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5:00 p.m.: Today I have something different for y’all. I usually write this column from my office at the HOFA, jotting down notes while performing whichever other duties I happen to have that evening. The last edition, you may recall, was a field trip -- having no specific duties for the site relating to UFC 239, I decided to watch the event at a local bar.
5:05 p.m.: As it turns out, we’re on a field trip this week as well. I’m covering UFC San Antonio in person, and I thought you might enjoy a set of observations from Press Row.
5:07 p.m.: The first rule of Press Row is: You do not talk about Press Row. Wait, that isn’t right… or if it is, I’m in trouble. No, the first rule of Press Row is that “Press Row” can vary widely based on the venue and event, assuming it’s even a row -- I covered a Glory Kickboxing event this year that took place in a round theater, so the media simply had a designated section of regular seats. (Great view, annoying lack of workspace or power outlets.) Contrary to what you might think, proximity to the action can vary inversely to the size of the show; bigger events in bigger venues can actually mean closer seating for the media. Tonight we couldn’t be any closer: six feet from the ring apron, nine feet from the actual chain link, and every exiting fighter will walk directly past us.
5:10 p.m.: The first fight out of the gate is Felipe Dias Colares vs. Domingo Pilarte in a matchup of 135-pounders. In fact, the first three fights tonight are at men’s bantamweight. That’s smart; there’s a good chance that they’ll all be high-energy bangers, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that we get some finishes.
5:15 p.m.: It was also a clever move to open the card with Pilarte’s UFC debut. He’s from Houston and prior to his win on Dana White's Contender Series last summer, all eight of his professional fights had taken place in Texas. Between his local roots and status as a Contender Series alum, he’s pretty much the perfect combination of factors to get butts in seats and eyeballs on ESPN for the curtain-jerker.
5:18 p.m.: I have no idea what the TV ratings will be, but on the local-butts-in-seats front, something seems to be working. One of MMA’s true mathematical constants is that whether you’re in a nightclub that holds 300 people or a 24,000-seat arena, there are always 75 people there for the first fight. Tonight is an exception; the AT&T Center’s lower bowl already looks to be about a quarter full. There are probably two or three thousand people here.
5:27 p.m.: Am I the only one who thinks Pilarte looks a lot like Kenny Florian?
5:29 p.m.: At least he didn’t nickname himself “DomPil,” which sounds almost as much like a feminine hygiene product as “KenFlo” does. Actually, it sounds like a prescription drug name: Ask your doctor if DomPil is right for you…
5:34 p.m.: Unfortunately, side effects of DomPil may include: dropping a close split decision in your UFC debut.
5:44 p.m.: In the midst of Mario Bautista vs. Jin Soo Son, the expected prelim WOOOs momentarily morphed into a chorus of Lil' Jon-esque YEEEEEAAAAHHHs, which is definitely less annoying. Crunk can make a comeback anytime it wants.
6:06 p.m.: Ray Borg walks in to the biggest pop of the evening so far. He’s had a rough couple of years in and out of the cage, to the point that it’s bizarre to think he’s still only 25. From his two-fight losing streak and weight issues in the cage to the completely heart-wrenching health saga of his baby son… as a journalist you’re there to observe and report, but on a human level it’s hard not to pull for this guy to catch some kind of break.
6:27 p.m.: Borg takes the unanimous decision over Gabriel Silva, handing the Brazilian his first loss. Borg looks like a man with a new lease on life at 135.
6:28 p.m.: The crowd is giving Borg a ton of love, he is delivering a post-fight interview that’s as raw as it is heartfelt and I am pinching my own leg as hard as I can so that I don’t tear up on Press Row.
6:32 p.m.: Jennifer Maia takes on Roxanne Modafferi in a rematch of their 2016 meeting in Invicta FC. Modafferi has been a cult favorite for a decade and a half. She was a top-5 fighter for years and is still in the top 15 at age 36, but more impressively, she has continued to broaden and sharpen her skill set in her mid-30s. Fitting that she’s been working with Mike Pyle, one of MMA’s ultimate late-career bloomers, for much of that time.
