This article is in response to the ongoing discussion on wrestling in mma. The opening is just some quick thoughts, feel free to skip to the halfway point and just read my proposal.
I will admit to not having any mma experience besides being a fan. I did wrestle for three years in high school (for one year I deluded myself into thinking I actually had any potential with basketball), and have a few insights into wrestling but I won't claim to be an expert. This is just my two cents.
Quick 101: The amateur wrestling background most American fighters build off is entirely based on positional control. In amateur wrestling gaining position isn't the means to an end, it is the only goal. In addition amateur wrestling is based on trying to pin you opponent/staying off your own back, making much of the ground technique used in amateur wrestling incompatible with mma. That's why a number of fighters with wrestling backgrounds are able to take opponents down and win scrambles, but can't readily pass opponent's guards or mount a ton of effective offense. While this obviously changes with further training fighters with 8+ years experience in only one discipline will most likely continue to be strongest in this one field for some time.
Working from top position is a balancing act, the more aggressively fighters go after submissions/strikes/try to improve their position, the more they open themselves up to being caught in a submission/allowing their opponent to escape to their feet/ being reversed or swept. I feel like the term lay-and-pray is thrown about too loosely. There are a number of fighters (Fitch being the poster-boy) who will continue to work at mounting offence from the top position, but put safely maintaining their position at a higher priority than inflicting damage on their opponent. Fighters who are conservative in the balancing act of mounting offence vs. maintaining control are numerous, and different from lay-and-pray action where the only real goal is maintaining position. It's comparable to the way a number of judge's decisions will fall into the spectrum of questionable to bad, but few are really robberies.
Finally, I have no problem admitting I find a lot of prolonged positional battles boring. While I loved wrestling, a lot of times I was bored senseless when I had to watch others wrestle. More active ground struggles are great, but I feel like there's a segment of hardcore mma fans out there who won't admit that they could possibly be bored by ground action, just like there are a number art snobs who won't admit that there's some modern art out there which is just plain ridiculous. While I understand and appreciate the push from mma fans to maintain the "purity" of the sport, they are putting the sport on a pedestal that costs the sport a number of casual fans. All the major sports leagues in America today adopted rules that radically changed the way their sports were played, and continue to tweak rules year by year. I don't think some small concessions are completely out of the question, but I also wouldn't the evolution of mma dominated more by rule changes than fighter progressions.
My proposal: Once a fighter achieves top control (could be defined closely to the terms used in amateur wrestling), a clock is started by a referee outside the ring. If their opponent is able to escape/reverse positions then the clock is reset. At any point should the fighter in top position gain a full mount/crucifix mount/back control the clock is stopped, but not reset. Should the fighter move out of either position but maintain top control then the clock is restarted. If the clock reaches two minutes, then a horn is sounded and the in-ring referee stands both fighters back up. The in-ring ref is still allowed to stand fighters up if he determines that action is completely stalled.
I think this is a fair compromise, it encourages action without forcing it. The presence of such a clock would hopefully encourage fighters to be more active from top, either looking for subs, improving to a dominant position, or throwing meaningful strikes. A more active top position would in turn allow for more activity from bottom other than just looking not to give obvious openings. Should a fighter on bottom be close to the two minute horn there is the possibility they could try just to stall until the horn, but I'm sure laying on bottom and just absorbing damage until a standup won't look great to judges.
It also isn't a rule that would radically change the sport. In a lot of fights it probably wouldn't come into play, fighter with reasonable skill from bottom to not be continuously kept down for that long. It also wouldn't take position control wrestling off the table, should they choose to fighters like Fitch could keep the same game plan with the understanding they may have to work for 1-2 more takedowns a round at most. Again, it wouldn't change the sport so much as nudge fighters toward more action on top.
I know the prospect of putting another part of the fight into ref's hands isn't what many want. This rule hopefully would take pressure off in-ring ref's to make the subjective call of when action on the ground is stalled, and allow for a more objective ruling from an official outside the ring. This would help reduce the discrepancy between ref's, and limit the controversy caused by different organizations trying to pressure ref's or fighters spend less time on the ground.