Why Fans Are Forgetting the Point of Mixed Martial Arts

A lot has changed in mixed martial arts since the founding of the UFC.
The negative reactions to Georges St. Pierre's decision victory over Dan Hardy are just the most recent examples of people forgetting the point of mixed martial arts.
Some have criticized St. Pierre for being boring, or for not finishing his opponent. I can speak to the personal preferences of what qualifies as entertaining, since I am entertained by dominance and excellence and always happy to see a fighter use his strength. I am often disappointed when I see things like a world-class grappler engaging in a striking match on a much lower skill level.
As for the other criticism, finishing a fight is certainly better than not finishing, so I can understand and agree with that criticism. If those are your only complaints, so be it—they are not my issue.
My concern is with those who have criticized St. Pierre for not engaging in a striking battle, choosing instead to win in an easier way. I don't know when such an action became blameworthy, but things certainly weren't like that when the UFC originated.
At UFC 1, Royce Gracie's strategy was never a question.
He needed to take the fight to the ground and force a submission. It would have been ludicrous for him to go out and strike against the karatekas, kickboxers, and boxers involved, and it would have been downright insane if he tried to push around Akebono as if he needed to not only win the fight, but also prove his competence in sumo.
For Gracie, it was enough that he could win the fight under the short list of rules and regulations in place.
Since the time of Gracie, not only have the rules changed, but it also seems that casual fans' expectations have changed as well.
In my recent articles, I've received many comments with the same general sentiment that BJ Penn, Fedor Emelianenko, and Anderson Silva are all better mixed martial artists than St. Pierre because they are all willing to engage their opponents in any area, and not just in their strengths, while St. Pierre only plays to his strengths.
I keep on getting comments with the same general idea, so I'll set aside the possibility that these people are just St. Pierre critics, and I'll address the factual basis of the complaints.
First, I'll consider the idea that Emelianenko, Penn, and Silva don't play to their own strengths.
People say that Emelianenko beats elite strikers on the feet and grapplers on the ground, and this is at least mostly true. My first thought here would be that while Emelianenko has struck with Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic, Tim Sylvia, and Andrei Arlovski, the issue here is that the heavyweight division isn't really filled all that deep.
That's not a criticism of Emelianenko, but the truth is that while Sylvia and Arlovski might be considered elite strikers in MMA, that's more of a reflection on the depth of the heavyweight division than it is a reflection on Sylvia and Arlovski's striking abilities.
The best striker Fedor ever fought may have been Semmy Schilt. Fedor took Schilt down almost instantly en route to a dominant decision victory.
The statement that Emelianenko engaged world-class grapplers on the ground may be true, but is also a bit misleading.
Against the greatest Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners, Emelianenko found success by avoiding spending much time on the bottom, choosing instead to use ground-and-pound from top position.
Against wrestlers like Mark Coleman and Kevin Randleman, Emelianenko used his significant submission advantage to capitalize on the fact that Coleman and Randleman never really evolved their skill sets.
The Randleman and Coleman victories certainly show that wrestling without submission defense is useless in MMA, but more than that, it's important to recognize that when Fedor is on the bottom against such wrestlers, he's not really fighting against his own advantage. When he's fighting from top position against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, again, he's fighting in the position that is beneficial to his own skill set.
The idea that Penn doesn't care about where the fight takes place is also a bit ridiculous. If that were true, he wouldn't have spent seven rounds defending takedown attempts by Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez.
He also wouldn't have taken down Duane Ludwig or Jens Pulver as he did in their first fight.
Silva definitely avoids his weaknesses on the ground. He stayed far away from Thales Leites in their fight, and tried his best to avoid being taken down by Dan Henderson.
He did engage Henderson on the ground, but only after he had him severely hurt by strikes—and only with Henderson on his back, where he is least dangerous.
The truth is that none of these fighters truly fight where they are uncomfortable if they can avoid it.
Emelianenko and Penn have both taken fights to the ground to avoid the stand-up or conversely used takedown defense to avoid having to work off their backs. Silva doesn't usually take other fighters down, but he most certainly tries to avoid being taken down.
This isn't a criticism of these fighters.
Emelianenko would have been foolish if he chose to work a guard game against Nogueira instead of working from top position as he did.
Penn would have been foolish if he decided to get involved in a striking match against Ludwig, who never really developed a ground game.
These are just moderate examples of some of the best fighters in the world choosing not to engage their opponents in their strongest positions and in their strongest disciplines.
In the extreme hypothetical situations, no Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighter is going to out-box Manny Pacquiao, and no professional boxer is going to win a grappling contest with Demian Maia.
In mixed martial arts, two fighters are put in the cage under a small set of rules, and they fight however they must in order to win. Taking advantage of stylistic matchups is still very much an essential component.
If you don't appreciate any particular discipline used in mixed martial arts, you have a right to your opinion, but it just doesn't make any sense to criticize a fighter for using his own strengths to win, rather than playing into the strategies of his opponent.
If we truly demand that fighters fight in such a way that plays up to their opponents strengths, then we defeat the entire reason behind mixed martial arts.


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