What does one fight really mean in Mixed Martial Arts?
Though we are about to explore what many might call MMA blasphemy, don’t light the torches quite yet. And put down the pitchforks. In a world of rematches, trilogy fights, and ten second knockouts, how much does one fight really tell us about two fighters? Other sports such as wrestling have multiple sessions within each match to determine a winner, and of course team sports play seven game series’ to determine a winner. So does one fight really tell us who the better competitor is?
One of the more common phrases in MMA is that ‘anything can happen.’ This phrase is both overused, but also the best part of MMA. Despite overwhelming odds, and experts unanimously picking Fighter A to beat Fighter B, we still tune in because we all hold onto that hope that something no one saw coming will happen. Matt Serra beating Georges St. Pierre, Anderson Silva going to down at the hands of Chris Wiedman, and FedorEmelianenko being submitted by FabricioWerdum are some of the best moments in MMA history precisely because not many of us saw them coming.
This question seems of particular importance when you consider current events in MMA. Bellator has recently decided to jump into PPV, with a main event pitting Tito Ortiz versus Rampage Jackson. Bellattor has also added two rematches to the PPV; ‘King’ Mo Lawal versus Emmanuel Newton, and Eddie Alvarez versus Michael Chandler. Each of these rematches will illustrate one side of the argument for us.
When Eddie Alvarez and Michael Chandler first fought each other nearly two years ago it was a wild back and forth affair with both men having more than a few moments to shine. Many pundits would award this bout “Fight of the Year” honors in 2011, and Chandler would eventually submit Alvarez late in the fourth round. Now due to the back and forth nature of this bout, and with both men appearing close to victory several times only for the other to rally, you could argue that the ultimate winner, Chandler, was and is the better fighter.
We are not debating whether or not Alvarez deserves a rematch, simply who is the better fighter. If a match looks even for more than one round, and ultimately one fighter is able to gain the upper hand, I would posit that this is an indication of the overall superiority of the winning athlete. There is enough evidence in the cage to argue one way or another who is the better fighter in a back and forth fight such as this because each man is taking the best that the other man is dishing out and still moving forward.
On the other side of this argument, let us take a look at Mo Lawal’s bout with Emmanuel Newton in February of this year. Going into the bout, Lawal was heavily favored over the less heralded Newton. Halfway through the first round, Newton threw a spinning back fist under pressure that landed perfectly and sent Lawal to the canvas. It appeared as if Newton threw the punch without being able to see where it would land, and therefore the definition of a “lucky punch.” So in this case, and in others like it, if the fighter does not even know where the punch will land, how can we possibly call it skill? If we can’t call it skill, how are we comfortable saying Newton is a better fighter than the more accomplished and pedigreed King Mo?
Taking a non Bellator example, consider the two fights that have been fought between UFC Heavyweights Junior Dos Santos and current Champion Cain Velasquez. Their first meeting was a very quick one punch knockout victory for Junior Dos Santos. There was little to go on except the one punch. Fast forward to the rematch, a five round unanimous decision victory for Cain Velasquez in which Dos Santos essentially became a walking punching bag for all five rounds, and it would appear that we have all the evidence we have in regards to who is the better fighter. After Dos Santos’ victory there were certainly plenty among us who still questioned who was the better. After Cain’s victory, there should be no such doubt.
Ultimately, it is not necessarily the number of wins fighters have against each other, but the manner in which those wins were achieved. What tells you more, a ten second one punch knockout, or a five round beating in which the opponent is unable to mount anything resembling offense? One fight can tell us quite a bit about who is the better fighter, but it can also leave us with plenty of questions. These questions are what make MMA the best sport on the planet. Even a win does not tell us what we want to know, and we are always looking for the answer.