"Boo," "Hiss," yells the overwhelmingly "non-hardcore/casual" crowd--as yet another world class wrestler/grappler (whether his name is St. Pierre, Fitch, or Shields) entirely dominates his opponent. "What a boring fight!" is the next day mantra that spreads through the self-professed "hard-core" MMA blogosphere. In unison, both soft and hard-core alike claim that if they wanted to see a wrestling match, they would watch collegiate wrestling. But, as many folks have already pointed out, this is, shall we say....utterly stupid. When elite grapplers take otherwise dynamic world-class athletes down to the ground at will, pin them against the cage, and relentlessly pummel their ribs and face with fists and elbows or work for positional improvements and submission attempts, this is an impressive athletic/competitive feat that can only be accomplished in MMA. You can watch every elite college of modern Olympic wrestling match that has ever been recorded and you won't find a single instance of anything that resembles what Fitch recently did to Saunders or St. Pierre did to Hardy. In both cases, two world class athletes with first-rate stand up skills were taken down and entirely dominated--reduced to throw dummies with no response and no answer. Yet, the crowd booed and jeered and the internet experts grumbled ad nauseum about how boring two of the top fighters in the world had become.
To see how inane this complain really is, all we need to do is take a look at the Fight Metrics results from GSP/Hard as an illustrative example:
Punches (thrown/landed) 194/167 64/41
Kicks 7/7 1/2
Take Downs 11/11 0
Submission Attempts 6 0
Positional Improvements 26 0
And yet, despite the fact that GSP entirely outworked, outgrappled, outstruck, and outclassed Hardy, some people thought GSP put on a boring show. I, for one, think that the folks complaining about "boring grapplers" grinding out victories over world class fighters need to stop watching MMA and start watching reruns of Toughman contests. Indeed, the so-called fans who booed both GSP and Fitch never really wanted to see a MMA match in the first place. Instead, they wanted to see a blood-infused street brawl--flailing hay-makers and all. That's fine as far as it goes. Different strokes for different folks. The issue is not whether people are entitled to be bored by fighters like GSP, Fitch, and Shields. Of course they are. Just as I am entitled to be bored to death by what I take to be their misplaced boredom.
But I nevertheless think the "grappling is boring" crowd cannot properly call themselves MMA fans. This is a conceptual point and not a purely subjective aesthetic one. A MMA fan is a fan of mixed martial arts--which incorporates disciplines such as wrestling, jiu jitsu, boxing, kick boxing, etc. Given that all of these skills are used by GSP, Fitch, Shields, et al., they are putting on (what I take to be masterful) MMA performances. Are their displays of skill and prowess as titilating as a blood-soaked slug-fest? No, of course not. But slug-fests are not MMA bouts. Instead, they are half-skilled boxing matches. If I wanted to see high level boxing, I would watch....well, boxing. If I wanted to see poor boxing skills, I would watch a Toughman contest. If, on the other hand, I wanted to see world class mixed martial artists incorporate all of their salient skills into impressive performances, I would watch fighters like GSP, Fitch, and Shields.
So, feel free to disrespectfully boo until your little blood thirsty hearts are content. Just don't pretend along the way that you are a fan of MMA. You are decidely not. Instead, you are someone who should have spent your time watching Kimbo's back-yard brawling videos on Youtube. Of course, as I said before, if that's what you enjoy watching, that's fine as far as it goes. But don't let your narrow and arguably unrefined taste in fighting styles fool you into thinking that you are a fan of MMA. You're not. Instead, you are what Joe Rogan aptly referred to as the "meathead factor" when the chorus of boos began during the GSP v. Hardy fight. And like all meatheads, you would do everyone an enormous favor by piping down and educating yourself when it comes to what the "mixed" in "mixed martial arts" means. It doesn't mean mixing hay-makers with sloppy boxing. It means mixing several skill sets together in an effort to nullify your opponent by taking away his or her strongest assets. I, for one, don't think anyone in the business is better at this than GSP, which is why the misguided criticisms he has received since he dominated Hardy are so hard to tolerate. So, my plea to the meathead factor is as follows: Please find another sport to follow or rethink what it means to say you're a fan of mixed martial arts. Obviously, everyone enjoys a good knockout or stand-up bout. But to think that anything else merits booing is...well, utterly stupid.