The Evolution into Sport: Bad for MMA


Without a doubt, our beloved MMA was a far cry from anything resembling sport in its infancy. In the beginning we had two men enter a cage, and swing their fists and feet wildly at one another, while Jiu-Jitsu was still some mystical enigma that was both confusing and frightening. Clearly this was not a spectacle that the general public could truly embrace.

However time went on and MMA continued its long and tiresome trek towards legitimacy. New tactics and weight classes were introduced, and training and strategy improved by leaps and bounds. We saw the era of the wrestler, personified by Mark Coleman, Strikers who could Sprawl, like Don Frye, Strikers who couldn’t stop a takedown but had the BJJ background to stay alive and flourish, like Marcos Ruas. Then came Frank Shamrock, who was proficient in all areas and ranges of MMA, and I believe our modern era of MMA began.

The sport became one where you could not survive by simply being good at just one thing, and so we began to see an influx of superior athletes, with superior skill sets. In turn, as the level of competition got higher and higher the idea of game planning became extremely prevalent. All this clearly heading away from the wild brawls that once existed as a dirty little secret for its viewers, into a legitimate sport that could be embraced.

Which brings us to today. We now live in a world where on any given night, any fighter can win, and any fighter can be defeated. We are now seeing a surge of fighters who have found ways to combat this ugly truth, and that is by simply avoiding a fight. Cosmetically it still looks like a fight. There are punches and kicks being thrown, takedowns being executed and defended, but the spirit of those techniques are different. While once these techniques were used to inflict damage and try to end the fight, now we are seeing a trend where instead they are used to score points, with an emphasis on not losing, rather than winning. Without argument these are effective strategies to win fights, and it moves us even further down the road to legitimate sport, but I question whether this is truly what’s best for the growth of MMA. After all curling is a legitimate sport too, but most of us couldn’t name one participant in the Olympics.

You can dress it up in any outfit you want, but at its core, MMA has always been about the fight. The only reason MMA survived the dark ages where the only material available had to be hunted down and downloaded, is because its raw, visceral nature gave fans something they had never seen before. This was two men, trained in a variety of disciplines, locked in a cage and told to fight. The rules, even today, are few. Sure you couldn’t bite, or headbutt, or eye gouge, but besides that, wherever the fight went, well, it went. It was a sport that provided so many avenues to victory that more often than not, fans would see fights decisively finished. This was in a time when fans of combat sports where conditioned to dread judges’ scorecards due to the horrible decisions seen in boxing bouts. This fear was compounded by the rise of defensive, and point based fighters. MMA was our release, our combat sports Nirvana. Whether knockout or submission, we knew that when the final bell rang, the man who had his hand raised deserved it a vast majority of the time.

Now of course time has progressed and we are surrounded by superb athletes with gifts and talents most of us can only dream of. I don’t suggest at all that we return to the bloody, groin-punching days of yore. We have fighters today that openly dislike striking their opponents, such as Demian Maia. However Maia always looks for the finish, even when it puts him in compromising positions. This is what I beg fighters to remember, not the style or technique of their predecessors, but the spirit. It is a fight. A technical, fight, yes, but a fight none the less.

Not every fight can be finished, but fans fell in love with a sport where the combatants were passionate, and at least tried every single second of 15 minutes to put their opponent away decisively. I for one, am afraid that this new trend of game planning for a decision, can only make fans forget what they once loved.

Emilio Rodriguez

  • I completely agree. People didn’t become fans of GSP for his 5 round decisions. They became fans for his awesome finishes and how he use to make his opponents look like beginners. When was the last time you heard a new fan say, “Oh yeah Gray Maynard and Jon Fitch got me into mma.” Well I haven’t. It’s the people that finish people that attract new fans.

    I hope this trend stops where fighters fight not to lose but fight to win (i.e. finish the fight)

  • Also to back up Anton’s claim, the free prelims of ufc 118 showed it. The spike aired prelims started with Andre Winner vs Nik Lentz. As we all know that fight was one of these fight not to lose fights. Well the viewers didn’t like it and didn’t like it by the thousands. As the fight progressed. As the fight progressed the views went from 1.204 million to 1.059 million. A series low.

  • so in conclusion, bring back pride 😀

  • People need to take example from a guy few like but they have got to respect and that is Josh Koscheck. The guy started out as just a wrestler but he evolved into a true mma fighter. he mixes up his takedowns and striking so great and i always enjoying watching his fights. Yes sometimes he goes back to wrestler mode but most of the time he looks to finish fights whether its on the ground or on the feet

  • great read. it showed both sides of the argument really but i agree man. theres a huge difference between trying not to loose and trying to win and it kills the frightening aspect we loved so much about mma.

    the thing that drew me to MMA is that you as a fan, respect the boldness and courage of the fighters going out there and fighting knowing they could be harmed in the long run. i mean i remember seeing some of those scary ass knock outs and thinkin mann i could never do that, go into that cage and stand in front of a guy like Chuck Lidell, arnt these guys terrified before they go in?

    Not to say that isnt the case anymore, but its deffntly alot different. Back in the day there was no fighter whos main weapon was the judges score cards. MMA is the best sport in the world because it is the ultimate proving ground. Guys who are testing themselves in the most extreme fashion, everything a normal human being wants to avoid these guys did.

