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.
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So what do you think UG?
What does it mean that safe doesn't necessarily put asses in seats, or contenders in title fights?