6:54 p.m.: Maia largely blanks Modafferi for fifteen minutes. Maia seemed too big -- perhaps literally, as the only fighter on the card to miss weight -- too strong and just a half-step ahead for the whole fight. Modafferi was game as always, never stopped looking for the finish, and hey, at least she gets 30 percent of Maia’s win bonus.
6:59 p.m.: With four straight decisions to open the card, you can feel the UFC production team starting to step on the gas a little. Expect some truncated (or skipped) post-fight interviews and some Benny Hill-speed walkouts if this keeps up.
7:20 p.m.: Klidson Abreu takes a unanimous decision over Sam Alvey, who is now smilin’ down a three-fight losing streak. As a character and an action fighter, even if the latter is a bit overstated, I can’t imagine his job is in immediate peril, but considering that losing streak includes one close decision and at least one very iffy TKO stoppage -- two, if you ask him -- it’s a bummer we even have to wonder about it.
7:21 p.m.: A decidedly unsmiling Alvey just flew by Press Row. Not sure whether it’s because he’s pissed about the decision or the UFC crew told everyone to double-time it. Five decisions to open up the card. Off the top of my head, I think the record is eight.
7:46 p.m.: Raquel Pennington edges out Irene Aldana by split decision, bringing us to six straight. Are these prelims going to go over their time allotment?
8:13 p.m.: Yes, yes they are, as Alex Caceres takes a unanimous decision over Steven Peterson. I really didn’t see it that way, especially the 30-27 card, but if we’re being honest here I was peeing during most of the second round. More importantly, that’s seven straight fights to go the distance.
Peterson’s corner, presumably telling their man not to leave it in the hands of the judges.
8:18 p.m.: This event is starting to take on a surreal feeling. It’s not that the fights are terrible -- most of them have been at least OK, taken individually -- it’s just that everything feels like running in mud in spite of the UFC cranking the pace to frantic levels. You don’t realize how much you depend on finishes to break up the rhythm of a card and keep things feeling lively until you get a night like this. Or, y’know, pretty much any grappling competition.
8:26 p.m.: This Arlovski vs. Rothwell rematch is testament to the absurd shelf life of MMA heavyweights. I’ve been a fan of this sport for over 15 years. The first pay-per-view I bought with my own money was UFC 45. On that day in November 2003, Arlovski was a top-10 heavyweight fighting in the UFC, while Rothwell was a 14-4 prospect crushing people in Midwest regional promotions. On the night of their first meeting in July 2009, Arlovski was in the Top 10 and Rothwell right around No. 15. It’s now 2019 and both men are still relevant fighters in the division. It’s crazy.
8:48 p.m.: Speaking of crazy, Arlovski beats Rothwell by unanimous decision and I’m about two decisions away from ripping my shirt off and doing my best Alex Jones impression down Press Row.
8:53 p.m.: Next up, Alexander Hernandez, the lone San Antonio native on the card, fights Francisco Trinaldo. By the way, Greg Hardy isn’t the only fighter on this card working to establish himself in his second sport. Did anyone else know this?
8:55 p.m.: Trinaldo’s head looks 30 years older than his body. He’s a walking FaceApp meme.
9:08 p.m.: WHAT IN THE HELL IS THIS FIGHT? Hernandez and Trinaldo have been awkwardly not-kickboxing for almost two full rounds. I know I called this card surreal an hour ago, but I had no idea. This fight was a sleeper for FOTN, and now it’s just a sleeper. The hometown crowd is booing, which seems impossible.
9:20 p.m.: Hernandez beats Trinaldo by unanimous decision in one of the worst fights I have ever seen between two good fighters. This was worse than Ngannou vs. Lewis because to top it off, the decision sucked. Trinaldo knows it, too. While Brazilian fighters throwing their hands in the air and feigning overblown surprise at losing is a cliché in this sport, Trinaldo didn’t ham it up. He did, however, just walk past the media, shaking his head to himself in genuine confusion.
9:23 p.m.: Also, for those keeping track at home, that is 42 straight decisions to open the UFC San Antonio card, which is now scheduled to end sometime next month. Please save us, James Vick and Dan Hooker.
9:35 p.m.: BOOM! Out of nowhere, Hooker catches Vick with a beautiful counter left. Vick crumples, and this fight is over in two and a half minutes.
