Hi everyone and welcome back to the dot com.
To quote Bruce Buffer, MMA announcer extraordinaire – “Iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit’s Tiiiiiiiiiiiiiiime!!!”
MMA stands for Mixed Martial Arts and as a combat sport requires the engagement of two individuals in a fight.
The fights in the UFC (and excuse me other organizations for focusing on the main one) are judged based on “mixed martial arts techniques, such as effective striking, effective grappling, control of the ring/fighting area, effective aggressiveness and defense.” (Source: http://www.ufc.com/discover/sport/rules-and-regulations#14).
If you’re not a fan, this should at least sound like a pretty aggressive sport. It is.
In recent years, many fans voiced criticism toward certain fighters and fight camps for not being aggressive enough. Some might say that certain fighters avoid engagement (running, backing up) and try not to lose, rather than win. Some wouldn’t settle for a win unless the opponent was submitted or knocked out. In the end of the day, the question I keep seeing is – Is MMA more a sport? or more entertainment? Think about it. The answer may not be that trivial.
To each his own, I guess. I would like to point out a couple of things though, about aggression and engagement. Then ultimately offer my take on the Sport Vs. Entertainment question.
Aggression in a sport could mean more than one thing. In MMA, the way I see it, it means seeking contact, initiating attack and/or forcing the action on to the opponent. Be it by threat (fake), punch, kick, strike, submission attempt, improving position etc.
Engagement means something a little different. One may choose to play the counter striker in a fight, for one of many reasons. That doesn’t automatically put him as less aggressive (Think Chuck Liddell). The important part is to remain engaged and not try to avoid the fight.
Some fighters who were “under fire” and criticized for not being entertaining (read: not being aggressive enough, not trying to “finish the opponent”, running) include Welterweight champion George St. Pierre (GSP), Clay Guida, Carlos Condit, Nik Lentz and more.
MMA coach and master strategist Greg Jackson made more than a few people frustrated by directing his fighters to employ less aggressive (at times ridiculous) approaches to win fights. In many cases Jackson’s fighters got the win, but some of these came at the cost of the fighter’s popularity and the impression he left on UFC president Dana White.
In a wonderfully crafted segue, I want to bring up one thing that I believe heavily contributed to more fighters employing these tactics. Dana White notoriously follow the “Three strikes and you’re out” philosophy. Meaning that quite a few fighters found themselves cut from the UFC after three consecutive losses. Am I in support of this? Well, to some extent yes. The sport needs to stay competitive and there’s an impressive amount of talent waiting for the opportunity to break into the main stage.
The side effect is that fighters (who make their living solely on MMA fighting) do their best to avoid this fate and some end up changing their game and choosing to fight to win, rather than fight to impress. Can you blame them? I never walked in their shoes so I will definitely not judge them.
Another old argument (Which I don’t expect to end here and now) is – whose responsibility is it to make the fights as interesting and entertaining as can be?
First and foremost it’s the people who book them. I will take my hat off and say that they’ve done a pretty good job match making in order to set the stage for good fights.
Then the proverbial ball is in the fighters’ court, Here I would like to divide my answer to two categories. Title holders and non-title holders.
The criticism of George St. Pierre is partly fair. Yes, he is admittedly “fighting safe”, meaning he’s looking not only at winning, but to avoid damage. If you go back up to how the fights are judged and watch UFC fights, there should be absolutely no doubt that GSP has won each and every fight in the UFC except for his first fight with Matt Hughes and the first Matt Serra one. Why? Because he won on all categories. Yes, including that last word – “defense”.
He is a reigning champion who wants to set title defenses record and establish his status as the best Welterweight in history. He is always aggressive, always pushing forward, never backs down from contact as a tactic. He is always the one who initiates attack on his opponents. He did not “finish” an opponent in a long while and yes, that cost him some criticism.
My problem is not with title holders. Jose Aldo, a big fan favorite has also found it difficult to finish his top contenders (excuse me Korean Zombie) such as Faber, Hominick and Edgar.
My issue is with fighters who are not yet considered title contenders. Like in every work environment, you’d expect to be promoted/move ahead/be considered a real contributor only if you make the effort to excel, In MMA and definitely in the main stage – the UFC, you have to “Bring it!”. Dana White does not give title shots to just anybody (Sonnen is the exception to the rule ;)). You have to earn the shot.
If a fighter earned a shot at the title, whose job is it to be the aggressor? I think that’s a rhetorical question. But I will answer it just the same. It is definitely up to the challenger. The champion has the belt. It is called a “title defense” for a reason. I expect every title contender to take their A game to the champ and do their absolute best to win the title. I expect the champion to do his best to keep it.
So, MMA, sport or Entertainment?
A sport exists only if the interest is there. That’s why ESPN doesn’t carry the world nose-picking competition. The extreme flip side is the WWE. It might be entertaining but it is not a sport,
My answer is that MMA is big enough to give us all what we want. We should know that some fights will be a technical competition and appreciate the skills the two brave people in the cage posses. We should know that some fights will be wild exchanges between two fighters who like to brawl. We should know that in every sport, the finals (championships) tend to be more about the tension, rather than the actual score.
I love MMA for more than one reason. I like a good “Finish”. I like a perfectly executed submission. I also like a 5 rounds fight that takes place all over the cage. As long as it’s competitive and engaging, I’m on board. If one fighter is not only backing up but avoiding engagement and shows no signs of aggression I will use that time to get more beer.
Watch UFC fight night, tomorrow, Wednesday, August 28th (Fox Sports 1) and pay close attention to the two main events.
Don’t forget UFC 164 on PPV this Saturday night (August 31st). Interesting title fight!
What’s your take on MMA Sport Vs. Entertainment? Don’t be shy, leave your comment.
Until the next time