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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