However unfairly, Jackson's MMA fighters are often accused of fighting not to lose, rather than fighting to win via KO or submission. That style, at once brilliant and fan unfriendly, was on full display Saturday night, as Carlos Condit did not fully engage with Nick Diaz, but rather moved in and out, notably with leg kicks, and outstruck Diaz by a wide margin.
FightMetric credits Condit with an overall striking advantage 151-105, including 68-4 in kicks. With near unanimity, MMA news sites called it for Condit, including MMA Fighting (48-47 Condit), MMAWeekly.com (50-45 Condit), MMAjunkie.com (49-46 Condit), MMAmania.com (49-46 Condit).
"Carlos Condit won," UFC President Dana White said definitively. "He went in there, and he fought a great fight. He stuck to his gameplan and didn't fall in Nick Diaz's game."
The issue is not whether Condit won, it is how he won.
While mixed martial arts has grown from a spectacle into the world's fastest growing and now practically mainstream sport, it is not like any other sport. The heart of MMA is that at any given moment something can happen that makes you scream "Holy f------ s---!"
If that is taken from the game, if MMA turns into a methodical method to nullify an opponent's skill set, while doing enough offensively to win over the judges, the sport loses its heart.
Further, MMA has lifted from boxing the mantle of determining who is the baddest man on the planet. That question resonates at the mamalian, cellular level. Fans want to see fighters fight man to man. Who can thow or bat a ball the best are ultimately games. MMA is not a game. To borrow from Joyce Carol Oates, you don't play MMA. It is real. Making MMA an albeit brutally tough game of strategy and counter move reduces it from what fundamentally makes it great and compelling.
The calculus is inescapable for an individual fighter or coach. Carlos Condit is going to make a fortune fighting GSP for the unified title. He did exactly what he should have as a professional. Greg Jackson would be a fool to tell Condit to go trade hands with Diaz for all five rounds, to enjoy the roar of the crowd, while it lasted. And Greg Jackson is a genius.
But last night's fight is not going to win new fans over to MMA. MMA does not want to move towards boxing where there are a handful of truly exciting fights each year. In short, a fight to not lose style is good for the fighter, but for the sport, not so good.
There are steps that can be taken to help.
One step is already in play, the UFC offers "of the night" and discretionary bonuses for exciting fighters. Perhaps these could be expanded even further.
The UFC could also further examine their fighter release policy.
While Dan Hardy has been retained after four straight losses, he is the exception that proves the rule that the UFC will cut you for enough successive losses, not matter how exciting you are. The UFC has to play an exraoridinarily careful balancing act between sport and entertainment, and they have admirably leanedtowards the former.
In countless cases, the UFC could have made money off fighters but chose not to because that fighter's skill level was inconsistent with the top levels of the sport. Kimbo Slice would have remained a draw, but they gave him tough fights and when he couldn't compete, he was out. A few more fighters getting Dan Hardy treatment might be great for the fans, and good for the sport.
Further, steps could be taken with match ups so that not every fight is designed to lead (eventually) towards a title shot, but is just a great fight. Dan Hardy vs. Anthony Johnson made sense from a bracketing standpoint, but was not likely to result in a great fight, and didn't.
Every fan, too, can take steps to help.
Interviews at an early UFC revealed a deeply unfortunate vein in the audience - when asked what they were there for the reply over and again was "blood." Everyone who loves the sport should make an effort to explain what is going on in a fight, the techniques and strategies that are in such ferocious play. Fans should tell their friends, promotions should broadcast to the audience, coaches should inform the local media, you should tell your mom.
Rashad Evans vs. Phil Davis was a pretty good fight, but if you didn't know a thing about MMA, it was not very exciting at all. So one step to making the sport more exciting is to foster a understanding of it.
Another step that everyone in the sport can take is to advocate for judging criteria that favors compelling fights. Perhaps the greatest immediately practical change that could be advanced is elevating the concept of 'Timidity'.
If in a judge's opinion a strategy - takedowns for example - is being employed not to win a fight, but rather to buy time, then the initiating player can be penalized.
While the current standards call for the consideration of effective and efficient striking, cage control, and a host of other veriables, some sum up fight judging in four words: "Who hurt who more?" A more redical change would be to encourage Athletic Commissions to move away from the Unified Rules criteria, which were borrowed from boxing, and instead to adopt judging criteria that are more like Pride Rules, taking into account damage and trying to finish the fight.
A truly radical step would be the institution of Pride style yellow card warning for inactivity. Say what you will about the Yakuza, but they put on excitng MMA fights.
Mixed martial arts was sustained in its dark years by a small group of comitted fans, fighters, officials, coaches, and promoters. There is a widespread sense now that the sport is so large that all that can be done about a problem is complaining.
That isn't true. Mixed martial arts is still young and small, and could still use your help.
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