MMA Paradox

I haven’t posted anything about MMA yet. Over the last few years, I’ve gotten into the sport more and more. I remember being introduced to the sport not long after it started 17-18 years ago. I was perusing a section of videos at Blockbuster Video when I came across a UFC 1 tape. Intrigued, I rented it and was hooked. I remember renting and re-renting the first few (probably 5-6 of them) over and over.

I don’t remember which one, but there was to be a UFC event held on pay per view, which I was all set to order and watch. I’ve always been a causal fan of boxing, and have never ever paid money to watch a fight, which should tell you how excited I was to watch this. If I remember correctly, a law in NY State was enacted days (if not the exact day) before the event which prevented it to air in NY—even on PPV.

I’ve seen and heard other people refer to this time as the dark years. They surely were for me. It took a good 10+ years for me to even realize the sport/UFC promotion was still around. Remember this is in the early days of the internet too, so I couldn’t catch up on sites like YouTube, on blogs, etc. That tells you something about the times too.

Like many other “new” MMA fans, the introduction (or re-introduction) came when Spike aired their Ultimate Fighter (TUF) challenge, which was a competition for up-and-comers to earn a contract with the UFC. More so than TUF though, what really got me reengaged is Spike’s replays of former fights and events. It let me catch up to what I had missed.

The sport changed quite a bit since the beginnings. First, although there were impressive feats by pioneer Royce Gracie over much bigger opponents in the beginning, the sheer athletic prowess of a lot of the early competitors wasn’t like it is today. Second, a lot more rules were put in place to make it more of a sport, and less of a brawl.

The sport has grown tremendously since the first TUF aired on Spike. And with the growth, it’s recently seen some growing pains based on fan feedback. There seems to be a paradox (or several).

First, there are fans who want to see an “all out war” and other fans that see it more as a sport with the objective to win any way (even by judges’ decision). The dilemma comes in because the blood-thirsty fans are probably among the longest, most loyal, and most passionate fans. As far as growth is concerned, to appeal to a wider audience, and make it more of a “sport,” the UFC has to disappoint their base a little. A win is a win in any sport.

For me, and even most hardcore fans agree, I want to see the best of the best display a mix of skills. It’s “mixed martial arts” for a reason. Here’s where I seem to differ from most other fans. I do not want to see two guys “bang” for three rounds no matter how hard or bloody it gets. If I want to see highly skilled striking, I’ll watch boxing, muay thai, or kickboxing. Same for wrestling, grappling, jujitsu, etc. There are plenty of fights and fighters who mix it up, and that’s what I want to see. I think the continued growth of the sport depends on the mix.

Second, The striking vs. grappling debate gets muddied. Sure, no one wants a long “lay and pray” fight. I think though that is a symptom, not the problem with some fights. I think the real problem, which creates some boring fights, is strategy.

I don’t want to imply one bit that I’m an expert by any means. These are just my observations. I see 3 types of fight strategies:
1) Aggressive offense – which can come in any form (striking, takedown, ground and pound, submission)
2) Countering – waiting for the opponent to make a mistake or leave themselves open to a counter of any form (again, striking, takedown, ground and pound, submission)
3) Safe (or point fighting) – take no real chances throughout the fight, but keep busy in order to win a decision.

For the most part, not every fighter sticks to only one of those categories in all fights or even throughout one single fight.

I think the matchup of fighters employing the strategies above make or break a fight. I think #3 is responsible for most boring fights. But even #2 can create some snooze fests. But even both can create some exciting fights too.

Thinking back to boxing, two of my favorite fighters were Pernell Whitaker and Oscar De La Hoya. When they fought, the fight was boring. Both employed a mix of 2&3.

If you have two fighters, and both wait to counter each other, and neither gives up an opening, you have a boring fight.

I don’t mind the wrestling. Like most others, I do want to see aggressive fights. I just think the argument gets too wrapped up in fighting styles, and not enough in overall fighting strategies. A wrestler who plays it safe will be boring. There are plenty of guys with wrestling backgrounds who are very aggressive. So to blame boring fights solely on wrestling itself if misguided.

In the end, I don’t think there is anything they can do to change the rules to make fights more exciting. Some will be bores, we just have to deal with it.

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