  • I can see your point and agree to a point, but I myself really enjoy the athletic nature of some of these fighters, such as GSP. GSP executes his game plan to a tee but will go full out on any opportunity to finish his opponent – shown in the Dan Hardy fight repeatedly. I love a finish just as much as the next fan but I like the more “sport” feeling rather than a cage fight feeling.
    I think Kenny Florian may be the perfect fighter for my entertainment; he has incredible athleticism and technique, he makes the match look like a organized fight rather than a brawl and most importantly he will fight smart but with the mindset to finish the fight at any given chance.

    This is just my opinion though, but in summary I think fighters should fight smart and not make themselves an easy target, but fight with the desire to win with his opponent on his back.

  • Josh Koscheck huh, what happened in the Daley fight he had no intention of doing anything other than control him on the ground.. I was pumped too see that fight i was expecting to see two talented guys go at it Let’s take a look at the talent between Kos and Daley athleticism,speed, power,technique but what kind of fight did we get ? we didn’t get 1 that is exactly what this article is eluding too

  • i did say sometimes he goes back to wrestler mode. The fight was for a title shot, Koscheck had been screwed by the thiago fight and lost his shot now he wasnt gonna let it happen again. I bet you anything he will be looking to finish GSP in their fight

  • ” . . . it’s always been about a fight.” Right. That’s it, simply put. Every Martial Art that I know of and some that I practice to this day teach you how to “fight” and “finish” a guy. Wrestling teaches you how to out point your opponent. That’s the problem. It’s not the wrestler’s fault, that’s what he’s been trained to do. The wrestlers who have transitioned to MMA correctly have taken that aspect of their sport out of their game and try to finish a guy, whether it’s standing up or on the ground. Those guys should be applauded.

    There needs to be a rule change.

  • i think there should be an act in the contract that says if you dont perform in 3 fights you will be cut from the org. i mean cmon if your one of the fighters chosen to fight in the ufc (the highest lvl of MMA) you should be able to perform at these standards and the thought of winning a fight by points alone should never cross their minds…

  • Idk which Thiago fight your talking about but Thiago Alves chopped his legs up the whole fight and Paulo Thiago why would think he got screwed? Idk how you can enjoy watching Koscheck he whines sooooo much “Im the number one freaking contender” after just getting KOd by Thiago, and the Johnson fight he faked the eye poke then poked Johnson in the eye?? the Daley fight the Knee that didnt touch him at all? remember that? his hair got grazed and he acted like he got “roughed up” Not only did Koscheck make his last fight boring, he made his last 2 fights bullshit faking getting hit on the ground and faking eye pokes then poking your opponent in the eye is also bad for the sport.

  • This has been a really hot topic everywhere lately. I think it will eventually hurt the sport a little bit in terms of how many people are watching. Even the hardcore MMA fans are voicing complaints. A lot of people do not like watching a fight where someone “lays and prays.” In order for the sport to grow, more need to watch so if this style decreases the audience then it is bad for the sport.

  • Pinning is sort of like finishing a guy…

  • awesome post man

  • ok i understand what are you trying to say, but if he was afraid of losing his chance , he should just train harder and understand that the reason you get a title fight is because there’s no one in your division beside from the Champion that can beat you.
    So why would you even consider yourself a contender if you are so sure you are going to lose to another guy in 1 aspect ( the stand up)

    and your willing to do waste a Co Main event with just a wrestling fight against a guy who is not a wrestler , i mean Koscheck did not try to beat the guy at all , he played 100% safe and just let Daley stay on the ground and did not care if he hurt him or not just keep him there to get points!

    just for points in a full contact sport that is MMA! why would u even take the win like that? no wonder why Daley was so piss that he tried to punch him. another one is Maynard who is even worse because Koscheck usually fights , but Maynard never does . Also Rashad evans same thing his last 2 fights and gets reward a title fight

    No wonder why the rest of the fighters are taking the same path.
    its a shame , and someting needs to change. before i lose hope with the UFC.

  • How so? I’m not trying to be an assh@le, it’s a serious question. If you try and square a guys back on a mat, how is that akin to, say, a submission where the person being submitted must take action to stop the fight due strictly to pain. A guy being pinned is not necessarily in pain (to the point of a tap) and the fight is stopped by the ref because you’ve placed his body in a certain position relative to the earth. Totally different IMO. NOT TAKING ANYTHING AWAY FROM WRESTLING, I know it’s a tough sport and requires a sh#itload of skill, it’s just doesn’t have the same goal as a Martial Art.

  • I like the idea of a yellow card.

  • In all the fights that I have watched in the last few years the only time I have seen the ref pull a fighter aside and warn them is in the A Silva vs Maia fight and the Nate Quarry and Kaleb Starnes fight. Both Strikers.

    This issue is not confined to wrestlers. Some of the most boring fights have been stand up fights were the strikers refuse to get close to a bjj fighter or a wrestler and constantly back away from the action. They do it to be “safe” as well.

