What are the costs of fighting smart?


If you only read one journalist in MMA, it should be Ben Fowlkes. His pieces are uniformly insightful and thought provoking. Below Fowlkes asks where the line is in MMA between smart and safe, and between safe and boring.

In the run up to Phil Davis vs. Vinny Magalhaes last month at UFC 159, Davis had mused about beating Magalhaes at his own game, and getting a submission. Didn't happen, and the resulting fight was not a fan favorite.

Davis appeared recently on MMA Junkie Radio and explained why.

"If I find a weakness, I will beat you there," said Davis. "I don't need to prove how big of a man I am and fight with some huge ego and try to submit you where you're strongest just to prove I'm this or that. That's not the way I do things. That's not the way you win a war. That's not the way you do anything successfully. Not in competition."

ZUFFA CEO Lorenzo Fertitta famously told The Atlantic Magazine that you can sum up the power of MMA in three words - HOLY F@$%ING $#!^!

"... there’s the holy s--- factor," explained Fertitta. "Actually, they said ‘the holy f---ing s--- factor.’ It happens at every fight. At least one or two times in every UFC show, whether you say it out loud or you say it to yourself, you go, ‘holy s--- did that just happen?’ I mean, you might see somebody do a flip, get kicked in the head, get knocked out with a punch. At some point, you’re going ‘whoah, did that just happen? Did I really just see that?’ That’s the nucleus of what our product is."

Nobody watched Davis vs. Magalhaes and thought 'HOLY $#!^!!?!'

Everything has a cost in life. Below Fowlkes discusses the cost of being smart.

The way Davis opted to pick apart Magalhaes from a comfortable distance was completely unassailable from a tactical perspective. He got the decision, got his money, and went home a winner. So what does it say that the Davis-Magalhaes bout was so forgettable while Jon Jones' decision to beat Chael Sonnen at his own game managed to make an obvious mismatch seem memorable?

You can't really criticize Davis for his approach. If he'd stuck around in Magalhaes' guard and gotten himself submitted, we'd all be talking about how dumb it was to play to his opponent's strengths.

At the same time, I can't say that it was a whole lot of fun to watch Davis use his strengths to exploit Magalhaes' weaknesses for three rounds. It felt kind of like watching a movie where, 20 minutes in, you know exactly what the next hour and a half will look like. The third round looked an awful lot like the first, only with more sweat and heavier breathing.

Smart game plans tend to be risk-averse, and, in addition to pure, unadulterated violence, risk is a big part of the appeal of combat sports. That's what fight promoters sell. This guy will try to hit this other guy and, in so doing, will open himself up to being hit. So when someone finds a way to win that a) minimizes risk, and b) doesn't replace it with a bloody abundance of violence, it can feel like a letdown, maybe even a bore.

Is that a good enough reason for fighters like Davis to abandon their strengths in the interest of entertainment? Probably not, especially when you consider that if he'd tried it and lost, it's not like we'd cut him much slack for his willingness to step out of his comfort zone. That's why fighting is such a selfish sport. The fighter has to look out for his own interests – because fans and promoters sure won't.

Read entire article...

So what do you think UG?

What does it mean that safe doesn't necessarily put asses in seats, or contenders in title fights? 


tags: UFC   Phil Davis (detail)  Vinny Magalhaes   


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Recent Comments »

Tweener site profile image  

5/11/13 8:42 AM by Tweener

I have no problems with smart game plans, as long as the fighter is still working.Condit vs Diaz? Loved that fight - Condit was working and moving the entire time. GSP? He's always working - he may not have finished a fight in a while, but he's fighting the top guys and he's always moving and working and just exploiting every weakness his opponent gives him.The only smart game plan I dislike in one in which the fighter exploits one weakness in which they know they've got no way of finishing the fight, and results mostly in them either just standing there or lying on top of his opponent - for instance, a wrestler who takes a fighter down, doesn't really attack and doesn't even attempt to pass guard or advance position in some way... Another one is the fence clinch where the guy just holds his opponent against the fence for 5 minutes kneeing him in the thighs and and tapping him in the ribs or head occasionally.I'd actually prefer a smart fight (except that described above) than a wild brawl for the most part. I'll watch a Condit/Diaz fight (I use it as an example because so many people bitch about that fight, when it was a brilliant performance) over some BJJ Black Belt standing and wanging with a kick-boxer for 3 rounds any day. I want to see fighters use their strengths and fight smart; I don't want to see Jorge Gurgel, Gabriel Gonzega or fucking Demian Maia think they're world class kick boxers. I want to see those fights fight smart and use their skill-set to their advantage.Most people seem to be enamored by fighters like Leonard Garcia who just goes into the cage and swings his arms around for 15 minutes without any thought to a fight plan. I can't fucking stand that shit - no wonder he's barely won a fight in the last 4 fucking years. But people go ape shit over the guy.A smart gameplan doesn't mean boring and it doesn't mean no action - it means studying your opponent and taking advantage of any hole you find in their game. For the most part - this takes away the crazy brawls and guys flying at each other, but I'm glad it does that. This is MMA, not a street brawl - I want to see professionals with the best techniques out there using every tool they've got to intelligently pick apart the other guy. If that means a cautious approach and perhaps a slower pace (which again, it doesn't necessarily mean), then I'm cool with that. If it means someone is going to be "running away" the entire fight, I'm fine with that (because Condit never ran away, he kept his distance and instead of acting like a moron and standing in front of Diaz, never let him set up a flurry). Smart fights are good fights. Yeah - it can be fun to see a brawl at times, but I prefer to go back to the older days when MMA was just developing to see that. I'll toss in an old UFC DVD when I want to see two guys just flailing around; that time has passes, however.

