you sat there and think you won it. But you don’t know.”
The chatter after a close decision was yet another one of the UFC’s best attributes that came through at UFC on FOX 3. The fallout from Hendricks’ win over Koscheck even overshadowed two dazzling come-from-behind finishes in the first round.
Knee bar machine Rousimar Palhares had Alan Belcher’s heel in his hands multiple times in the opening three minutes of their middleweight bout. White was so sure that Palhares would win, he almost stopped watching.
But Belcher, as high as a 3-to-1 underdog, spun out of the precarious position and threw vicious elbows that rewarded him with a TKO victory over Palhares.
Lavar Johnson, a heavyweight who just last year had lost two in a row in Strikeforce, knocked out Pat Barry after gritting his teeth in pain to get through what he called a “very tight” kimura.
“He was going to have to break (my arm) or something,” Johnson said, “because I wasn’t going to give up that easy.”
Diaz gave comparable final thoughts on his fight against Miller.
“It was him or me,” Diaz said. “I’m glad it went the way it did. I guess I got lucky. It was my time to shine.”
And the UFC’s too.