Thursday, September 15, 2011

MMA Being Ruined By Fans and Refs?

Anyone who has been watching mixed martial arts over the last decade and a half or so will undoubtedly be able to attest to the fact that the sport has grown by leaps and bounds, both in terms of popularity and the level of competition seen amongst the athletes. An MMA fight from 1995 looks a hell of a lot different than an MMA fight from 2011. MMA fights from 1995 looked a lot different than MMA fights in 1999, even. The evolution of the sport has been nothing short of explosive. Rapid advances in training methods and the calibre of fighter/athlete have led to an absolute metamorphosis in the sport. And all of this has taken place alongside an explosion in the number of people taking interest in the sport.

In short, MMA is on fire, and the world is taking notice. Which is great, right?

Er...sort of. 

You see, along with the popularity comes increased ignorance, misunderstanding, and pressure. Pressure on the athletes, the refs, and the promotions. The swelling numbers of fans need to be entertained, and unfortunately, what a lot of these mouthbreathers consider to be entertaining isn't necessarily what makes MMA, well..MMA.

See, mixed martial arts encompasses techniques from multiple disciplines, and these techniques are put to use in a variety of situations that are not always, on the surface, easily identified or understood. It's not uncommon to hear someone disparage MMA, for example, because “two guys lying on the ground doing nothing for 5 minutes is fucking stupid and boring” when the reality is, they're doing nothing of the sort. Attacking, both via strikes and submission attempts, defending against both, trying to advance a position, trying to block any such advances, etc. There are things happening all of the time. Constant struggle.

Hell, the positions alone are numerous and varied, and all have strategic implications: full guard, half guard, side control, rubber guard, north south, butterfly guard, full mount, rear mount, crucifix, mounted crucifix, muay thai clinch, etc.

It basically boils down to attack and defend, with many nuances, the knowledge of which I have yet to have mastered. It takes a lot of time to get these things down. And so, when a casual fan, or a new fan, or someone watching for the first time, see two guys in the clinch, or on the ground, they find it “boring.” And so they boo. The crowd fucking boos everything now. And quickly, too. Hell, I've even seen live crowds booing the two fighters during the initial feeling out process while standing, at the beginning of the first round. And I'm talking within a minute! Like...WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU EXPECT? You want them to run out at the sound of the bell and just start fucking wailing at eachother, with no regard for their safety or career prospects?

Unfortunately....that does seem to be what many of these so called fans want, and what really fucking sucks is that the refs and other people involved are starting to fucking cater to this bullshit. A couple of years ago, two guys on the ground stayed there until someone lost, or the round ended. Now, unless someone is working for a submission every fucking five seconds, they'll, at least some of the time, get fucking stood up (by the referee). And of course, the annoying, booing crowd will cheer loudly. Yay, now I might get to see someone get a left hook to the jaw and fall to the floor!!


Watch boxing then (or kickboxing), you cunts!! Why the fuck are you watching MMA? It's called MIXED martial arts for a reason, idiot! There are various components to the game. It's not just fucking boxing, or kickboxing.

It's getting even worse in the clinch. Granted, some guys do use the clinch to basically wear their opponent out (although many do not, and instead (or, at least also) use it to try and secure a takedown, as well as utilize short knees and elbows), and I can understand people finding it boring. I understand the position the refs and the promotions are in. However, it should be about the fight, not the fans, and if a guy is able to secure a clinch and hold the other fighter there, then tough fucking shit. Tough shit for the other fighter, and tough shit for the 'fans.' But nooooo, they now separate them, and quickly too!

The thing is, this interference by the refs is actually more than just annoying. It's fucking unfair, to the point of almost literally fixing the fights (setting up one guy to win over another) and potentially dangerous. (Yes, I am claiming that separating guys in a clinch, or standing them up from a ground position, in an effort to force them to “work,” gives one fighter a distinct advantage over another, and could even lead to someone getting hurt (perhaps funny to say coming from a combat sports fan, but believe it or not, serious injuries aren't that common, and certainly preferably avoided).

