While it’s true that we all love a good ‘ol fashioned barnyard brawl inside the octagon, is it fair to say that one key rule does nothing but inhibit certain types of fighters from achieving the success they so clearly deserve?
The sport of MMA, or mixed martial arts, was created back in the 1990s specifically with the intention of pitting several fighting disciplines against each other in order to identify the most effective. And though perhaps the rules and overall approach to the game has changed over the years, the same core principles remain intact.
This weekend will see UFC 211’s supposed welterweight title eliminator take place between the fantastically creative Jorge Masvidal and the grappling wizard that is Demian Maia for that reason, I feel the time is right to take a look at the public’s perception of one key area of the multi-faceted world of MMA and wonder at how that has perhaps negatively impacted the sport’s rule set.
Demian Maia may well stand as the most decorated and effective grappler in the UFC today but despite his masterful skills on the mat, he has become something of a divisive figure within the MMA community.
Maia’s grapple-heavy attack – just like the former welterweight champ Georges St-Pierre (in his later fights) – has seen him come under much criticism over the years from fans who are put off by his methodical and patient approach to achieving victory.
His resumé as a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black-belt is among the most impressive the sport has ever seen and when he made the switch over to MMA, he began to etch out a run of absolute dominance after making the drop down from middleweight to his new home in the welterweight division.
Maia’s philosophy on combat is not to hurt his opponents, but merely to win his bouts using the art of BJJ in a manner that not only mirrors the legendary Royce Gracie in its execution, but also in the way that Demian’s victories – to him – stand as triumphs for the martial art that he is representing, something he takes great pride in.
The fans, of course, do not always take kindly to watching this genius at work and let’s face it, had he been outclassing opponents on the feet in a similar way to how he has been outworking them on the ground, his 170lb title-shot would have materialised a lot sooner than it has failed to do so by now and with that in mind, I’d like to raise the question as to whether the fans’ perception of the art of grappling has not only affected the UFC’s matchmaking, but also the rule set of MMA as a whole.
I’ve seen games of football where the likes of Barcelona have controlled anywhere upwards of 75% of the possession over the course of the 90 minutes on the pitch, where they have shut down all forms of offence from their opponents and have settled into their stride, content to pass the ball around amongst themselves and effectively kill the game off.
Wouldn’t it be strange if after, say, five minutes of uninterrupted possession that the ref intervened and forced the Catalan giants to give the ball back to the opposition? Even if it livened the game up to an extent? It just wouldn’t make any sense, would it?
MMA and football, for all of their differences, are both still sports.
Why on earth, when you have someone like a Maia or a GSP or even a Ben Askren, who has dedicated their lives to improving their grappling, would you call a halt to their phase of dominance on the mat due to a lack of activity and force the fight back to its feet?
A ref will often intervene if there’s no activity on the ground after say, fifteen, maybe twenty seconds (and I can assure you that some select individuals jump in a hell of a lot quicker than that) and bring the fight to the feet. This can be during some strong top pressure inside an opponent’s guard, or even worse, when one fighter is pressing the other up against the fence to exhaust them.
Sure, racking up some strikes can help draw out this stalemate of sorts but at the end of the day, is this not a sport like golf or rugby or snooker or anything else you can think of? Skill should trump entertainment value every single day of the week and if one guy is able to successfully nullify his opponent’s offence by laying on him for 15 minutes straight, then all power to him.
Maia has absorbed just 13 significant strikes in his last four UFC bouts, something that has only helped the longevity of his career and yes, he can, at times, move in aggressively for the finish but if you give any random fighter the choice between absorbing a decent amount of damage and getting the win, and taking virtually none with the same outcome, you’d be hard pressed to find many that choose the former.
The thing is, not all of them have the skill necessary to pull it off.
The Unified Rules for Mixed Martial Arts should be rewarding highly skilled grapplers for their superior mat work and not allow a few boos to dissuade them from allowing this sport to be exactly that, a sport.
This is not professional wrestling, this is chess. It’s two human beings stepping into a cage for the allotted amount of time where they put absolutely everything on the line in order to take home the win.
We all love seeing the Diego Sanchezs of the world biting down on their mouthpiece and swinging for the fences but these are real people that are in there and I feel like the purpose of having five minute rounds is to give the fighter unfortunate to be in a helpless position the chance to reset, regroup and reevaluate how he/she is going to conquer their foe.
This is the reason we group fights into a set number of rounds. If you can’t get out of a position during the time remaining, you best make damn sure in the following round you don’t find yourself in it again.
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena