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Comment: When is a fight not a fight?

Comment: When is a fight not a fight?
June 23rd 2012

It is already being described as one of the worst UFC fights ever.

When Gray Maynard and Clay Guida were matched for the headline slot of UFC on FX 4, it was thought that things would get ugly - but in a crowd-pleasing way. Maynard likes to get into wars and Guida has more energy than the national grid. The last thing anyone expected was boredom.

Guida said afterwards that perhaps the judges didn’t understand what MMA really is. “The person who gets hit the least, wins the fight,” he explained for their benefit. Well, I understand MMA and I can say definitively that Guida’s explanation isn’t exactly watertight.

While he landed more total strikes than Maynard, according to FightMetric, many weren’t of any particular significance and none seemed to really bother Maynard much. Contrast that with Guida literally having his left eye sealed shut by the end of the fight - does landing a flurry of light strikes count for more than damage such as that?

The ruleset which allows a fighter scoring numerous light shots to win is called ‘light-continuous’. Its a feature of kickboxing and karate circuits but it isn’t applicable to MMA. So for Guida to think that landing the odd jab in between multiple circulations of the Octagon is simply erroneous. That isn’t the judging criteria and last night’s judges, thankfully, did a good job.

MMA has evolved far beyond the style vs. style and toughman brawls of its early years, but perhaps these days far too much reliance is put on ‘the gameplan’. The word ‘gameplan’ itself has become almost a mantra and is fast coming to define one manner of fighting anyway, which involves a lot of mobility and little direct engagement.

Nobody is asking fighters to be idiots or caveman. Obviously there is little benefit to your health, standing directly in front of someone for 15 minutes and battering each other in the head. Highly entertaining for the spectators but something you are likely to regret when you are sixty years old and looking for the TV remote control you had in your hand just a minute ago.

But at the same time, you are a professional fighter. You are doing this voluntarily and no one is forcing you to go in there and demonstrate your fighting skills and martial ability. Its a choice you’ve taken and it brings some responsibilities.

First, to actually out-fight your opponent. Manoeuvring alone doesn’t count - it does not take long to learn how to move backwards and you can literally find beginners all over the world frustrating more experienced training partners by doing exactly that. It does not denote a high level of martial or tactical skill.

Second, to do a little something for the paying customers. Again, your health is a prime concern but this does not justify engaging less than the average UN peacekeeping corps. You don’t want to stand in front of the guy? Take him down. Work aggressively to do so. Can’t get him down? Try and work his legs. Level-change under his attacks to counter him with leg kicks.

Then try and take him down again. No good? Possum on the cage, try and draw him onto something or into a clinch. And so on. There are numerous ways to fight someone that don’t involve standing directly in the pocket and going blow-for-blow.

Of course, not for a minute am I making the absurd suggestion Guida or the esteemed coaches Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn don’t know this. Of course they do; they are all of them some of the best in the business. Rather I think the problem is that there has been a precedent created over time where the'mobile' fighter can earn a decision win, apparently for being ‘tactical’, and that this has created a culture of playing it safe.

Ultimately it is the fighter’s prerogative whether he chooses to play it safe or not. Wins can definitely be earned that way, but the fans are going to loathe it and the promoter even more so. Particularly in the UC, which is first and foremost a pay-per-view company, you are going to slide off the main card very, very quickly with such performances.

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