Quote of the Day: The False Choice of Safety vs. Pleasing the Fans in Mixed Martial Arts

"UFC, of course, would thrive more if all main event fights were exciting, if all fighters went all-out and played aggressively on offense and loosely on defense, taking chances that often would lead to a big KO but sometimes would lead to a preventable loss had they been more conservative.

...

Had Anderson gone balls-out and "put on a show for the fans" - as the fans in the arena, as Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg addressed (Goldberg was more measured here and had his best outing as an announcer in a while after increasingly shaky performances in recent years), and as commentators and bloggers have called for since - he might have lost. He probably wouldn't have lost, but he might have. His odds of winning by fighting the way he fought was about 99 percent. His odds of winning if he fought the way the critics of the fight wanted, he had a 90 percent chance of winning. He had a lot to lose, so why increase his chance of losing ten-fold?."

-- Wade Keller, arguing what can only be described as the MMA equivalent of how many angels can fit on the head of a pin. Emphasis mine.

Believe me, no one wants to move on from this Anderson Silva debate more than me. The problem I keep running into is that dictrators from the point of view that Silva half-assed it do not appear willing to at least faithfully represent the viewpoint of the other side. And that's all evidenced by this false notion that the choice Silva faced was to coast as he did, safely ensuring victory while nullifying Leites's attacks or to compromise his safety in an aggresive Wanderlei Silva-style push towards the finish.

We keep getting introduced to the idea that in order to pursue the fight Silva had to substantively risk his belt and health. After UFC 90, I gave Silva a pass because while he held back, Cote is possessive of big power and technical striking. Being more reserved in the stand-up had very real value in that bout. Even if Cote lost in the exchanges, Silva would've had to deal with a fresh, competent striker who could land damaging blows even if Cote was ending up far worse off. Carefully planned strikes and avoiding damage had a place.

But that's not what happened at UFC 97. Instead, we had a Thales Leites who remained largely flat-footed, offered literally no jab and either flopped to guard or covered up when struck. On top of that we have a Silva throwing one punch hooks to the body or right hand leads with no follow up (or playful and utterly worthless side step trip attempts). Leites was as close to being helpless - particularly in the championship rounds - as one can get in professional modern MMA. The notion that Silva had to compromise his defense in order to throw two or three unanswered shots at a time instead of one against a defenseless Leites is pure fantasy. In fact, Silva's best round is round three as he was able - at will - to crowd Leites against the fence and land multiple strikes against a Leites who just absorbed the punishment or ran. Those who believe Leites is to blame or mostly to blame have a case, but the notion that in trying to pursue the fight against an opponent who could do nothing to protect himself except cover up and almost zero offensive skills standing that Silva was therefore upping his risk to more than a negligible degree is simply not supported by the evidence (and except for the second round, all takedown attempts were shrugged off as if Leites was a child). The idea that it was either play it safe or truly risk physical safety in this fight is a false choice that did not exist and is being invented solely to support a viewpoint.

So, look, if you believe Leites is mostly to blame, fine. If you believe Silva was well within his rights to do what he did, fine. And if you believe this was a satisfying performance from the champion, fine. We don't need to rehash those arguments. But please stop championing the false choice that Silva was either playing it safe defensively or risking more than a negligible amount by offering more effort. That simply isn't correct, particularly for an adept striker with pinpoint accuracy able to work at the distance of his choosing with the timing of his choosing against an opponent who was flat footed, bewildered and covering up.

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