ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Mel Gibson, in town while working on a movie, was the A-list celebrity in the house Saturday at UFC Fight Night Albuquerque. But one could argue that Arnold Schwarzenegger was there in spirit.
“We’ll be back,” said the UFC’s Dave Sholler, echoing Arnold’s favorite catch phrase – though he did so without the thick accent.
Sholler, the UFC’s senior director of public relations, had only good things to say about his company’s first foray into the Duke City. A return visit, he said, is a given.
“Albuquerque made a huge statement tonight,” Sholler said during a post-event news conference. “The fans came out, the media came out, the atmosphere was incredibly electric … you can’t say enough good things about this market.”
Yes, the fans came out to Tingley Coliseum. Announced attendance was 8,775, close to capacity. The paid gate was listed at $697,975. Clearly, fans were not deterred by ticket prices that ranged from $61.25 to $166.25.
Sholler said he couldn’t say when the UFC will return; it probably won’t be in 2014. But he made it clear that Albuquerque from now on will be a preferred destination for MMA’s most prestigious organization.
“It took us a long time (to come here),” he said, “but hopefully it won’t take us that long to come back.”
THE DECISION: In some areas of cyberspace, Albuquerquean Diego Sanchez’s victory by split decision Saturday over England’s Ross Pearson is being called the worst decision in MMA history.
“I’m in shock and disbelief,” said Fox Sports 1 analyst and former UFC fighter Kenny Florian, moments after the decision was announced. “Those judges should be ashamed.”
The judges in question are Jeff Collins and Chris Tellez, who both scored the fight in Sanchez’s favor – Collins at 30-27, Tellez at 29-28. Veteran judge Marcos Rosales scored it – as did most of the rest of the world – 30-27 for Pearson.
According to fightmetric.com, Pearson landed more strikes in each of the three rounds. He scored the only knockdown and the only takedown.
Tellez is a New Mexico judge with far more experience in boxing than in MMA. Collins, who has drawn most of the online ire, has been judging UFC events since at least 2007, according to the website mmadecisions.com. It is not believed that he’s from New Mexico, since all his previous events have been in Nevada.
Wrote Chuck Mindenhall on mmafighting.com: “Collins – and Tellez, too – ended up stealing the show by telling us not to believe our eyes.”
Sanchez, meanwhile, wasn’t letting the controversy get in the way of his post-fight celebration.
“Ain’t nobody, no haters gonna rob me of my joy right now, my victory,” he said. “This is a great night for me. I felt I won the fight, 100 percent. And so did the judges. Yeah, it’s my hometown, but the judges came and they did their job.”
Pearson was of the opinion that he’d been jobbed.
Thursday, the Englishman had been asked if he was concerned about fighting the immensely popular Sanchez in Albuquerque. He said no.
He had a different take late Saturday night.
“Definitely, let’s do it,” he said, when asked if he’d like a rematch. “On my home soil, neutral grounds. … Yeah, let’s do it again, if that’s what the fans want.
“Maybe it would be different somewhere else.”
THE ELECTRIC COMPANY: Sanchez and fellow Albuquerquean John Dodson, who defeated Phoenix’s John Moraga by second-round TKO, said they were thrilled with the support they got from the Albuquerque crowd as they walked to the octagon, slapping hands with fans as they went.
“I was thinking, ‘This must be what it felt like to be (the late, legendary Albuquerque boxer) Johnny Tapia,’ ” Sanchez said. “I just put my hands out and just took all that energy from every single fan. It was a great feeling and one of the best moments of my career.”
The opportunity to fight on the first-ever UFC card in his hometown, Dodson said, was all he thought it would be and more.
“Me and Diego wrote history,” he said, “being the two ultimate fighters from New Mexico, born and raised, fighting on the first card here in Albuquerque and New Mexico. We just did it. We did awesome.”
MORE CONTROVERSY: Lightweight Jason High has apologized on his Twitter feed for shoving referee Kevin Mulhall after what High believed was a premature stoppage of his fight with Brazil’s Rafael Dos Anjos. Sholler said it was up to the New Mexico Athletic Commission, not the UFC, as to whether High would face any sanctions.
Moraga, who took a knee in the nose from Dodson late in the second round of their flyweight fight, strongly disagreed with a doctor’s decision not to let him come out for the third.
On his Twitter feed, Moraga wrote that his nose was not broken and his profuse bleeding had stopped moments after the stoppage.
Bantamweight Bryan Caraway, who defeated Mexico’s Erik “Goyito” Perez by submission (rear naked choke) in the second round, was accused of having illegally “fish hooked” Perez (finger to the mouth) in the first.
Caraway said any foul was unintentional and that he had apologized to Perez.
J-W SPLIT: Fighters from Albuquerque’s Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA went 2-2 on the night.
Dodson and Sanchez were winners, but Perez and Dagestan’s Rustam Khabilov lost. Khabilov was stopped via submission (rear naked choke) in the fourth round by former UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson in the night’s man event.