In Defense of Tyron Woodley's Tentative Performance

Strikeforce: Rockhold vs Jardine at the Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on Saturday, January 7, 2012 in Las Vegas, Nevada (Photos by Esther Lin/Forza LLC/Getty Images via Forza LLC)

I'm not sure where the term "lay and pray" began. But I do remember the experience of being a frustrated viewer while watching Royce Gracie vs. Ken Shamrock II at UFC 5. A few things amplified the experience. For one, the action preceding it was fantastic. Well, a Shakma level of 'fantastic' given the presence of Jon Hess and whatever S.A.F.T.A was supposed to actually be.

Then there was the hype of the two best fighters going at in the UFC at the time. What ensued between Shamrock and Gracie wasn't a fight: it was a nightmare. It was competition in limbo.

Watching and reading the reactions of fans and observers to Tyron Woodley's performance is what I would expect in response to a dud of a fight. Nothing happened. I'm not the type to judge a fighter's performance when he does what he needed to do to win. But that's not to say I enjoyed it.

However, what exactly do fans want? I found myself stuck in a debate with readers over "lay and pray", and what should be 'done' with it: as if a fighter's methods need to be discriminated against like an emerald-colored Bruce Banner in an arm wrestling contest. Aggressive stand ups, judges giving less weight to top control and takedowns, yellow cards, and making knees to downed opponents legal are the typical suggestions.

Knees to the head I can get behind. Although ironically I'd argue that wrestlers wise in the ways of Dave Schultz would benefit more. Less weight to top control? I can also get behind that assuming that the fighter on bottom is active, and showing effective aggression while the fighter on top simply takes damage.

On the point of aggressive stand-ups: no. The idea that a fight should be stood up simply because nothing is happening is ridiculous and as we've seen before, aggressive stand ups allow fighters on bottom to simply hold on for dear life in order to force a stand-up. It allows fighters to be lazy.

I understand the criticism. Even established sports like the National Hockey League, with former debates about the two-line pass and sudden death, have been forced to manage the relationship between sport and spectacle.

But for all the criticism thrown Woodley's way, it's the loser that deserves equal if not more condemnation. Jordan Mein knew exactly what Woodley was gonna do. Why not plan accordingly?

It's not as if the sport lacks precedent in this regard. Diego Sanchez won round 2 (not according to all judges, granted) off his back against Clay Guida by peppering him with elbows (Mein started to do this, and then simply stopped). Why not use butterfly guard to create space? Or attempt the many different sweeps to reverse position?

To me, an even better example exists in the Carlos Condit vs. Dong Hyun Kim scrap at UFC 132. On paper, Kim's key to victory was simple: lay on top of him, and ride out the clock. He did this previously against Nate Diaz at UFC 125. And I'm not sure there are many people that would argue Condit is a far better grappler than Nate. Nate has experience against serious competition in the grappling world, and for proof, look no further than his match with Ryan Hall at the US Open in 2007, which he won via kimura. So we're not talking about the difference between a better grappler and a lesser one: we're talking about the difference between tactics.

Condit used the kitchen sink. When they were on the feet he didn't restrict himself to simply punches. When they were on the ground, he didn't limit himself to simply throwing up submissions from his back (scoring a beautiful sweep that rattled Kim's confidence). It's not like fighters don't have options on the feet either. Against Kenny Florian at UFC 136, Jose Aldo got into the habit of moving laterally immediately following a combination so that he was never in the way of a direct route for a double leg.

Yes, I know. 'Easy for you to say Castillo, you silly armchair blogger". And that's a fair point. I'm not saying Woodley gave some kind of inspired performance. You won't ever find me watching that fight again. Even on first viewing, the fight was a test, and I found myself a stereotype of impatience as I returned to clips from Big Trouble in Little China in an open window while grabbing a coke and a handfull of Blue Diamond chocolate almonds.

But the importance of "lay and pray" (such as it is) is that it forces fighters to find solutions on their own. It forces opponents on the bottom to dare to be 'exciting' themselves. I want to see fighters learn through trial and through error. I want to see innovation; not accommodation. And that innovation should be organic. Criticize Tyron Woodley (still a bright prospect who has room to grow just as many wrestlers before him who were once one dimensional) all you want, but don't forget the guy on the bottom. It takes two to avoid the tango.

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