We see that phrase a lot.
“No such thing as a lucky punch.”
So was Derrick Lewis’ knockout of Curtis Blaydes at UFC Vegas 19 an example of that? There are two ways to look at it: one from each man’s perspective. From Lewis’ perspective, no such luck was involved. He saw or anticipated Blaydes moving in for the takedown, threw one of the most effective types of punches to counter an attempted takedown, and then hammered more nails into Blaydes’ coffin for good measure.
From Blaydes’ perspective, Lewis was lucky he went for a takedown to begin with. Lewis was not beating Blaydes on the feet. If luck is random, isn’t Lewis just as lucky for Blaydes deciding to go for a takedown? If luck is random, what distinguishes a strike leading to a knockout as less luck-driven than the mistake that caused it? Maybe we’re too far down the rabbit hole here. ‘What is wrong with you? Lewis threw a punch. It landed. Blaydes lost. Stop trying to pursue a narrative that doesn’t exist just because it’s a slow news day.’
On the contrary, what happened this weekend is part of the grand heavyweight tradition of chaos. Maybe you thought Randy Couture could beat Tim Sylvia at UFC 68. But did you think it would be his 6’1 reach against Sylvia’s 6’8 that enabled him to land just the right punch at just the right time? What defined the ‘UFC versus Pride’ rivalry more than the chaos of seeing an elite striker like Mirko Filipovic knocked out by an elite grappler like Gabriel Gonzaga? When the greatest heavyweight of the common era finally lost (no disrespect intended, Tsuyoshi Kosaka), it was against a jiu-jitsu ace who was a meager 2-2 in the UFC, and hadn’t made much of an impact in Pride.
This isn’t me picking and choosing. Look at heavyweight’s history, compared to every other division. No division has had the title change more hands than heavyweight. And since we’re on the topic of chaos, consider how the title changed hands: Bas Rutten’s injuries, Couture’s contract dispute, Josh Barnett and Sylvia with the least flattering physiques yet the most juiced, Frank Mir’s motorcycle injuries, the inclusion of a pro wrestler (no disrespect intended, Brock Lesnar).
This might feel like it’s taking away from Lewis’ win — that I’m making the argument that Lewis beat Blaydes because he threw a “lucky” punch. That’s a sensible conclusion. What else could I be inferring? If Lewis threw a lucky punch to beat Blaydes, then it must follow that Lewis won the fight with a lucky punch.
I disagree. I believe it was a lucky punch that landed because so many conditions had to be met in order for it to happen in the first place. However, attributing a punch landing to luck, and a win occurring as a direct result are not contingent upon one another. Who’s to say Lewis wouldn’t have landed the same punch at a later time? Who’s to say Lewis wasn’t timing it the entire time, and if Blaydes had gone for the takedown earlier, Blaydes would have been knocked out earlier?
This might seem like a meaningless digression of semantics and philosophy. Who do you think you are — Daniel Dennett? Except this very discussion is at the heart of figuring how to win the greatest achievements in most professional sports: the idea that finding tactics that have a higher probability of working more frequently is more important than using tactics that work only intermittently (distinguishing the climate from the weather, in other words).
Blaydes looked like the better fighter. How is it that the better fighter doesn’t always win? Well that’s the great thing about heavyweight. That’s the great thing about Lewis’ win. It would be nice to have some stability. It would be nice to see fancy stats become useful in the world of MMA, if just to give us more insight. But that’s the reality for heavyweight. Fighting is already volatile enough that even the sharpest interaction of gameplans can feel tenuous. It makes sense that the more weight we add, the weaker the foundation. There’s no such thing as safe ground in this division.