Yesterday, our own Mike Fagan posted an article reporting that the Nevada State Athletic Commission will decide on some new rules for MMA on August 17th. One of the rule changes set to be voted on by the NSAC is to increase rounds within "special events" to five rounds at the discretion of the NSAC. This will most likely be in response to a request from the promotion. The criteria for which a bout falls under the "special" criteria has yet to be mentioned by the NSAC.
While Mike has his own view as to why five rounds should be considered, I have a different view of the situation. Most notably, I think five rounds is the wrong way to entice casual fan interest. I also believe that fighter safety can become a huge problem if five round battles are created for nearly every single UFC event. Injuries could increase if five round bouts become common. Furthermore, excitement, something the casual fan craves, drops off dramatically after the third round in most cases.
Most of us are hardcore fans, but many fans throughout the blogosphere don't have a great grasp on what casual fans actually want. Most would argue that friends love what you love, but that's really only a small portion of all the fans out there. Casual fans don't want five round fights, and they probably don't want fewer fights on a UFC pay-per-view that they paid some solid dough to watch. For championship bouts that have meaning, I think it's easily understandable that casual fans can see why these rule changes are made for those types of battles, but there haven't been many bouts that have been finished in the "championship rounds".
It was pointed out in the previous article that 68% of five-round title fights end by the third round. Why increase the rounds to five when almost 70% are ending by the third round? Furthermore, conditioning becomes a factor as well when we consider five-round match-ups, and the more tired fighters get in the cage... the higher chance of a serious injury.
The one area that I feel is ignored in the argument of 3 rounds vs. 5 rounds is fighter safety. While it may not be a problem for the current roster of fighters in most of the divisions, I'm fearful that younger generations of fighters that move up into the UFC may be subjected to five-round fights more than the current roster. It'll probably help their training routines as they'll have to prepare more for these battles, but I'm more fearful that those fighters that lack the unbelievable finishing ability of a guy like Brock Lesnar or Drew McFedries will be involved in epic slugfests to the final bell.
In that case, five rounds isn't a good idea if trying to continue a career. Fighters like Lyoto Machida, Anderson Silva, and Fedor Emelianenko are some of the most elusive fighters on the planet, thus my argument really doesn't apply. Fighters like Scott Smith, Chris Leben, Wanderlei Silva, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, the list goes on... I have some serious doubts about continually putting into five-round battles. Granted, Leben won't be a guy seeing those types of battles, but the up-and-coming crop of fighters could most definitely see that type of fight.
This isn't an argument completely against five round bouts. I wouldn't mind seeing some special events promoted with a five round limit, but I would like to see some restraint from promotions to think about the fighters they are sending into the Octagon to do battle for five rounds. I'd also urge promotions to keep track of who they are continually sending into these wars. Generally, fighters climbing their way up the ladder are willing to fight more per year than champions, so I'd encourage those fighters to also think about the ramifications of taking blow after blow for five rounds.
The ultimate debate here, in my mind, is casual fan interest vs. hardcore fan interest. Most would say casual fans want the blood, the knockouts, the quick finishes while hardcore fans just want to see the best vs. best match-ups. Five-round fights could provide some very entertaining fights on UFC PPV events, although it could limit the amount of fights shown on the PPV.
The big question to ask is what do casual fans actually want. They want excitement. There is a good chance a five- round fight can provide that, but I'll go with the stats. Four and five round finishes are rare in championship bouts, and excitement goes downhill as fighters begin to get tired. Casual fans don't want that kind of fight. Keep the championship bouts at five rounds, continue using a three-round format. It works. Sure, we have some crappy decisions every now and then, but I still feel that comes back to poor judging. Education of those judges needs to fix that, not adding more rounds for more decisive finishes.