What makes a mixed martial artist fun to watch? Or more accurately, what makes them truly thrilling, one of the greatest action fighters in MMA? What makes someone like Carlos Condit?
To me, it’s not just that he’s constantly looking for the finish, jumping on any kind of weakness in an opponent like a starving shark. Nor is it just his array of high-risk, high-reward strikes, where to back up and give Condit room is to be buried and battered under teeps, hooks, wheel kicks,flying knees, leg kicks and body shots. It’s not that he gets hit by punches which would stun a moose, and only seems to become irritated into fighting harder. It’s not even the way that he fights back to his feet when taken down. It's not his underrated submission game.
All of these are part and parcel of it, but what truly makes Condit one of the best fighters to watch, ever, is that you can’t make him boring*.
There are so many fighters out there where an "exciting" label comes with a caveat. They are fun to watch… as long as you don’t do X. Therefore, if an opponent comes in with a gameplan which includes X, the onus is clearly on them for not giving the other man and the fans the fight they wanted.
Paul Daley has a left hook, which he punches people with. He has a right hand which as far I can figure out, he throws entirely as a distraction to make opponents forget he only has one punch.
ha ha. look at Daley miss pretty much every right hand in this sequence.
He doesn’t have a very good ground game, and generally holds on and looks for stand-ups. So Paul Daley is exciting as long as his opponent
- gets hit by left hooks (and you as an individual particularly enjoy watching people get hit by left hooks)
- doesn’t take him to the ground.
The Diaz brothers are exciting, as long as you don’t use takedowns or footwork.
Lyoto Machida is exciting, as long as you commit to attacking him a lot.
I’m not saying any of these fighters are boring, but Condit is one of the very few mixed martial artists who is not only awesome if you allow him to be awesome. He is just awesome, period.
He has takedown defense which is porous at best, and approaching that of Hunter S Thompson on ether at worst, yet when taken down by strong top control grapplers like Kampmann, Dong Hyun Kim, Hendricks and even GSP, he battled back to his feet, and then hit them.
In his long history of great fights, the one against Nick Diaz is the obvious blemish. It’s probably one of the most divisive and polarizing matches I can think of, where Condit’s plan to circle and leg kick Diaz was either the greatest tactic ever, or the most egregious crime in the history of combat sports. I can’t follow my natural temptation and bend the facts of this article into the pro-Condit "tactical and technical genius" camp, because it simply wasn’t, and didn't result in the barn-burner that everyone expected.
That said, it illustrated that key difference between an exciting fighter and an "exciting" fighter- Diaz was confronted by his weakness, and until the fifth round -where he actually started digging into his toolbox and went for the takedown- he made no effort to change up his game as he slowly, gradually lost.
Conversely, Kampmann took Condit down repeatedly, and in answer Condit changed it up. He fought for underhooks, hit him on the break, and simply began to fill the distance between them with more and harder attacks as the fight went on. Among those watching Kampmann / Condit II, after the first five minutes there were little, dissatisfied rumbles that maybe Kampmann was going to carry on taking him down for the rest of the fight. It didn’t happen, because Condit didn’t let it happen.
So many times you'll see fans saying "Don't give Fighter X to Boring Guy! He'll just lay on him! Match him up with Lesser Threat but More Exciting Fighter Y!"
This underlying idea that the genus Pugilisticus Exhilarens is a rare beast to be protected isn’t exclusive to fans. You can see it reflected in the UFC’s matchmaking. In the sprawling ecology of the 155 division, there’s a little ring-fenced enclosure where the striking specialists can fight each other, the Makdessis and Barbozas and Cruickshanks going at it, occasionally being fed a BJJ specialist, or a wrestler faded or untalented enough to be judged effectively de-fanged. That these wrestlers sometimes become the proverbial fox in the henhouse (Hallman-Makdessi, Varner-Barboza) seems to only reinforce the idea that the strikers need their own little corner of the 155 landscape.
Me, I actually like seeing entertaining mixed martial artists thrown in there with terrible match-ups. Give Michael Johnson to Chiesa! Barboza to Danny Castillo! Break that ring fence! I don’t just want to know that these guys are fun to watch. I want to know that they are good. If we get some deflating match-ups like Pettis-Guida, or DHK-Bahadurzada, then the hype wasn’t fully justified anyway. When it does work out in the exciting fighter's favour, it’s not only entertaining, but laced with real validation and legitimacy. Who didn't enjoy Robert Whittakers surprising breakout performance against Colton Smith?
Condit has shown that you can finish fights at the top level, that weaknesses aren’t a blanket excuse for losses, that you don’t need to rely on artificial crutches like stand-up rules to beat strong grapplers.
Most of all, he shows that the exciting fighter is at heart a FIGHTER, not a fragile, glassine construct, to be kept away from anything which could hurt it.
Here’s to Condit.