Something dawned on me at 1 a.m. PST as I was watching Paul Daley vs. Kazuo Misaki on my DVR. Almost all of my decisions regarding which fighters I like most, who I root for in a matchup, etc all come down to aesthetics. I prefer watching more aesthetically appealing fighters. It's why I rarely watch lower level MMA events (have never been to an amateur or regional show outside of the ones where I support my friends and teammates), it's why I don't cheer for grinders like Jon Fitch, Mike Pierce, Chad Mendes, Dominick Cruz, Keith Jardine, Jake Shields, etc.
Although Misaki was clearly winning the fight and landing the cleaner/ harder shots, I had trouble bringing myself to believe that Daley was losing. I gave Misaki the 1'st round, because I'm not THAT crazy. But in the 2'nd and 3'rd rounds, despite my ironclad philosophical belief that takedowns and top position don't mean anywhere near as much as the harm you do with them, I convinced myself that Daley had edged him out. "He was landing with more volume" I said, despite a rough first round, I think Paul edged out the 2'nd and 3'rd rounds. I wasn't surprised by Misaki winning the decision, but I was positively shocked when the compustrike stats popped up on the screen, notifying me that not only did Kazuo land more strikes overall, he had landed over 4x as many power shots. And I realized that the reason I wanted Daley to win so badly is because he is more aesthetically pleasing than Misaki. He moves very smoothly, his strikes are tight and explosive, his stance is very cool, I prefer his physique; Misaki, while obviously a good fighter, just isn't as graceful as Semtex. He swings wild at times, has janky movement patterns, gets into sloppy exchanges... but he gets the job done, and I can't discredit his ability.
I thought this merited further exploration, so I thought of fighters that I always root for because they appeal to my aesthetic tastes:
- Thiago Alves: What's not to love about this guy? Buff, intimidating as all hell, has beautiful striking technique, and is strong as a friggin bull. The only time I've rooted against this guy was against Kampmann, who was my kickboxing coach at Xtreme Couture for the summer of '09, and is also one of my favorite fighters.
- Tyrone Spong: Even though he hasn't fully acclimated to heavyweight yet, I just love the way this guy fights. Moves so well, has some of the most beautifully brutal knees, punches, and kicks in the K-1 style.
Jose Aldo: Not only is Aldo just about the most adorable badass in the world, but he is great to watch aesthetically. He moves so explosively, but also with such finesse and precision.
- Fedor: He certainly seems like a departure from these other ripped, Muay Thai stylists that I so like to watch, but even though Fedor seems so goofy at times, on top of his game, he is a fluid destroyer. From early career Fedor, seamlessly transitioning from throwing an overhand right bomb into knocking his opponent over with a trip, then casting his opponent's legs aside and bearing down with hellacious ground strikes, he is a real treat to watch. Even in his fight with Monson, which wasn't a particularly good fight or anything, I was thrilled just to watch Fedor moving well and beating Jeff up with crisp punches and low kicks.
- "Feijao" Cavalcante: Although not always defensively solid, Feijao is a tank of a man with brilliant offensive capabilities. He hits like a truck with all 8- points, and is constantly trying to beat the snot out of the opponent.
These are but a few of the men that I almost always root for. Some of them can be inconsistent, some of them are/ were the very best in the world. What fighters have are most pleasing to your aesthetic palate?