We’ve all been there before…asses parked in front of a TV, most likely at the local Bar & Grill, watching two fighters cautiously engaged in the fighters’ dance. Yes, a dance. I’ve said countless times that fights have a certain rhythm to them. So, these tentative combatants, not so much nervous, but hesitant to get caught because of the importance of the bout, are weary of his opponents movements. So this has us as fans, in most cases, bored with the product we are watching. Hell, it is entertainment, after all.
But if you’re a fight fan, you’ve seen it hundreds of times. This “product” has you easily distracted. From ordering adult beverages at the bar, to running your “A” game to the finer sex. Then, all of a sudden…..BAM! You look back at the screen just in time to see one fighter knocked unconscious. And, in the funniest of cases, trying to submit the referee because he has no coherence as to what just occurred.
The crowd is going wild, and by now, the entire pub is a buzz with “ooo’s and ahh’s”…in an instant, we as spectators switch from borderline snoozing, to experts on the sport. We’re left dissecting replays to our mates as if we’re professional fight analysts, or something.
“Damnit, I missed the knockout!!”, I shout. The entire bar is now vibing with energy. But what really caused me to miss the haymaker? Was it babygirl across the bar and the way those hips filled out her jeans? Probably. However, I can safely say that no set of thighs is distracting me during a Conor McGregor bout. Instead, it was the two cage warriors’ complete unwillingness to throw caution to the wind and take a chance on mounting an offensive attack because they were stuck in the feeling out stage. While the knockout blow did do it’s job and send all viewers into an uproar, a back-and-forth war gives us fans something to remember them by. But there’s so much more to it. The excitement doesn’t always lie solely within a K.O. itself. It is, of course, the pinnacle, but the typical MMA bout can go in so many directions to lock our eyes on the screen, and get our asses out of those proverbial seats.
So, what makes for an exciting fight? Besides a fight where one corner is occupied by Conor McGregor, but I digress…However, the question itself has many layers. Without being a douche about it and insulting your fight intelligence, depending on how serious of a fight fan you are, it can be approached from many different angles. We use the term “casual fan” on our podcast, 2 minute:WARNING Pride Rules MMA (Airs every Wednesday at 7:30, available on all podcast outlets, especially iTunes and on our website www.priderulesmma.com). Because, if you’re just a person who enjoys the sport for the entertainment, sure, the knockout will get your blood pumpin’. However, if you truly appreciate and understand the art of the many fight styles and what they bring to the cage, well then your “fight thirst” is gonna be quenched pretty easily. I had mentioned Conor McGregor earlier (twice now, in fact….only because I know one of our co-hosts Tommy Dee is most certainly counting). The way Conor moves in the octagon lends to such unpredictability. His fluidity is extremely unique in the sense that he utilizes angles so well, you’re always at the exact end of that left hand, taking it a step further, he is technically precise with his range. At any time in his bouts, he’s a second away from a knockout. His movement, being ahead of its time, is just so hard to mimic in a fight camp, so there’s really no way to prepare for it…and once you’re inside that octagon, making it up on the fly only benefits him.
Enough on “The Notorious” though, instead let’s start at the birth of mainstream MMA. I’m talking about the finale of the first season on The Ultimate Fighter and the bout between Stephan Bonnar and Forrest Griffin. By now, everyone who knows anything about the UFC knows just how pivotal and important that night was to the UFC’s popularity. Launching it into a new stratosphere, going from strictly Pay-Per-View buys to regular ol’ TV, and is now broadcast running parallel with the evening news. This particular event could very well rank up there with the most exciting moments in television history.
Fights like this have no losers, but frankly, Bonnar was robbed. Go watch it on YouTube right now if you don’t believe me…don’t worry, I’ll wait…………exactly. The fight saw these two savages going toe-to-toe for 15 minutes. Multiple times, both dudes were bloodied, battered, busted up, knocked down, gotten up and were on the verge of being stopped. The proof was in the numbers, because by the end of the ”war” the ratings had skyrocketed, seeming to increase by the minute.
What viewers were seeing was quite possibly the most raw, unadulterated primal carnage in a controlled atmosphere. The slugfest had us all on the edge of our seats with anticipation of one fighter getting knocked the fuck out…and no set of thick thighs was pulling my eyes off that screen at any moment.
Aside from the rare matchup where both fighters show a ton of heart and can throw a punch, the saying is as true as the sun rising in the East (Flat-Earth theorists aside) “Styles Make Fights”. Be sure to take that statement with a grain of salt. You would assume that two kickboxers are our only shot at a slugfest.
How many times have we seen two decorated wrestlers square off? Hundreds. Don’t ever judge a book by it’s cover, though. As I sit here typing in my pajamas I can confidently say that the majority of those fights were stand-up brawls. I’ve seen dozens and dozens of fights which pit two ground guys against each other. Expecting a borderline wrestling match, on the contrary, you see a lot of fighters stand and bang. One would assume the reasoning behind this is they’re confident in their defense. Confident in their punching ability. Or simply trying a little gamesmanship by taking their opponent out of their element because, like my brother and podcast co-host Chris says, “These fighters are usually overconfident in their own game, sometimes to a fault.”
No matter the reasoning, it usually makes for an epic fight, so it’s the fans that win.
