Dominick Cruz and Demetrious Johnson danced around the cage last night in the Verizon Center, feet moving furiously, back and forth, side to side, front and back. The pace was fast, the fighters faster. Hardcore fans on Twitter and sharing their thoughts on message boards were enthusiastic, impressed by what they saw. But, when the ratings are in, I think we'll see the bulk of the sports fans the UFC courts were watching football. Because regular fans hate fights like that as much as hardcores love them.
Cruz and Johnson moved quickly. It was, though, a lot of movement with very little sense of danger. MMA fans want violence. They want tough guys taking and delivering blows, men overcoming great danger to win in exciting fashion. Defensive fighters like Cruz are the antithesis of what the prototypical MMA fan wants. They want someone fighting to win, not looking to survive. Risk isn't just part of the equation - it's a requirement.
It's why Cruz has been relegated to fighting on free television, unable to connect with fans. He isn't giving them what they want. Fans don't want to watch a sport. They want the illusion that they are watching a real fight. A guy like Cruz shatters that illusion.
Cruz and Johnson were both very technical in some areas, but their standup games were a little awkward. That's a big problem. Combat sports fans can embrace smaller guys - but they have to fight with unmatched skill and precision. Cruz's stilted punches, his haphazard movement, the sense that he might topple over at any moment, don't cut it in this area. He's fast, but he's not pretty. And as long as that's the case, he's likely never going to be a star in the UFC.