You see, most times, if not all of the time, one fighter has an advantage over the other in certain positions/situations. So, if one guy is a superior striker, the other guy needs to formulate a gameplan that nullifies his opponents' striking and works towards his own advantage/to his opponents' detriment). Said gameplan could very well involve the clinch game. In the past, this was not only common, but expected. The fighter with a disadvantage in striking would utilize the ground game and/or the clinch, or perhaps striking (but most likely with an eye on potential takedown openings, especially if the fighter in question is a wrestler or a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner) but done in a meticulous and strategic way, perhaps involving lots of in and out movement, say a la Lyoto Machida (a rare (for MMA) karate practitioner).

Now, this is still common, and expected....but it's also, in some corners, starting to be looked down upon, and disinsentivized. And this is where the trouble starts.

If a guy is at a disadvantage while standing, and is able to force the better striker into less advantageous positions, then good for him, and too damn bad for the other fighter! You don't want to be on your back, in your opponent's guard (if he say, clinched and then pulled guard) or in a clinch....then learn to avoid those things! If you cannot, then too fucking bad. You're being beaten and might have to suffer a loss. The better fighter wins that day. It's all about formulating and then executing a gameplan, and if your opponent is more successful at it than you, tough shit. At least, that's how it should be, and would be, if this was pure sport. Unfortunately, however, this is 2011, and money rules the day. If the people showing up to an MMA event want kickboxing, they'll get it (what they should get is shown the fucking door). And it's BULLSHIT.

Imagine this situation applied to hockey: Remember when the neutral zone trap was all the rage, back in the mid to late 90's (I think)? It was the New Jersey Devils, I believe, who started playing in that style. People fucking hated it. But guess what? It was goddamn effective, and they were shutting teams down and fucking frustrating them fuck out of them in the process! They played a smarter, more strategic game of hockey than did their opponents, and they won. Which is how it should be. The fans hated it, of course, and booed a lot, but no one forced New Jersey to stop (although I hear that some rules were implemented years later that made the trap either less useful or actually useless...not sure, no longer follow hockey, but I digress). Imagine if the ref had blown the whistle and forced New Jersey to play with a different strategy? Madness, right?

Well, some MMA fighters are the New Jersey Devils, circa 1999(ish?). When you think of it that way, it should become apparent how retarded it is. No athlete should ever be told by a referee how to play. As long as they are abiding by the rules, it's fair game.

Taking the lesser striker and making him fight standing up against the better striker to appease the ADD riddled, bloodthirsty goons in the stands is not only completely unfair, to the point where you're basically giving the better striker the fight, it's also an attack on the sport of mixed martial arts. MMA is in the middle of an identity crisis right now, and I only hope that it pulls through intact.

As for the dangerous part of it, that should be self evident. If not, it's simple: Guy who is much better standing gets a free pass to sit there and box/kickbox all night, which means that the other guy is at an increased risk for getting tagged, and tagged badly.

Before I end this, I just want to quote an MMA referee, 'Big' John McCarthy, on this issue. John has been in the fight game since the beginning, and he's got a lot of knowledge when it comes to MMA. Here's what he has to say on the issue:

There are several problems that are going on.  You have referees who interpret the rules their own way.  Positioning is everything in MMA.  On the ground, if you don’t know what’s happening in every position, you’re going to make mistakes.  They may even be mistakes that the crowd likes.  The crowd likes it when guys get stood up.  
But you see Roy Nelson fighting Andrei Arlovski.  Nelson gets to side control, is working a kimura, and the referee stands them up.  This is a referee who doesn’t understand what he is looking at.  It doesn’t matter what anyone in the audience is saying, whether they want them stood up or not.  You have one guy who’s in a dominant position.  It would be like a boxing referee stepping in to stop a guy from throwing a perfect left hook.  That’s what’s happening in MMA fights all the time.  Referees are interjecting themselves into the fight.
You can’t put an unequal emphasis on the stand-up portion of the fight and say that the ground isn’t as important.  A ground fighter might take a beating to get the fight to the mat, but once he’s there the referee might only give him fifteen seconds to work before standing him up.  The fighter who wants to stand and strike doesn’t have to worry that the referee will only give him fifteen seconds to work before putting him on the mat.  If you stand up a fight because the crowd yells, ‘Stand ‘em up!’ you should never referee another fight.

You have a lot of referees coming from boxing and saying that they know fighting.  And maybe they do.  I’m not saying they don’t.  But if they don’t know all the elements of MMA, what’s going on in the ground game and how things happen in the sport, they’re going to make mistakes.


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