Decisions, Decisions, Decisions


UFC light heavyweight Jon Jones captured the mood of many MMA fans last Saturday with a simple tweet.

Jon Bones Jones @JonnyBones

UG Guest Blogger John M offers some suggestions on what might be done to raise the finishing rate which has fallen precipitously this year.

The broadcast speeds up, worrying about time constraints. Bruce Buffer’s voice is quicker, more pointed, as the fans get ready for yet another fight. The audience is quiet (if not booing), the spectators at home are tired, and everyone is desperately hoping for some excitement.

UFC Fight Night 36 went down last Saturday in Jaragua du Sol, Brazil, and MMA fans were treated to something that is quickly becoming a theme in 2014. Of the 12 fights on the card, 10 were decisions. This ties the record for the most decisions on a single UFC fight card, set two weeks ago by the exhausting UFC 169.

The UFC has approached an unexpected obstacle this year - the fighters are not finishing fights, and many of the bouts haven’t been fun to watch. Coming off a 2013 that was one of the most exciting years in a long time, many assumed the thrills would continue, but that is not what fight fans have seen thus far.

After the catastrophe that was UFC 169 (Dana White’s description, not mine), the UFC made a change to their bonus structure. They altered the Knockout of the Night and Submission of the Night bonuses to Performances of the Night. So far, that hasn't made a difference.

When the UFC debuted in 1993, the finish rate was 100% - there was no other way to end the contest. In 1995 time limits debuted, and eventually decisions. The finish rate steadily declined, due to the addition of time limits, weight classes, lighter weight classes, and a number of other factors. From 2010 on, it settled at around 50%

A month and a half into 2014, the finish rate is at about 30%, a drop of 40%.

So this begs the question, can the UFC do anything to reverse this trend, and if so, what?

There are definitely some options the UFC has, and one of them is a matchmaking adjustment. The UFC’s matchmaking is generally pretty even, and naturally even fights are more often than not going to end in decisions. Since this is a sport, we want even contests. But this isn't just any sport, this is an entertainment sport.

MMA thrives off the possibility of a spectacular knockout or a sudden submission, that’s why we all keep coming back to watch these cards. We need an occasional shot in the arm, which means there should be a bit of a mismatch here and there just to keep things fun, especially on the undercard. This is where the finishes are most absent. 14 straight preliminary bouts have gone to a decision. Of the 33 preliminary bouts the UFC has held this year, only seven have ended in a stoppage, a 21% finishing rate. Not only do the fans get the shot in the arm they want with this kind of matchmaking sprinkled in, but it will help build up more stars from the prelims (an issue the UFC is struggling with, but that's another story for another day).

However, with the issue of concussions weighing so heavily in the sport's mind these days, this shouldn't be a shark vs. a fish, a dominant force against an absolute can, but a mildly competitive match where the underdog at least still has a chance to win.

The late PRIDE Fighting Championships did this quite well. They booked fights that would more likely than not result in a finish. Some might argue too much - a guy like Zuluzinho should never even be in the same arena with someone like Fedor Emelianenko, much less the same ring.

Look no further than the GOAT discussion for an indication of how important finishes really are. Most people, not all but most, consider Anderson Silva and Emelianenko a notch above longtime welterweight kingpin Georges St-Pierre. This is because they have more of an aptitude to fight for the finish rather than the win (St-Pierre’s better competition aside).

Now back to the finishes, or lack thereof. There aren't a ton of things the UFC can do. While instituting a finish bonus rather than a win bonus may help, that’s a hefty change I don’t think the UFC would be willing to make. Such a move would also lend itself to a more entertainment-like view of MMA. That’s a route the UFC has clearly shown they’re not interested in taking. Plus, we’re only a month and a half into the year. We may all just be overreacting, something MMA fans have been known to do...

The sport is developing every day. Fighters get better and better, and learn more and more skills. As more fighters develop more skills the huge advantages that some fighters seem to enjoy will evaporate. This is the future of MMA. Finishes will be scarcer but fighters will be better and more dynamic. In turn fights will be better and more dynamic. Where that puts the sport, I have no idea, but I’m excited to see it.

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tags: UFC 169   UFC Fight Night 36   

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Recent Comments »

Acecool72 site profile image  

2/20/14 6:25 PM by Acecool72

When fighters are evenly Matched you are gonna get decisions and if every fight ended in the first round people would be complaining about mismatches and elite fighters beating cans.....kinda like when Eric silva destroyed the Japanese guy

talkischeap site profile image  

2/20/14 4:04 PM by talkischeap

Give every fighter in a fight that dont go to a dec a twenty or more % boost in pay . And on a side note the guy who is the victim oh ko otn should get the bonus as well

