It would probably be generous to say that Amir Sadollah’s split decision win over Jorge Lopez received mixed reviews this week.
Unless by “mixed” you mean that A.) A lot of people thought Lopez should’ve gotten the nod from the judges and B.) Folks on Twitter couldn’t decide whether it was better to have dozed off in the first, second or third round, there was not a ton of dissenting opinion about this fight. It just wasn’t that great, and getting sandwiched between the technical brilliance of Donald Cerrone and the wonderful insanity of Chan Sung Jung certainly didn’t improve anyone's perspective on it. As a result, it got fairly universally panned by critics.
Even Dana White acknowledged that Cerrone’s bout against Jeremy Stephens should have been the co-main event of the unfortunately named UFC on Fuel TV 3, instead of Sadollah versus Lopez.
Nine fights and nearly four years into his UFC career, Sadollah must present something of a unique quandary for matchmakers.
Despite scoring an important win on Tuesday night -- one that improved his record to 6-3 (which, let’s face it, somehow sounds way better than 5-4) and helped him bounce back from an August loss to Duane Ludwig -- he’s never going to be champion, or even top 10 in his weight class. Far worse, in the Lopez bout he struggled to look convincing against a 24-year-old unknown who came in with an 0-1 record in the Octagon and just a single career victory over an opponent anyone has ever heard of before (Waachiim Spiritwolf).
If a more intelligent, more likable guy ever took up mixed martial arts, I can’t think of his name, but the underwhelming performance against Lopez just puts an exclamation point on a run where six of Sadollah’s last seven fights have gone the distance. There might not even be a compelling case for putting him on television again in the near future.
Considering all that, it would be tempting to look at the sum total of Sadollah’s stint in the Octagon and call it a disappointment. In fact, the exact opposite is true. As perhaps the most unlikely “big name” fighter on the UFC roster, his career has already been a total success.
Though he was 4-0 as an amateur at the time, Sadollah had exactly zero professional fights under his belt when he caught an express train to the UFC by winning Season 7 of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality show in 2008. He was 27 years old before he first set foot in the Octagon, and while his seasoning as a fighter was just beginning, his overall growth as athlete was probably already complete.
Imagine that. It would be a little like playing a few touch football games, winning a televised punt, pass and kick contest and then, in your late 20s, getting a starting job in the NFL.
Could anyone succeed under those circumstances? Could anyone be reasonably expected to compete? And while they tried to compete, would a bunch of people sit around posting messages on Twitter about what a crappy job they were doing tackling Adrian Peterson? Because that’s essentially what happens to Sadollah.
Fine, maybe most times it’s more like he's out there trying to tackle Danny Woodhead, but whatever.
Frankly, the fact that Sadollah has even won six fights in the Octagon as little more than a rookie is amazing and speaks to his exceptional talent. Clearly however, his entire UFC experience has been a case of too much, too soon. Even the organization appears to at least tacitly understand this, as you now can’t apply to appear on “The Ultimate Fighter” without a handful of professional bouts on your résumé.
At a stage when most welterweights would just be finding their sea legs, Sadollah is competing in high-profile, televised “co-main event” fights against (theoretically, at least) UFC-caliber opponents. At a point where most 170-pounders would just be starting to think about getting noticed by one of the bigger organizations, he’s already made the transition from "up-and-comer" to “sturdy UFC veteran.”
Has it worked out for him? Maybe is some ways. Certainly he's attained more exposure and made far more money than he might have by taking a more conventional route to the UFC. Maybe that’s the most important thing.
In a case like Sadollah’s though, you have to wonder. You have to wonder what his career arc would have looked like if he’d had 6-8 pro fights before coming to the UFC. You have to wonder if taking a shortcut to the top by winning “The Ultimate Fighter” was the best thing to happen to him as a fighter, or the worst.