Awards such as "Submission of the Night" (SotN), "Knockout of the Night" (KotN), and "Fight of the Night" (FotN) give fans a decent measure of how exciting or entertaining a particular fighter is. The two awards based on finishing an opponent (SotN & KotN) are hard to misinterpret. Demian Maia’s 4 SotN awards let jiu jitsu fans know when to tune in, while fighters similar to Chuck Liddell keep the knockout fans satisfied. The third award, although sometimes given for seemingly different reasons than excitement (see Coleman vs. Rua), is a measure of a fight’s overall entertainment value. FotN bouts make you think of people like Tyson Griffin, who has won the award 5 times, and contain ingredients like well-roundedness, momentum shifts, courage, and sometimes recklessness. There is an elite group who hold the honor of receiving all three awards. Two of those fighters took drastically different paths to accomplish that feat. One path is hailed as the future of the sport while the other is often dismissed as its past.
Chris Lytle and Anderson Silva have the ability to finish fights with dramatic knockouts and submissions, and put on exceptionally entertaining bouts on the world’s biggest stage for Mixed Martial Arts. A closer look at the two most exciting combatants shows an interesting dichotomy. To receive the same awards one uses brains and accuracy while the other uses heart and aggression.
Chris Lytle has 7 awards in total that span all three categories: 2 for SotN, 1 for KotN, and 4 for FotN. Fans of Chris know exactly how he accomplished this goal. He throws caution to the wind and swings his fists with full force for fifteen minutes until the point of near exhaustion, often leaving the cage a bloody mess. It is hard for any fan not to appreciate his efforts and to be entertained, but with the amount of damage taken, it is hard not to worry for his longevity in the sport. Some fans take solice in the thought that brawlers like Chris are approaching extinction (figuratively speaking).
In the other hemisphere of excitement there is a fighter who, by these award standards, is on par with Chris Lytle, having accrued 1 SotN bonus, and 2 bonuses each for KotN and FotN. However, an examination of their contests reveals that these fighters are near polar opposites stylistically. Anderson Silva fights with intelligence, and manages to put on exciting matches while rarely ever taking any damage. Along with other fighters like Georges St. Pierre, BJ Penn, and Lyoto Machia he represents an important stage in the evolution of the sport. These fighters inflict the most damage while receiving the least, which, according to Lyoto's father Yoshizo, is the future of the sport. Yoshizo also suggests that slugfests will be phased out by fighters like his son and Anderson.
But who is more exciting, Chris or Anderson? Which style translates to the masses? Do fighters have to move forward more often than not in order to win over the fans? Do they have to take damage? Or, will such reckless styles be phased out as fighters and fans take the next step in their evolution together? The elder Machida's prediction fails to take into account several factors about the business aspect of the sport, its participants, and the fans. Regardless of whether any major shift in fighting style takes place, fans will always demand excitement, businesses will keep awarding finishes, and some fighters will just like brawl.
MMA will continue to bring us many different forms of excitement. The new generation of fighters may be aspiring to be the next Anderson Silva, but there will always be another Chris Lytle in the ranks. On occasion we will even be treated to both technical and reckless fighting in the same fight. Such was the case in Lytle's last bout at UFC 110 where he opened the first round with his patented wild punches and closed the fight with a beautiful and technical knee bar submission. That this dichotomy can exist within the sport, even within a single fight, and even further within a single fighter is one of the traits that makes MMA the most entertaining sport on earth.
Below is an incomplete list of data compiled from Wikipedia showing fighers bonus totals:
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