A lot of people (ok, me) have taken the recent wins by Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard as an opportunity to reopen the age-old debate over the importance of finishing fights, and whether the ongoing evolution of MMA is leading toward a less exciting, fan-friendly style of fighting.
As far as I can tell from my completely unscientific straw poll of Bloody Elbow commenters, there are two basic camps of MMA fans:
-- The first camp consists of those who say that MMA is not only just fine as it is, it is getting better all the time. Guys like Frankie Edgar, Gray Maynard and Jon Fitch are extremely talented, tactical fighters, and watching them implement their game plans is a pleasure for any true fan. The only thing that matters is winning the game, and these guys are showing a newer, better, safer way to do just that.
-- The second camp says that the rise not only of decisions -- but of fighters who seem to be tailoring their approach to winning decisions, rather than finishing their opponents -- is robbing MMA of some of the immediacy that made the sport appealing in the first place.
I fall squarely into that second camp. And while I'm not ready to declare the Edgar and Maynard wins as ironclad evidence of an MMA-spanning trend, I suspect strongly that we're going to see more and more fighters following the blueprint they've laid out. And I believe MMA will eventually be the worse for it.
The violence and danger inherent in MMA is a feature, not a bug. If we wanted to watch a safe sport where elite athletes displayed their talents without putting themselves in harm's way, we'd watch tennis. If we wanted to watch a sport fitting that description that is decided by a random, often-biased collection of judges, there's always figure skating. In MMA and other fight sports, points and judging are necessary evils, not ends unto themselves. Working for the judges, rather than for the decisive win, perverts the purity of the sport.
There's a reason why most sports fans in this country know who Jack Dempsey is (last fight: September, 1927) and most of them couldn't tell you who won the NCAA Division 1 heavyweight wrestling championship this year. The violence and danger of MMA is part of the appeal, we shouldn't celebrate the fighters who are mastering the art of avoiding it.