9:37 p.m.: Too early to call it a pattern, but that’s twice in three fights now that Vick has been one-shotted in fights in which he had been doing well. It’s a little alarming.
9:39 p.m.: Next up is the fight you’ve all been waiting for, as Juan Adams meets Greg Hardy in what may be the first fight in UFC history for which both fighters weighed in at the 266 pound limit.
9:40 p.m.: I’m already on record -- more than once -- as being of the opinion that someone with Hardy’s criminal history should not be in the violence business. I won’t rehash that argument here; you likely already agree or disagree with me. However, while I don’t think he should be in the UFC, I’m not comfortable either with the idea that he should be “punished” by getting beaten up in a cage by Adams or anyone else. That isn’t really the point.
9:59 p.m.: And it’s all moot anyway. Wow. Hardy blows Adams out of the water in 45 seconds. After a couple of exchanges on the feet, Hardy squashed a single-leg takedown by Adams and drilled him with what must have been 30 hammerfists to the side of the head until Dan Miragliotta -- the UFC wisely put its largest ref on duty for this one -- was forced to intervene.
9:59 p.m.: How close is Press Row? "Look Mom, I'm on ESPN" close.
10:02 p.m.: Adams is fired up about the stoppage. He doesn’t wait for the decision to be read, but instead bolts from the Octagon, storms right past us and yells a few choice things back at Hardy on his way out of the arena. I understand why he's upset, but Miragliotta give him every possible chance to do something. I’m bummed as well, for a fellow Houstonian who’s always been unfailingly nice to me and every fan or media member I’ve seen him interact with. Much like the situation with Borg, you can’t let it color how you see the fight itself, but before the cage doors shut and after they open again, the human part of the story matters.
10:04 p.m.: Meanwhile, Hardy is cutting a promo in the cage, switching effortlessly between heel and face until the cheers are louder than the boos. Considering that those boos will never go away for as long as Hardy is in the sport, that’s pretty savvy. I could see him becoming a Brock Lesnar type of attraction, a must-see for his detractors as well as his fans. Combine that with easily the best in-cage performance of his career so far, and this guy is a growing problem: for the UFC heavyweight division if you think he belongs here; for the whole sport, if you don’t.
10:15 p.m.: Well, this card is decidedly back on schedule, as Walt Harris one-ups Hardy, taking only 12 seconds to lay waste to Aleksey Oleynik. A perfectly timed step-in knee as Oleynik threw an overhand right did the job, and the follow-up punch was deadly accurate as well. Oleynik went down Cro Cop-style, maybe injuring a leg. Ouch.
10:15 p.m.: After burning through three fights in under one round’s worth of cage time, we find ourselves at the main event. I have dos Anjos in this one -- I’m still waiting for the man to beat “RDA” without soundly outwrestling him. Yes, Eddie Alvarez knocked him out, but that was a wild fight. If they fought ten times, who knows how often it plays out like that? Meanwhile, Colby Covington and Kamaru Usman both ground him into dust using his own favorite weapons. You replay those fights ten times, it probably looks the same every time. While Edwards is a very good wrestler, maybe the best British wrestler in MMA right now, I don’t know if he can do that to dos Anjos.
10:44 p.m.: After a round and a half, I am prepared to admit I may have been wrong. Edwards’ hand speed and straight punches are way too much for dos Anjos on the feet, and on the ground and in the clinch he’s just too strong.
First Sherdog tweet I’ve ever given a like. Lol.— John Morgan (@MMAjunkieJohn) July 21, 2019
11:04 p.m.: Incidentally, I don’t know what else Morgan’s kid wants here; dos Anjos is split open so bad that I’m mildly surprised this fight hasn’t been stopped.
11:07 p.m.: OK, that’s over and done with. I scored it 48-47 Edwards, and I’m not proud of my scorecard. It doesn’t really convey how dominant the Brit was. Barring a truly horrible robbery by the judges, he should have a defining win in his back pocket here in a few minutes.
11:09 p.m.: Edwards gets the righteous unanimous decision, and achieves some separation from the very crowded pack at welterweight. What did we learn tonight? We learned that sometimes the good guys win, sometimes they lose, not everyone sees the same people as the good guys, and in the end, we all just want people to get off the fence, do something, and show us some blood. Good night, fight freaks.