Tad Ghostal site profile image  

2/20/14 2:56 PM by Tad Ghostal

Being a UFC fan now is the same as being a hardcore MMA fan 6 years ago, except you only watch 1 promotion instead of 10. The UFC used to promote itself on having the best fighters in the world, and UFC fans grew accustomed to guaranteed, international-level talent. Now the UFC is filled with regional-level fighters who have contracts that need to be fulfilled, yet people still expect the same level of fights because it's still the UFC brand.Zuffa seem to be hell bent on world domination and having a global standard would probably be good for the sport. However, I don't think they can continue to pass off Jungle Fights as the UFC without losing more of their (very profitable) North American fans.I think they should somewhat follow Facebook's model of buying out competition but continuing to run it as a separate entity (e.g. Instagram, WhatsApp, Snapchat(attempted)). Facebook do it because their brand is already stale, whereas the UFC could use other brands to differentiate between the obvious disparities in talent of their roster. Fox needs UFC fights, as do PPVs, but they could present international fights using either existing brands or create new ones themselves.E.g. they could have 'The UFC's Kenny Florian' reporting from Brazil at Ultimo Luta Campeonato with top Brazilian sports announcers calling fights in English. Have standardised rules and safety protocols but don't drain all the individuality out of worldwide MMA.

John M site profile image  

2/19/14 6:20 PM by John M

As I read the comments I agree with the sheer number of fights point. That may be an issue and I can definitely see where people are coming with that, and if I re-wrote (more like editied more) I'd include that idea.  How are supposed to get upsets without some mismatches here and there ? =-)  

John M site profile image  

2/19/14 6:16 PM by John M

Alright I can see that. Less qualifiers and look for MORE ways to solve the problem rather than just one possible fix.  Thanks for the feedback.

Calavaro site profile image  

2/19/14 4:56 PM by Calavaro

I would have liked to see more suggestions to improving the finishing rate, and not just "mismatches". Someone in this thread said "Sign a contract for x fights, get to fight x times even if you go 0-x". That's a GREAT idea. Combine that with a finish bonus of 3x show money and a performance of the night bonus of 5x show money, with an upper limit of US$ 150k in bonues, and you have a recipe for fights & events that will excite even the most hardened fans. It'll draw more and more casuals to the table too. Anyway, keep writing and don't be afraid to make proper summaries, draw your own conclusions and be opinionated.  

Jack_Bauer site profile image  

2/19/14 4:53 PM by Jack_Bauer

They UFC already pays a bonus for finishing your opponent on The Ultimate Fighter so clearly they do think it works. Why not add that to the PPV's?

Mertvaya Ruka site profile image  

2/19/14 4:38 PM by Mertvaya Ruka

and anyway, we had like 2 cards back to back with not many finishes, that's not an issue statistically, it was bound to happen someday. So no need to freak out yet.I'm all for changes to the rules that would make it more interesting, I believe Ratner is already working on that but I'm not sure knees on the ground is on the table thought.

Tad Ghostal site profile image  

2/19/14 4:32 PM by Tad Ghostal

John M - Entertainment sport is an oxymoron, MMA is a spectator sport.More mismatches? I could agree with the idea of developing certain fighters but deliberate mismatches are very unsatisfying unless it's an upset.I agree with your point that better fighters contributes to less finishes, but the sheer number of fights (33 prelims in 46 days?!) means that most will be crap and the UFC brand now means nothing more than an 8 sided cage and noisy bald men.You basically contradict your entire point (that the UFC needs less decisions)when you mention that 2013 was a very exciting year, as if you look at any list of the best fights, most will be decisions. What's recorded on the scoresheet at the end of the fight doesn't matter.Grammatically; there's nothing wrong with subordinate clauses, use more.

markiz site profile image  

2/19/14 4:11 PM by markiz

Seems like everyone on ug are saying the same thing lately "used to enjoy ufc, but now I don't bc of Dana White or smth".Well I'm kinda going the same way, cuz I've been staying awake all night just to watch ufc and now I don't anymore.I don't have a problem with a fight like Machida vs Mousasi being somewhat boring, because I understand that in a fight like that there's a lot to lose and the skillset of the fighters participating is of highest level. So an all out war on a level like that is normal. The problem is that lately, it's been the story all the way down to the prelims. So you've got two guys trying to make it to the bigger league. It used to be, at least in most cases that they've done that by impressing the hell out of spectators. Now it seems, they're fighting first of all, not to lose. Juest like the top guys. And I think that has something to do with the change the UFC made last year towards it's fighters.First of all Dana White announced that they've got too many on the roster and they're gonna fire 100 or so. Then they fired high caliber guys like Jon Fitch and Yushin Okami.Especially Okami firing was in my opinion a very bad move. That was a #6 ranked guy, who just lost by KO, but won 3 of his last 4 and to be honest wasn't that boring. So if his job isn't safe, nobody's is. Because of that we're gonna get more and more guys on prelims fighting like they're doing it for a title, so welcome to the point fighting/fight not to lose era, bye bye exciting fights. Francis Carmont seems to be a sign of things to come. A fighter with abilities to put on a thrilling fights, but instead he goes on a 6-0 win streak, which was as exciting as a plate of sick. Hasn't got much to lose yet, but he fights even more cautious that his teammate GSP, who has a fortune to lose in case he lost a title fight.