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More Than Meets the Eye
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Should a fighter be obligated to put on a good show?

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Should a fighter be obligated to put on a good show?

NO

A MMA fighter should have only one obligation: winning. When comes to MMA, or any sport for that matter, winning isn’t everything, it is the only thing. Although putting on a good show is a positive characteristic for a fighter to have, they should at no time at all feel compelled or threatened that they have to have an entertaining fight. We would all love to see high, energetic fights, but when for some reason they don’t happen, some casual fans voicing their disapproval shouldn’t warrant an assumption that either one of the fighters should change strategy or start being more attacking. Anyone wanting to see entertainment and flare rather than strategy or skill should expect this obligation from WWE rather than a true sporting event.

More now than ever now, MMA has somewhat become accepted as a legitimate sport. Gone are days from “human cockfighting”, with the evolution of MMA leading into more complete athletes such as Georges St-Pierre, BJ Penn and Anderson Silva. With this acceptance, the sport of MMA has improved incredibly, with most “freak show” elements gone. This is the way forward, with the importance of victory more important than ever. Just like in any other sports, the only way to any sort of championship is through wins, rather than excitement and competitiveness in the match. Roger Federer won this year’s Wimbledon by beating all of his opponents he faced, rather than how good of a show he put, or the quality of entertainment his matches were. Seeing how MMA wants to become a full mainstream sport, it is laughable to think that elite MMA brands would take being entertaining (on or off field) and putting on a good show as necessary criteria a fighter needs. Putting on a good show may appease sponsors and viewers, but in sport, fans and sponsors come and go but the one thing remains constant is the competition, and more importantly, the fighters.

When looked back on, a fighter will always be remembered most for the success or failure they had fighting. Granted, other notable qualities, such as an entertaining fight or colourful personality will spring back, but the lasting memory is those wins or losses. Matt Hughes will always be remembered for being arguably the greatest champion in UFC history rather than his feud with Matt Serra or the high octane matches with Frank Trigg. The point is here is that if the only thing that consumes these fighters is winning, then why should external factors such as putting on good fights for the fans have to come into consideration? Even the most notable fighters, who are remembered by putting on a good show, have had their popularity founded on success. Take for instance, Forrest Griffin. Griffin is most known for his spectacular brawl with Stephan Bonnar in the TUF 1 finale, with his decision victory winning him the tournament. But the victory was the factor as to why Bonnar has always been in Griffin’s shadow. After all both are very marketable, very humble, both fight in an exciting matter and have a good charisma that connects with the fans. But Griffin is always held in higher regard, due to his wins over Bonnar (twice), Shogun Rua and Quinton Jackson, which won him the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship. Opposed to that, Bonnar has hit road blocks, with losses to Griffin, Jon Jones and Rashad Evans, while his victories aren’t at the level to Griffin’s. Even though his personality and fight style has helped him become arguably the most popular fighter in the UFC, without his wins, Griffin would be a mid card attraction rather than a mainevent headliner. Fighters should have the freedom Griffin had; go out at all costs to win, and the whole good show thing will come with it.

Completely on the opposite side of the scale, are UFC fighters Yushin Okami and Gray Maynard. Okami, since debuting at UFC 64, has pilled a 7-1 record in the middleweight division, with his sole loss coming to former champion Rich Franklin. Despite casual fans not even knowing who he is, Okami’s victories have seen him rise to being ranked either 2nd or 3rd in most MMA media rankings for the middleweight division. Maynard, on the other hand, was first seen by many as a constant in the 5th Ultimate Fighter. After being eliminated in the semi-finals and a bizarre no-contest with Rob Emerson, Maynard has gone 5-0 in the lightweight division with dominating performances against Rich Clementi, Frankie Edgar and others. Both however, have flown under the radar or been unfairly overlooked for title shots due to their wins coming mostly by decision based on grinding their opponents with strong wrestling, along very little charisma or character in interviews. It is pretty obvious that based on performance, Okami is far more deserving of a title shot than Patrick Cote or Thales Leites ever were. Maynard although not as successful as Okami, hasn’t had the respect he deserves, all because he doesn’t fight like Forrest Griffin or talk trash like Tito Ortiz. Fighters shouldn’t have to prove themselves more because of their inability to draw a crowd. Holding back Okami a title shot against Anderson Silva due to his popularity or because of his fighting style just puts the sport and division backwards.

The debate over whether fighters should be obligated to put on a good show has been intensified recently over the past two fights involving Anderson Silva. Silva, the current UFC Middleweight Champion, is regarded by many as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. However his past two successful title defences against Thales Leites and Patrick Cote have drawn criticism from many due to his relaxed striking compared to his deadly strikes take won the championship from Rich Franklin, and in defences against Dan Henderson and Nathan Marquardt. The fight against Leites elicited boos from the crowd, as Silva was very hesitant to unleash his full load, instead just hitting seemingly basic strikes, while Leites tried desperately to take the fight to the ground, resulting in the fight going the full five rounds. But is this outcry justified? After all Leites was in the Octagon with most accurate and lethal striker in MMA, so he had every reason to take this fight to the ground game, as it was his best chance of winning the belt. Silva conversely, was putting his middleweight title on the line, why risk his title when he had a unanimous decision ready to take. Had Silva gone for the kill, there was still a chance (even if it was slim) that he could have been caught in a submission or copped a lucky punch TKO or KO. Silva already had already proven in his previous defences he was the king of 185, so what was needed to take the risk in the first place? This type of fan backlash is not new; former UFC Champions Sean Sherk and Tim Sylvia became almost villains to the fans due to both using long, drawn out decision victories to win and/or retain their championships. As stated before, Sylvia and Sherk shouldn’t have to risk there records and belts just to appease impatient and sometimes uneducated fans who want something different. If Sean Sherk knows he can hold down Hermes Franca for five rounds and claim a victory, he shouldn’t have to focus on whether he can get the crowd cheering or if he has to show some good kickboxing, especially if it could alter the outcome.

As much as the fans cheer and the matchmakers try to stylize good fights, in the end the spectators should have no control over what happens after the bell rings. You never hear team sports supporters talk about how awful it is their team didn’t put on a good show after a victory, so singles sports should be no differ. Fighters can even be loved simply just for winning; look at Lyoto Machida right now. Sure it would be good to see Clay Guida/Roger Huerta fights over a Tim Sylvia/Jeff Monson snooze-fests, but that’s always not going to happen, so let it go and allow the fighters, not entertainers, fight to win and let the best man win however possible. I would rather watch Yushin Okami, Gray Maynard or anyone else fight their best fight possible and it be boring rather than if they went out and fought for the fans approval and change the outcome, even if the fight was awesome to watch.
 
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