“This isn’t (expletive) ‘Dancing With the Stars.’ You can’t win a fight by running around in circles – that’s not how fights are won.” – Dana White at the UFC on FX 4 Press Conference
The above quote is from Dana White after watching the UFC on FX 4 Main Event between Gray Maynard and Clay Guida. For those of you who haven’t seen the bout, I would recommend that you probably don’t, unless you have a keen interest in fighters that fail to engage their opponents, or perhaps if you’re having trouble sleeping. Guida’s performance from that bout and his game plan have earned him the ire of many in the MMA community including fighters, bloggers and even the UFC President.
After immediately watching the bout I myself was pretty angry. I am a big fan of Mixed Martial Arts and the UFC, but fights like that aren’t what I tune in regularly to see. Before I get too far into this let me preface this by saying that Guida is low on my favorite fighters list, in fact, I strongly dislike Guida as a fighter. Secondly, immediately after watching the bout, I said to myself ‘This is all Greg Jackson’s fault.” Like me, many in the MMA community have shared that sentiment and it’s not the first time that Jackson has been blamed for a poor fight due to his game planning.
But really, is Greg Jackson the one to be blamed in all of this? Mixed Martial Arts is a relatively young sport and it is still developing, making rapid leaps and bounds constantly. Because of this, it’s experiencing some growing pains. One of those growing pains is judging and scoring bouts. We all like to complain when fighters are “robbed” as we say, or if a fight is judged poorly and while oftentimes the case is that a judge is uneducated about what they are watching, the other fact is that the judging criteria for the ten-point must system in the UFC is slightly broken.
Let’s start with the source of the problem. We as fans are always following blindly behind UFC President Dana White when he tells fighters “don’t leave it in the hands of the judges.” This is a problem right here. There shouldn’t be an inherent problem with going to the scorecards. MMA bouts can’t go on indefinitely, that’s why there are judges there to score the contests, so why should fighters be fighting in fear of the scorecards?
The first problem is the broken perception that fighters who go to decisions are boring fighters, or that fights that go to Decisions aren’t exciting fights. If you can’t see the flawed thinking in those two statements then I question how much MMA you have truly watched in your lifetime. There are a number of fighters that I could name off who regularly fight to decisions, but are among the most exciting in the world; Dominick Cruz, Frankie Edgar, Rashad Evans, Forrest Griffin and Clay Guida just to name a few.
The second problem lies with the UFC and the make up of the sport. Fighters are paid to show up and win, they’re expected to entertain, but the ultimate goal is winning not entertainment. The people calling for Jackson’s head because of his game planning need to look hard at the UFC itself. Game plans are part of the sport and no one should be criticizing a fighter for fighting intelligently, in a contest between two evenly matched fighters, the one who fights more intelligently and more to his strengths and his opponents weaknesses will win the fight every time. In other sports; take the NFL for example good game planning is called good coaching. Is anyone ever going to call Tom Coughlin bad for the sport of football because he’s shut down Tom Brady in two Superbowls? Unlikely at best.
So if game plans aren’t the problem and fighting to a decision isn’t the problem, what is? I think right now the sport itself is the problem. While we watch fights to be entertained, the goal of the fighter is to win. Most fighters are inherently entertaining, or will try to entertain as much as they can, but rarely is an intelligent fighter going to sacrifice the chance to win to entertain the fans. If the UFC wants to make fights more exciting, than they need to take a look at the scoring, officiating and judging of MMA bouts.
Currently, MMA uses a ten-point must system. Whether or not this is the best system for MMA and the UFC, is a whole other argument, we’re stuck with it for now, so how can it be improved? Better definitions of what causes a round to be won or lost. Better definitions of effective aggression, octagon control and their impact on a round. Better use of the ten-point must system, including the use of 10-10 rounds as well as 10-8 and 10-7 rounds.
In the final round of the Guida vs. Maynard fight, referee Dan Mirgliotta had seen enough in the fifth round of the fight and issued Guida a warning for being timid and refusing to engage. A warning like this needs to be delivered sooner than the final round. As well, the implementation of Pride’s Yellow Card system might be a welcome addition to the UFC. In the Golden days of Pride Fighting Championships a fighter was issued a Yellow card for excessive stalling and timidity, if issued a yellow card that fighter was fined 20% of his purse, per violation. A system like this or a quicker warning to Guida could definitely have changed the way this fight played out.
The bottom line is that fighters are in the sport to win. And who can argue with them, it pays to be a winner. To take a look at the UFC’s top earners per fight, I would venture a guess that the top ten is nearly a who’s who of UFC Champions and top contenders. (Due to the nature of the UFC, it’s impossible to know 100% accurately what fighters make per fight.) However, according to several lists top fighters in 2011 included Michael Bisping; a top Middleweight contender, Jon Jones; UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, Vitor Belfort; Top Middleweight Contender, Lyoto Machida; Top Light Heavyweight Contender and former Champion and Rashad Evans; Top Light Heavyweight Contender and former Champion.
Are game plans bad for the sport? Absolutely not, there’s nothing wrong with fighters who fight to their own strengths and into their opponent’s weaknesses. Are coaches like Greg Jackson bad for the sport? Of course not, intelligent revolutionary coaches in other sports like NBA, NFL and NHL win yearly awards for coming up with intelligent game plans. The problem is bad game plans and public perception.
Greg Jackson is probably the easiest target for fans and media members alike. This isn’t the first time he’s been thrown into the fire over game planning and fighting intelligently. The last time he simply typed up a list of various Fight Night awards that his fighters had won in the past and sent it to the MMA media. This time, he’s said basically nothing. But he really shouldn’t have to. His job is to help his fighters win fights, and this weekend for Clay Guida he did that.
Call Guida’s fight against Maynard what it was a crappy fight, based on a crappy game plan that was poorly executed. It’s not the first time a Team Jackson-Winklejohn fighter has tried to turn a fight into a point-sparring match, Carlos Condit did it infamously against Nick Diaz earlier this year. The difference was Condit used his game plan of constant movement to frustrate Diaz and out strike him, while Guida used it to run around for five rounds. However, this was the worst performance of one of those game plans that’s ever been seen.
For those people who are hating on Jackson relentlessly and saying that the Condit-Diaz fight is nearly the same as the Guida-Maynard fight, here’s a few numbers to help prove you wrong. Over the course of five rounds Guida threw 321 Significant Strikes and landed 45, for an awful connection percentage of 14%. He was out landed by the man he was trying to frustrate Gray Maynard by only 4 Significant Strikes (49 of 225) but was out struck by an 8% accuracy clip. Condit on the other hand, over the course of a five-round fight landed 151 of 320 Significant Strikes, landing at an impressive 47% rate. Condit also significantly out landed his opponent that night, Nick Diaz who landed 105 of 246 Significant Strikes.
Let’s face it folks, game planning and intelligent coaching is here to stay in MMA. And as long as Greg Jackson produces winners and champions, fighters will continue to flock to him for advice and training. But it’s not all bad, game plans aren’t bad for the sport, it’s proof that the sport we love is continuing to grow and evolve. Call the Guida-Maynard fight for what it was, a less than entertaining bout between two fighters who are capable of more. When two NFL teams stink up the field, we don’t stop watching them, don’t give up on MMA yet fans, there’s plenty more entertaining scraps to come.
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