    Chuck Liddell was the man a few years back yet we never once heard him complain about being held down so that he could “do something” Why? because he would not let himself get taken down. And if he did he got back up or got beat.He actually had an answer for the wrestlers.

    Now he have a bunch of fighters that say they just want to put on exciting fights and when they end up on their backs they appeal to the ref by giving the ref the WTF look hoping he will stand the fight back up. What they won’t do is mount a defense that could put them in a worse situation because that would only make things worse.

    The way I see it. At the point where “lay and pray” occurs you have to have TWO fighters that are both not interested in advancing their position if it means risking a potentially worse position.

  • only if the referee hits his hand of the mat 3 times.

  • don’t loose hope my friend things change very quickly in MMA although it does seem to be the era of wrestlers right now i’m not a fan of Edgar but he’s a hood example of wrestler’s improve their striking to and turning into good Martial Artists. I’m a fan of Brock but the fact that his stand up is very poor says a lot about the HW division a lot of people are pinning their hopes on Cain but I think Carwin with some cardio would be a better bet

  • @ griffin
    I get it a wins an win but we loose out as fans. thank god for wrestler’s like Chael Sonnen, Cain Velasquez and Shane Carwin in particular wrestlers who have not bored me once

  • D

    People like the author of this just add fuel to Bob Reilly’s fire. Basically, you are saying you want to see violence and damage rather than refined technique. Please refrain from proving MMA’s detractors right.

  • I dont think you read the whole article, or maybe you dont understand what you read?
    DI never spoke about damage, and in fact I spoke about how you can seek to finish and be exciting without causing damage.
    However while were on the subject it is absolutely insane to not expect violence and damage. Nobody apologizes for the violent aspects of boxing or football.

  • It is in the sense that the match is stopped by the referee… granted there is no pain involved but I think all wrestlers try to go for the pin instead of just riding the match out with takedowns

  • Of course, we all like to see exciting finishes and get bored by stalling tactics, but it’s still a sport, and the point is to compete and win within the rules.

    So, if I’m an MMA fighter, and my only real path to victory is outpointing my opponent, you think I should ignore that and lose to make the fight more entertaining?

    I’m all for giving the ref more power, to force fighters to engage. And maybe change the judging criteria to reward aggression more.

    The sport has evolved, and I’m sure it will continue to do so. I, for one, enjoy the benefits of the sports broadening appeal; the high level of skill, monthly fight cards and the media it generates.

    While I love those old fights, nostalgia is for the past, not the present. Move on.

  • We need refs who are more willing to stand fighters up who are stalling, and to take points away from them for inaction. They need to be better trained to tell when a fighter is fighting for position as opposed to when he’s stalling. This is why Herb Dean, Josh Rosenthal and first and foremost Big John are the only three refs you ever see standing guys up. I think this is the main solution, if guys are allowed to lay and pray with no financial reprecussions, guaranteed wins and eventual title-shots with bigger paycheques (eg. Gray Maynard) what reason do they have to stop what they’re doing?

  • -don’t give points for take downs advancing position, or positions of any kind
    – give points for attempted submissions and strikes
    -yellow card for time wasting

  • That whole knee situation was sorted out. The proper angle showed that Koscheck was hit with the other knee moments before the knee that grazed his hair. Contact was evident by the mark it left. You should really look into that if you did not follow up originally : )

  • The pin represents control, that is, the pinner is showing that he controls the other wrestler. Wrestling is about control, which is importnant in MMA because in order to submit someone, you have to control them.

  • Idk man i saw multiple replays no of them hit him….

  • @ blunts

    Judges scorecard, as a weapon – very good analogy.

  • @ mmauk

    …so often we are in agreement.

  • @ mmauk

    I still believe in Carwin; he owned round 1 of the Lesnar fight. He just needs better conditioning and to learn to pace, himself.

  • Well, back then I handed out the link to quite a few people and changed some minds. To bad I no longer have it or I would be glad to share.

  • Good point about control- control is important to a ground game. But what comes next in MMA? The FINISH. That’s not the next step in a wrestling match, and the control is for one certain position, to-wit: Shoulder blades down, tits up on the mat. The whistle is blown and your hand is raised. I can control you with a bear hug or a bunch of other silly positions and that’s not a win in a MMA fight, or it shouldn’t be a win I should say.

    So yes, control is important, but it does not finish a fight as it does in wrestling. Again, those guys who are wrestlers who, using the control they learned in their sport, end up finishing fighters in the cage have my utmost respect.

  • O okay i kinda wish you had it but im sure if you tried to find a link right now it would be a shit video that is all glicthy and jumbles up.

  • Or 50% of each fighters purse could go into a “performance pot” where the audience can vote on which fighter gets it. If they dont like either fighters performance they could vote none. The fans should get a say after all – all the money comes from the fans anyway.

  • Pay attention noobs! lol

  • @wingchun

    why not believe in brock? hes a man that never lays and prays…he lost to mir trying to finish, finished mir and carwin when he couldv just laid….i know that lots of people hate him for the wrestling background, but hes left that behind him and all i see now is a skilled mixed martial artist whose not so arrogant as to think he cant improve (he brought pat barry into his camp to help his striking ahead of the cain fight)