There was an interesting exchange yesterday at the Strikeforce: Houston Press Conference, as "King" Mo Lawal and K.J. Noons articulated two rather different approaches to fighting. Their differences represent a deeper divide in the sport, and highlight how important it is for MMA to stay on the right side of the line between sport and spectacle.
Noons will fight Jorge Gurgel, a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt who likely can't remember the last time the ground game was a significant part of his battle plan. Gurgel is known for one thing: standing and banging. It's an approach that has led to no small success. He's won a cash prize for UFC's Fight of the Night twice. Of course, the second time, that great fight didn't stop him from being cut from the promotion. A losing record will do that, no matter how compelling the fights.
For Noons, a sharp boxer, the gameplan for Gurgel could be a very tactical standup attack. Keeping distance, firing a jab, refusing to engage a slugger in a slugfest. It doesn't seem like that's what he has in mind:
I think I’m going to keep the fight standing and keep it exciting. Whether you want to call it a war or whatever, it’s going to be like all my other fights. I’m going to pick him apart and take him out.
For his part, "King" Mo Lawal doesn't understand this mentality at all. Call it the "Marcus Davis" or the "Chris Lytle"; either way Lawal thinks intentionally engaging in a battle of attrition is a fool's game:
I’ll let KJ fight a war. I don’t want to fight a war. I’m going to look to finish (Feijao) as fast as I can. I don’t ever want to fight a war. I always want to dominate and fight as one-sided a fight as possible.
This is the difference between an entertaining undercard fighter and a champion. A champion, especially one with a wrestling background, is looking to do what it takes to win: period. Objectively, Randy Couture's five round win over Tim Sylvia wasn't a pretty or exciting fight. But Couture came to win, strapped on his work boots, and put Sylvia on the mat over and over again. Rashad Evans did the same against Quinton "Rampage" Jackson at UFC 114. "King Mo" is a true student of the game. He watches a dozen fights a day, just to analyze what's going on inside the cage. He knows that from Royce Gracie, to Ken Shamrock, to Tito Ortiz, and all the way forward to Georges St. Pierre the best fighters in the world haven't been afraid to be boring in exchange for being great. This quote gives me great confidence that regardless of what happens in Houston, "King" Mo Lawal understands what it takes to be a champion.