UFC on FOX 8 Results: Discussing the Rory MacDonald Criticism

Photo by Esther Lin of MMA Fighting

Rory MacDonald didn't gain a lot of fans with his UFC on FOX 8 performance against Jake Ellenberger. Are the critics right?

For a lot of fans, the main event was the bout before Demetrious Johnson's title defense against John Moraga. Rory MacDonald...potential heir to GSP's throne against a guy some fans felt had the potential to contend for that same throne. It was a sentiment Joe Rogan was eager to articulate. "This could easily be a title fight!"

And what a title fight it would have been.

I don't mean to be sarcastic (per se). But following Rory's performance, MMA fans are in their usual tizzy about the importance of finishing fights, and being exciting. Urjiah Faber got in a nice jab at Rory (pun obviously intended) on Twitter even. Keep in mind, I'm not gonna argue that Rory's bout with Jake Ellenberger was exciting or re-watchable. But I find it hard to be consistent when I wasn't especially fond of the Ed Herman vs. Trevor Smith match; a bout that looked like Griffin/Bonnar on osteoporosis. How can I applaud folly in the same breath as castigating technique?

Before anyone loses it over that last comment, I enjoyed the Herman/Smith fight for its Sharknado-in-a-cage quality, but the snob in me cringed at some of the Road House-level action. As for Rory/Jake, the fight itself deserves a word. One of the great crimes of MMA technique is the jab. If nothing else, MacDonald displayed an excellent one. There's a little bit of Juan Manuel Marquez in him; the way he juts his shoulder toward his opponent so that his jab travels less distance when he fires it. It was used to great effect time and time again, and frankly, it was all that was needed.

Ellenberger was at a loss. But this is the part where MMA fans unravel in their urge to criticize. Two fighters and a slew of coaches means we've got multiple bullseyes on the blame game dartboard. For Jake, his inability to adapt was his downfall. He had no answer for Rory's jab, and the options he did have...takedowns, head movement, and leg kicks, he ignored in favor of the desire to land one big bomb.

On top of that, where were Jake's coaches in all of this? Was there no plan B? It's interesting how the coach who corners the winner is the one most visible in the critics' spotlight, but the coaches cornering the loser never even get names. In philosophy, we have what's called the burden of proof; in an epistemic dispute, assertions require evidence. In MMA, we have the burden of violence; in a prizefight, dominance requires action, and the onus is on the loser to assert that dominance.

Jake gave no incentive to Rory to do anything beyond win the fight. Not when Jake and his camp don't know how to answer a jab. It's like asking a distance runner ten feet ahead of his competition to strain his legs harder to get to the finish line only yards away. What's the point? The opponent in both cases failed to do their job; to challenge.

Why is technical excellence not enough in this sport?

This discussion has been had a thousand times, so I know I'm not saying anything original. Nor am I taking a side on this one. Going back to the distance runner analogy, there is an incentive for the leader to strain his/herself harder and that's to make history; to challenge oneself when an adversary fails to be a proper antagonist.

Demetrious Johnson, a nice counterpoint in this discussion, found a way. Why couldn't Rory?

Five hundred words later and I'm still struggling to figure out what my thesis is other than to write something for Bloody Elbow readers. But I believe it's this: MMA is to blame. Inertia is a consequence of proficiency in this sport. "Sometimes it just doesn't happen", Rory told Ariel in his post-fight interview. One simple, overused strategy can be enough when fighters still struggle to learn the basics. And one simple, overused strategy can be the difference when a 4 oz. glove is the only thing that separates winning tediously from losing spectacularly.

In closing: be wary of two fighters selling you conflict before the fight has even started. Call it Tito's Law: the amount of drama outside of the cage is inversely proportional to the amount of drama within it.

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