Mixed martial artists have evolved from bloodthirsty one dimensional strikers to game-planned calculated wrecking machines. They rely on their unbelievable talent and crafted abilities to maul through opponents all to put them in a position to fight for gold. This tremendous sport is available to all of us in weekly installments of televised physical destruction. We've all grown to love MMA while it morphs and forms into the organizations before us.
This ever-changing sport reeled me in for two big reasons: 1) Two guys opted to beat the hell out of each other while showing each other the utmost respect before, during, and after the fight. 2) It was always exciting as hell.
As the sport evolves, so does competition, gameplans, and the fans of the sport. No longer is there a feeling of respect between opponents. In fact, that type of maturity is a rarity instead of a normality. That's for another discussion though. While taking in last night's championship bout between Gilbert Melendez and Josh Thomson, I noticed a tentativeness that I recall seeing quite often lately. Neither really wanted to commit to attacking the other. If one competitor did go in to throw some strikes, he quickly relented and went back to hopping back and forth while planning his next set of feints and strikes. Melendez would earn a pointless (actually point scoring) takedown that resulted in nothing more than an extended ground hug for no reason other than to "win the round". This is also something that has been occurring with relative regularity in our favorite sport. Of course, somewhere in the 4th round of this bout the action did heat up a bit and Thomson finally remembered that he is a force to be reckoned with, not someone who thinks and thinks and thinks while he fights.
By then, it was too late for me. I was already off trying to figure out why in the last two years my enthusiasm for the sport has kind of quelled. Championship fights always seem like a letdown to me. For a while I thought it might be for the same reason that a band's second cd almost is always worse than their first. You have heard good stuff from them before and think when they put together another it'll be as amazing as the first. They know success is right around the corner so instead of doing what they're used to and what has been amazing for them, they decide to be a bit more safe and put out something they're not really proud of. And yes, this is strikingly similar to the types of fights we see when a belt is on the line, but it seemed I was in the minority when believing that big fights were more often than not big bores. So, this fight led me to look more into it.
My second reason for falling in love with the sport has become less true. Fights are not always exciting anymore. Fighters will tell you they play it extremely safely (ask Carlos Condit). How much safer? Well, I put together the numbers of the big fights from the last two years and this is what I've come up with:
59% of number one contender or championship fights in the last two years have ended in decision.
If you include Cormier and Barnett's fight last night, it skews the numbers to 60% of big fights ending in decision. I understand that not all decisions are uninteresting (taking last night's fights as examples). Not all stoppages are memorable though (consider Marquardt vs. Palhares or any fight that ends in an early stoppage). This much safer fighting style baffles me though. Why abandon the tenacity that got you to this point to choose to be tentative for 15 to 25 minutes? I'm not sure, but it has changed part of the excitement in the sport. Maybe they've made up for that aspect by making the lead up to each event seem more like Monday Night Raw than a legitimate sporting event.
(59% comes from adding the number of decision wins from championship fights across all weight classes in both the UFC and Strikeforce as well as the immediate fight leading up to the championship fight by the challenger. I did not overlap numbers. For instance, I did not give both Shogun and Machida a point for their clashes for the belt. I attributed both to Machida because it was his belt. Shogun's numbers would only come from number one contender fights and title defenses. I also did not calculate a fight prior to the championship fight for a challenger if it was not a number one contender fight. For example, Shinya Aoki got a crack at the title against Melendez after winning a bout in Dream. Clearly they do not correlate. Also, there were two fighters who earned a shot against Melendez right after a loss. I did not include those into my calculation.)
I realize the sport is still amazing and I am a die hard fan. It's just interesting the overwhelming number of fights that end in decision on big fights considering these guys destroy everything in their paths to get there.
Some fighters that skewed the numbers, but ultimately evened each other out include Dominick Cruz, Anderson Silva, GSP, Frankie Edgar, Jon "Enjoy Responsibly" Jones, Jose Aldo, and Gilbert Melendez.