"I fight safe, and I'm not going to hide it." ~Georges St-Pierre
Coming off of Rashad Evans' tactical mastery of Rampage Jackson, once again the MMA world is abuzz over what a boring fight this was. I was personally on edge watching Rashad patiently implement his game plan while waiting for Rampage to crack him. I do understand why some people aren't happy with how this fight played out, but the the whole time i kept thinking "damn, Rashad is smart." And moreso than the Thaigo Silva fight, when Rashad took Rampage down he really did work some ground and pound. Evans' gameplan of avoiding Rampage's power by being either too far away or in close clinching and making him tired. It was an impressive that paid off. When Rampage went all in on his ground n' pound and couldn't put him away, Rashad came back with a nice takedown and some serious work on the ground.
But this isn't a post talking about Evans though. But his win and the reaction got me thinking about some of the top fighters in MMA. Like Evans, top guys like Georges St-Pierre, Jake Shields, Brock Lesnar, Randy Couture, and Lyoto Machida have a style based on control. That means a lot of clinch work, take downs, and sometimes it can be boring. GSP and Couture particularly are known a smothering style both in take down and top control. Lesnar's game is predictable as well, he's just impossible to stop right now. Machida has a knack for jumping in and out and waiting half a round to engage because he works distances. All of this is like what Evans was doing last night. So while its "smart," it can also be very boring. Shields's win over Dan Henderson was a perfect example of this . . . there was no question who won but was it exciting? Nope.
This isn't uniform among top fighters though . . . BJ Penn, Fedor Emelianenko, Anderson Silva, and Shogun Rua are dynamic and explosive at their best.
But this begs the question, and its one Michael Schivallo talked about earlier. Are guys like this mentioned above - wrestlers mostly - creating a culture of deflating big hype fights by boring wrestling and clinch wars that lead to UD wins? Nobody can question whether Evans beat Jackson, Shields beat Henderson, and GSP beat Hardy. And when explosive fighters like Rampage and Hardy and Hendo, all known for great hands and knockouts, get nullified by this smothering style that is both smart and boring, is it good for MMA? What happens if Chael Sonnen sticks his forehead in Anderson Silva's chest and takes him down nonstop for five rounds but can't finish him? What if Evans does the same thing to Shogun?
Personally, I'm torn. I think fighters like Anderson Silva and Shogun Rua are great for MMA, at their best they provide raw explosiveness that makes fans cheer and creates an atmosphere unrivaled in sports. But to beat them, most guys can't beat them at their own game . . . so they have to adjust and be smart fighters. Its what we saw Evans and Shield and GSP do. Rashad can't stand and trade with Rampage . . . he'd be stupid to do it and would probably lose, even though its what we all want. And Rashad can knock people out, he traded with Liddell and won - but then tried trading with Machida and got put into a deep sleep. GSP could probably stand with Dan Hardy and knock him out, but why put the percentages higher in Hardy's favor? And that chess match, to me, is fascinating.
And if I can take this to another tangent, why do fans cheer GSP but boo Rashad Evans? Evans has had some spectacular KOs - Lambert, Liddell, and Salmon; similar to GSP. Evans has grown from one discipline just like GSP and evolved himself into a complete and tactical fighter. The GSP-Hardy and Evans-Jackson fight are almost mirror images of each other just replace GSP's submissions with Evans's ground n' pound.