Oontyex site profile image  

5/11/13 6:14 AM by Oontyex

I'm never critical of a fighter who is try to get/ set up pathways to finishes but is unable (winning or losing) and a huge amount of appreciation and credit is given when fighters show heart.It's very clear though when watching, that for a certain set of fighters the finish is not the end point of the gameplan - and I can't stand watching those guys.agree with the last post, that judging needs to change. Would love stalling punished instead of rewarded and actions on the path to finishes valued more than eg 'that takedown with 5 seconds left won him the round'

Tombmatter site profile image  

5/9/13 9:54 AM by Tombmatter

Mostly rules and judging question. If 1-2 close sub attempts would trump 3 rounds of "picking apart from distance", empty takedowns, wall n' stall or what have you, guess what would be the best tactic then?

awesomestprime site profile image  

5/9/13 8:22 AM by awesomestprime

The biggest difference in MMA today and MMA 10 years ago is defense. It's rare to catch a guy in a submission without beating him up a little first. And catching a guy with a KO shot is easier said then done. Especially when you're the better striker and he's not engaging.Subs and KO's happen when someone makes a mistake. The guy losing the fight would rather lose a decision then risk the KO. (generally speaking)They're not many examples I can think of where someone winning a fight didn't try to finish at all while the guy losing did.

RyannVonDoom site profile image  

5/9/13 2:21 AM by RyannVonDoom

You spelled women's mma wrong

TheBulgarianAssassin site profile image  

5/8/13 11:53 PM by TheBulgarianAssassin

If people want to see really exciting fights with fighters really going for it, then they should go watch more ammy MMA. Ammy fights are exciting (most of the time) and usually end in the 1st round (most of the time). That's from what I've seen at least.

PeaceThroughStrength site profile image  

5/8/13 4:08 PM by PeaceThroughStrength

I'm content with the fact that not all fights will be great.Not everyone will be pleased with each fight.Especially if the fighter you want to win loses the fight chasing his opponent the entire fight.I didn't like the way Machida fought against Dan Henderson,but I'm sure some Machida fans didn't mind as long as he won.They would say it was Henderson that couldn't hit Machida,and I would say Machida ran and wouldn't engage.Either way it was One less then exciting fight with two different views.We all know both fighters are capable of putting of great fights,for a reason that will differ,that fight wasn't one of them.

Slowshot site profile image  

5/8/13 3:58 PM by Slowshot

I'm not sure I agree.To take the Mag/Davis fight for example, once it was clear that Vinny couldn't stand with Davis, he should have done everything in his power to get him down, and that means buckwild rushes with 100% commitment for the takedown.It means risking the KO to get it to the ground where you have a chance. He didn't do that, and it lost him the fight.

kingkoopa site profile image  

5/8/13 3:12 PM by kingkoopa

Yup. The gut losing is less to blame because by definition they are being less effective in what theyre trying.Just look at the one ufc falco fight. He ran the entire 3rd cuz he knew he was up 2rounds for sure.

CLINTK9 site profile image  

5/8/13 2:23 PM by CLINTK9

well, to defend the losing guy, if there was something he could be doing to not be losing, he probably would be doing it. point fighting or plain getting your ass kicked, if your losing you got do something. BUT Worse is guys winning and playing it safe to Win by the judges or decision. thats not fighting with fighters trying to see who is the best, thats playing a rules game. and its boring, not worth paying for and turns fans off by the hundreds. I love technical battles, when they are trying to win the fight by defeating the other guy, not technical battles that try to win rounds and judges decisions.