From Finisher to Point Fighter: The Rise & Fall of Real Men in MMA
GSP, Smooth and the Natural Born Killer? For the sake of MMA as a whole and the future of the UFC, let's hope not.
More money more problems may never have been a truer statement when it comes to the plight of fans looking for finishes and dominant performances from their champions. When fame, fortune and legacy enters the minds of combat athletes, fear of losing everything also creeps in. What if I lose? What if I get injured? What if Joe Rogan doesn't take me out for our celebratory toke? When did our champions start to enjoy not losing more than outright winning?
Think back to the last time GSP had back to back finishes. Keep thinking. For the benefit of those of you that aren't browsing Sherdog while you're reading this article, it was back in 2007 & 2008 with his back to back finishes of Matt Hughes and Matt Serra. The fight with Hughes was not only a rubber match, but had everything riding on it. If he lost, he would not only lose two out of three to Hughes, he would not be able to regain his title and avenge his loss to Serra. To say he came in motivated to finish would be an understatement. He dominated Hughes and then went on to dominate and finish Serra. With the exception of the "No Mas!" from BJ, he hasn't had a stoppage or finish in any fight since. He's been in positions to turn up the heat and go for it, but has been content to ride out decisions. The question that comes to mind is, "Why?".
Let's consider the last performance by Carlos Condit. In one of the most anticipated fights of the year, the Natural Born Killer became the Natural Born Stick and Move. No doubt about it, if it was karate point fighting, he out pointed Diaz. But did he really win? Heading into the Diaz fight he had 26 finishes out of his 27 wins. Where was the Condit that was supposed to stand and bang? Did he leave the Natural Born Killer back at Greg Jackson's Gym, or did the prospect of fame and serious fortune get the better of him? Either way, everyone lost when this fight went to a decision. There's some real potential for a snooze fest when GSP and Condit clash. Condit will have to implement an elusive game plan due to GSP's dominant wrestling and we're sure to see the emergence of the Natural Born Stick, Move and Run. Regardless of the outcome, with a couple of fights under his belt implementing this type of game plan, we run the risk of never seeing the Natural Born Killer again.
Enter Bendo. I've been a huge fan of his since his MFC days and my gut told me he would one day be the UFC Lightweight Champion. I'll go as far as predicting he will one day hold the UFC Welterweight Title as well. The question at hand is how he will go about doing it. In his win over Edgar, his confidence was oozing. So much so that he was content with Edgar landing a couple of takedowns that I felt he could have and should have easily stuffed. No doubt about it, he beat up Frankie Edgar. He cruised to a unanimous decision victory and looked good doing it. It's the cruising part that I take exception to. Bendo has the striking, wrestling and top game to be one of the most dominant champions ever. Is it too much to ask that he return to finishing fights when he has the opportunity? With Guida and Miller, he looked great winning and couldn't have done much more to finish. With Edgar though, he owed it to himself to finish that fight. He could have and should have finished him, but chose not to. With all of the robberies out there these days, why would anyone with his ability leave it in the hands of the judges.
It all comes down to the fear of loss. Losing everything once you've reached the apex. As a wise MMA Coach once said, "Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering." Suffering for MMA fans that is. Fear is what turns finishers into point fighters. An argument can always be made that with an increased level of competition, the percentage of finishing opportunities decreases, but it's the mentality and mind-set that I'm looking for in a true champion. Say what you want about Nick Diaz, Diego Sanchez, BJ Penn, Dan Hardy, Paul Daley or a dozen other like minded fighters, these guys come to finish. Win lose or draw, they bring it. There's nothing worse than watching a finisher turn into a point fighter. In the case of GSP, the finisher in him may be all but gone. Condit and Bendo can still reclaim their former glory, but with the pressure mounting to cement a legacy and continue winning no matter what the consequence, the question remains . . . What kind of champion will they be?
Jon "Bones" Jones, Anderson "The Spider" Silva and Jose "Scarface" Aldo are all on the same page when it comes to their championship reigns. A fearless finishers mindset. While they may not end every fight early, they are always looking for opportunities to do so. No fear, just pure combat. When the fear of loss is purged from the athlete, their true skill and talent can thrive.
While there will always be exceptions to the rule, and finishing may not always be possible, the mindset and effort of our favorite fighters should always be that of a finisher. If not, we run the risk of Jon Jones 2.0 using his dominant wrestling to hump his way to a decision. Or, better yet, Jose Aldo circling the Octagon with his superior speed and movement for five rounds while peppering his opponent with leg kicks and jabs. No one wants to see those types of fights when you can see the exact same skill set used to dominate instead of just outpointing a guy and squeaking by. At this level of combat, it's mindset that determines the outcome. Give me a guy willing to go out on his sword. Champion or not, he'll garner my respect.
When Kenny Florian exclaimed, "I FINISH FIGHTS!", I got goosebumps. It was clear that Kenny had visualized and internalized that outcome over and over until it manifested itself into reality. Does it matter to me that Kenny has yet to wrap that championship belt around his waist or that he hasn't finished every fight since then . . . NO! It's the warrior spirit that I admire and respect.
It's what being a fan of MMA is all about.
I only wish more fighters would do the same.
MJ on MMA