Saturday, October 31, 2009

By MMA analyst Joseph Lupoli

MMA isn’t boxing.

But American MMA matches, particularly the UFC, seem to be heading in a boxing-like direction. Why is that? Has anyone noticed that a higher percentage of MMA fights have been less than exciting, especially lately?

I believe that multiple rounds encourage the stand-up game. Of course, the grease, the sweat, and the gloves also discourage many fighters from pulling guard or shooting in—and possibly squandering valuable energy by going for submissions, only to get tangled up.

A lot of MMA fighters prefer to take their chances bouncing around the cage striking. They know the bell will ring... and when. They can take a breather and drink some water, so what’s the rush? They might as well feel each other out and see if they can exploit something from each other.

Besides, most casual MMA fans prefer to watch a striking match anyway. It resembles what they feel comfortable with, boxing or kick boxing. And because boxers are greatly restricted as to what they can do, rounds are required.

In boxing fighters can only punch pre-determined target zones. They must use a specific portion of the glove to punch—and the ridge hand and back fist are prohibited.

MMA has no such restrictions, and yet they still have rounds. (I know…it’s the States Athletic Commissions). Then, to add insult to injury, the UFC, among other MMA organizations are forced to use boxing judges! Ask fighters like Matt Hamil and Shogun Rua how the boxing judges worked for them.

Also, just like in boxing, the corner men of MMA fighters start pounding on the canvas ten or so seconds before each round ends—they want their fighters to pour it on so that the judges will have that last impression in their minds when they score the round.

Most MMA non-title fights are 3 rounds of five minutes per round. Many fighters adjust their game plans according to the rounds. And so do the male fans in the arena. Those round girls have more jiggle than hospital jello—except for their breasts. Silicone tends to keep things overly firm.

Okay, my mind wandered for a second. That’s enough about the laws of physics for the time being.

The question is: Are MMA rounds really necessary? Yes—according to the vast majority.

They want the fighters refreshed between rounds in order to regain that essential energy to go back out slugging. And so long as those fighters can jump back into the fray reasonably energized, the fans are happy.

But, I believe, depending on how any given MMA match unfolds, those round breaks can actually increase the chance of serious injury to a fighter—or worse.

Suppose a couple of fighters who are known as heavy hitters (and there are plenty), turn their MMA match into a stand-up slug-fest. Picture their four-ounce gloves repeatedly crashing upon each others noggins. The bell rings to end round 1 and their corners ice their fighters up and close the cuts.

They drink some water and the bell rings again. The fighters bound off of their stools, and they land punches at nearly equal speed and force as in the previous round. With all that punching, they soon tire. So they eat up the clock by clinching until the bell rings to end the round.

Then the same drill again. The fighters rest. They get corner advice while being cooled off. The third and final round starts and both fighters are exhausted. But they are still looking to end it. Maybe they do, or maybe it goes to the judges.

Ten minutes after the match, one of the fighters is feels little nauseous as he sits in the dressing room. That was a lot of head trauma for three rounds of fighting. The fighter recovers, but a month later, he's at it again in some other arena. After a while, things can become risky, medically speaking.

And that leads me to wonder what direction this example fight would have taken if the match had just one 15-minute round (and one 20-minute round for championship fights). My guess is that the fight would have ended between the five to ten minute mark.

Why? Because a one-round, 15-minute MMA fight now becomes a battle of attrition in a purer sense—a contest of cardio, of will, of heart. No rest for the weary. This is Mixed Martial Arts—less boxing like.

And when the fighters’ limbs get heavy from striking, they might be more inclined to think take-down. And when MMA fighters go to the ground, they generally take a short breather before they begin jockeying for side mount; half mount, or full mount.

Then, whoever has more talent, or whoever wants it more will either end the fight via ground strikes, or by submission—there's much less chance of the match going to the judges.

In all likelihood the matches would be faster paced because the fighters know there is no break to rehydrate and regroup until the final bell (unless a cut warrants a doctor’s examination). It seems logical that most fighters will do anything not to hear that bell.

And that’s all the incentive MMA fighters would need to get the job done as quickly as possible. They'll take more risks. No more endless clinching or lying on the ground doing next to nothing. The referee will be instructed to quickly restart the fight.

Result? Fast paced, shorter, more exciting fights, more fights per card, and improved fighter safety—and all because of the single 15-minute round.



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