This above opinion was never more apparent than in any of the three Frankie Edgar/Gray Maynard bouts. They both fought tough fights, more or less throwing punches, kicks, elbows and knees until the opportunity for a takedown quickly presented itself. Which ironically was crucial to the scoring of the fights that didn’t end in a knockout due to their granite skulls. Since two of the three fights ended in said decision (one draw), it didn’t make any of these fights boring. This mends to my earlier statement that you don’t always need the big K.O. to deem a fight exciting. Instead of one big finale, I would much rather see a handful of pockets of big moments…if that makes any sense…which it does…go back and re-read it if you need explanation. Without question, in exchanges and flurries where one fighter gets rocked, stumbles back…but instead of mailing it in, he digs deep, puts his balls to the wall, throws a bomb and winds up rocking his opponent right back. This makes for those all-time, historic moments.
So, now that the crowd is in a tizzy, we as fans don’t know what to think anymore. And we love it. At this point, we’re just embracing the chaos. Which is, in the fighting world, the definition of excitement.
Instead of looking at fight styles, I look at “fighter style”. I look more into the personality makeup of a fighter, because, let me tell you…the closer attention I paid to the sport, the more I realized things like weight cutting issues, injuries and the pull-out problem were serious topics that the UFC tried to address by changing their weigh-in times, moving it ahead 12 hours. The issue lies within a fighters’ lack of professionalism to stay within a manageable range when it comes time to cut…making time a non-issue. It’s things like this that I look for when handicapping a fight.
Following the bouncing ball, the flow of this conversation has us looking at the most common fight…The submission artist vs. the striker. Personally, without looking at a single statistic, if I was to bet, or just wanna look educated in front of my fight fan friends (orrrrrr the lady folk), I basically always side with the ground guy. Reason why I say this is for the fact that it’s just simply too easy for a takedown or trip to present itself to the submission specialist. Depending on the flow of the fight, once their bodies hit the mat you start to hear the crowd grumblings, which grow increasingly louder as those one-sided takedowns increase. It must be such a pain in the ass for a fighter to get completely smothered, taken and held down. You can pretty much see the expression on the fighters’ faces sinking with frustration when every single thing he throws at his opponent gets continuously stuffed reversed and they end up drowning under his dictation of pace. Once the fight goes to the ground, all the air deflates from the body of the recipient. A term used in wrestling greatly applies to this situation. The term “fish” really paints the picture as to what they look like bridging, kipping up (essentially flopping around) to kick the aggressor off an stave off his onslaught.
I can see it now if I close my eyes, it’s the 1st round, the friggin’ grappler spends four minutes on the mat, jockeying for position…the round ends…and about one minute into the next round it’s back to the ground. What do you start to hear? That chorus of “Boo’s” & Grumblings and you can sense the tension build in the arena. Bor-ING!!!
So, let’s dig into the minds of these fighters to see what it is that gives them the competitive edge to not just accept mediocrity, and bring an exciting style that makes you memorable, win or lose.
The most obvious aspect of their game is the striking. Because, after all, that’s what gets those asses out of the seats. We can gauge talent level by worst to best. Worst being some type of Ronda Rousey/Khabib Nurmagomedov hybrid, best being Anderson Silva in his prime. You know when you see Khabib fighting, that his game is the takedown and his form of ground and pound. However, for whatever reason, this has a very bland taste to it to the fight fans’ eye. Nate Diaz picked Michael Johnson apart, but when Johnson fought Nurmagomedov, he hurt him on the feet. There were a few exchanges early that left Khabib staggering for a second and put him within inches of being slept. In his defense, he weathered the blows and fought through it. It tells me two things:
- Khabib’s hand skills need a lot of work.
- He knows it.
But don’t expect him to deviate from his skillset. Why should he? He hasn’t been tested yet…so I don’t blame him. We can expect more of the same from the Dagastani “Eagle”. More power to him, but he’s boring to watch…and won’t win over any fans, other than the McGregor haters who expect him to be the Chosen One to take out the icon.
Wrestlers and Jiu Jitsu practitioners are polar opposites. As a grappler, you’re more about getting the takedown, using your hips and wide base to stay on top, and work the G & P. While a brown belt (for example) is going to transition from submission attempt to submission attempt. Baiting his opponent, while transitioning from side control, in & out of guard, etc. That does make for an exciting fight.
There’s nothing like a back and forth slugfest where each fighter comes within inches of defeat. That lay & pray tactic…or the take down, stall, get stood up, take you down, stall more technique is corny and also makes for a chorus of “Boo’s” during the post fight octagon interview (Big ups to Joe Rogan). These fights are usually made up of one Jiu Jitsu guy/Grappler vs. the Kickboxer/Puncher. No matter how careful you are, when you get in that close hand-to-hand combat and start to exchange, it’s too easy for the ground guy to just drop to a single and “Wham”! He’s on top…hell, he’s in side control, perhaps even in the mount…whatever. But still, in a very good position. Fast forward 15 minutes, the ground guy just worked the win, and the entire arena is now grumpy, waking up from their nap. So boring, so vanilla. So the opposite of a Stephan Bonnar, Forrest Griffin bout.
All we can do as fans is approach each fight with an open mind, but when reading up on potential fights that get your blood pumping, be sure to remember and consider what I said earlier about fighter personalities and tendencies. It’ll wind up going a lot further in the department of what should actually play out. Don’t always assume two knockout artists are sure fire bets to handing in an epic brawl, that will stand timeless in the era of Mixed Martial Arts. On the flip side, don’t assume two grapplers/submission specialists means the fight will be a snoozer either. Keep an open mind is all I’m sayin’. You just might not be as surprised as you think…and it will surely increase your own fight IQ.
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