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Fight Critic: Should fighters apologize for boring fights?

Chi Kong Lui's picture

After Andrei Arlovski's victory over Fabricio Werdum at UFC 70, he apologized to the crowd in his post-fight interview for not winning the fight in a more exciting fashion. This was a fight that Arlovski clearly dominated in the rare exchanges that took place, but neither fighter pushed the pace in the later rounds and the crowd booed the general lack of aggression.

Arlovski established a lead early on in the scorecards and his corner saw no reason to jeopardize the lead and instructed him to keep the fight standing and trade conservatively from the outside. To Werdum and his corner's discredit, despite obviously being behind on the scorecards, they saw no urgency to take the fight to Arlovski or perhaps Werdum was physically unable to do so due to injury or damage. The result was a boring technical fight that saw more dancing than punches or kicks.

The question is should Arlovski have jeopardized his sure-fire victory by recklessly attacking or should we, as spectators, appreciate what he did to achieve victory rather than boo his efforts?

If you consider MMA to be an athletic competition, then you have to accept that coaches, trainers, and fighters do not strategize and plan on how to "beat the crap out of someone" or "take his head off." They strategize on how to achieve victory and, unfortunately, those goals don't always include knocking someone out or even finishing the fight. This may be in direct contrast to what spectators want to see in terms of violence and excitement, but the reality is that victory can often be boring.

After Heath Herring's debut lose to Jake O'Brien on an Ultimate Fight Night, I was astounded by his post-fight interview where he said he wasn't accustomed to the style of fighting in the UFC, as if to imply that fighters in Japan don't strategize and simply stand in front of one another, throwing bombs till someone drops. For anyone who's seen the much-publicized Pride fight between Don Frye and Yoshihiro Takayama, who repeatedly and simultaneously bludgeoned each in the face, this shouldn't be a surprise. In Japan, MMA is more akin to pro-wrestling (which seeks to thrill) than sport (which seeks to compete). Putting on a "show" is clearly prioritized over legitimacy and competition. Hence the continued presence of freakish sumo-sized combatants and fighters with embarrassingly poor losing records in all the top promotions in Japan.

But isn't the importance and legitimacy of victory what separates a true sport from pro-wrestling? If the UFC prioritized entertainment over wins, doesn't that make it no different than the WWE?

This dilemma has no easy answers and could even be considered paradoxical. If you ask a promoter what's most important in a fight, they'll usually say being exciting. Ask fighters the same question and they'll usually say winning is more important. Excitement is what spectators want to see, but if the fights aren't legitimately real, people wouldn't be interested to begin with.

Boring fights are tough to stomach, but if you consider MMA to be a competitive sport to legitimately test one's skill and determine the superior fighter, then you have accept that boring fights are a part of the game.

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"In Japan, MMA is more akin

"In Japan, MMA is more akin to pro-wrestling (which seeks to thrill) than sport (which seeks to compete). Putting on a "show" is clearly prioritized over legitimacy and competition. Hence the continued presence of freakish sumo-sized combatants and fighters with embarrassingly poor losing records in all the top promotions in Japan."

You have a point here, but it should also be pointed out that the judging criteria in Pride stipulated that effort to finish was the supreme arbiter when judging a fight. This means that fights like Arlovski-Werdum would have been judged incredibly even under Pride rules since no one tried to finish. The fight could have been stolen in the last seconds by a determined attack by either fighter.

The point I'm trying to make is that we don't have to accept boring fights if we don't want to. What we could do is modify the rules in a way that encourages, or even demands action. As in the Pride example the fighter going for the finish could be rewarded, and if neither fighter tries to finish they could be punished, perhaps with yellow cards slashing their purse.

Again, if we know what we want from the fight, it's all a matter of formulating the rules accordingly. As it stands currently the fighters are sent conflicting messages. On the one hand a cautious but boring approach wins fights. On the other hand everyone involved is saying how they want action.

They should accept the consequence of their opinion and stop rewarding what they don't want to see. Returning to AA v. Werdum it could be argued that they both lost.

The purpose of the fight as seen by fighters, fans and promoters is currently in fundamental conflict. Promotors and fans want exciting action, fighters want victory. This schizophrenic situation could be cured by changing the rules in a way that makes it difficult or impossible to win without having produced exciting action.

This might seem a very radical course of action, but remember that similar things have happened before. I am referring to time limits, rounds and stand ups, for example.

Ultimately, any set of rules is always arbitrary, why not make rules that encourage the type of fighting you want to see?

I don't believe the Pride

I don't believe the Pride judging criteria for finishing the fight is what causes Pride fighters to "swing for the fences" when they fight. Two things to consider... 1) While I couldn't find the judging criteria clearly defined anywhere on the Net (as you said this is a problem in of itself), before each PPV, Goldie does mention agression and octagon generalship as judging criteria. Agression is pretty much the same as finishing the fight and I think UFC fighters know that finishing the fight looks good to the judges. 2) In Pride, both fighters can choose to be strategic and force the judges to use all the other criteria to judge the fight. As I said in my post, I think the reason is more cultural in terms of how we see and value winning in competition.

That said, I do agree that if there is a way to address boring fights, it would be in the rules. This remind me of pro basketball before the 24 second shot clock. Teams would build a lead and coaches would instruct the team to basically hold the ball. This nearly destroyed the game as a spectator sport until the advent of the 24 second clock.

yes but

Boring fights are part of the game, that's probably true.

On the other hand... fighters by now must surely know that exciting fights increase their market value. Nick Diaz lost a few fights in UFC, but if he's on PPV, I'm more likely to buy. Karo Parisian lost to Diaz, but he's incredibly fun to watch. Arona may have a great W/L record, but there's a significant portion of the potential viewership who regards him as a "lay n pray" fighter who isn't that interesting to watch.

So while boring fights are part of the game, some other fighters are going to try to maximize their value by swinging for the fences.

Joe Lauzon says...

Season 5 TUFer, Joe Lauzon said something interesting on his journal:

I think my fight was kind of a tipping point on everything with Wang. We had two guys that should have won their fights — one didn’t listen and he lost his fight, while the other listened and won convincingly. I think my fight showed BJ what Wang’s fight could have been, and it was salt in the wound to sit there and watch Wang talk about his fight and how good it was. There was nothing good about it ... he lost. Winning is all that matters, and he didn’t win. End of story.

I agree. If boring fights

I agree. If boring fights are a problem then modify the rules to penalize boring fighters. One idea the previous poster touched upon is including financial penalties and rewards for desired behavior. Such as slashing the purse for tactics such as stalling or lack of aggressiveness and giving bonuses for knockouts or impressive submissions.

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