When “MMA” and “controversy” appear together, you expect a story about Tito Ortiz punching Meryl Streep at a wacky Golden Globes mix-up or Shane Carwin’s muscles exploding off his body during a rampage down the Las Vegas Strip. What you don’t expect is for a fighter to make a legitimate point that demands a thorough analysis. Dan “the Outlaw” Hardy, former welterweight contender and current smegma crazy, did just this when he complained about the prevalence of wrestling in the UFC.
He followed this up with a request for, “No more talk! We go in! We kill!”
For those unwilling to read the eloquent rantings of a man paid to put people to sleep with his fists, I’ll summarize. Team Rough House, of which Dan Hardy is the most prominent member, is based in the UK. Though known for producing solid fighters (including former UFC stand-out Paul “Suckerpunch” Daley), the knock against them is the same as it is against every British mixed martial artist: great striking, terrible wrestling. An unfortunate reality of MMA is that no matter how good the punching, it does about the same good as pissing into a hurricane if you can’t keep the fight on the feet. A skilled wrestler will just go for takedowns and grind out a decision win. This is known as “lay and pray,” as in “I’ll lay on you and pray you don’t ask for my phone number.”
At UFC 118 two of Team Rough House’s fighters, Andre Winner and Nick Osipczak, faced two lay and pray wrestlers (Nik Lentz and Greg Soto, respectively). Though Winner and Osipczak took little to no damage, they lost. This came on the heels of Hardy and Daley losing to both coaches of this season’s Ultimate Fighter, both uber-wrestlers. Hardy, understandably frustrated, unleashed a hilarious rant on the Nottingham Evening Post that probably did more damage than Koscheck, Lentz and Soto inflicted in those three fights combined. Some of his best lines:
“Nik Lentz didn’t come to fight Andre, he actually came to avoid one at all costs, like he’d be shortlisted for the Nobel Peace Prize and didn’t want to mess up his chances of winning it… He couldn’t take Dre down or get anything going on the ground. He didn’t want to strike and he didn’t go for any submissions, he just clung to Dre’s thigh like a sailor to a mast during a storm. Physically, Dre looked in great shape… but it takes two to have a row and he was in there with the UFC’s answer to Ghandi[sic].”
Hardy wasn’t wrong. The fight was boring as hell. At the end of it, both guys were slimy with sweat and out of breath: there was no way to tell if they’d just finished fighting or fucking. Frankly, there’s enough gay stuff in MMA. We don’t need the fighters contributing. Because the judges had to give it to someone, they gave it to Lentz for controlling the fight. While I agree with Hardy that this is wrong, exactly why it’s wrong goes deeper than merely a debate about the place of wrestling in the UFC.
Hardy is entirely right in that a fighter that grinds out decision wins through control is the most boring kind of fighter there is. They don’t sell tickets. Oftentimes, like Gray Maynard and Jon Fitch, they hurt their chances for title fights simply because they don’t make the kinds of fights that sell out pay per views. Randy Couture, one of the worst offenders, doesn’t suffer because he apparently shits double rainbows. In any case, the reason lay-and-prayers do it is because it works. If you could do your job without getting punched in the face, you’d do it. Doesn’t matter if you work in the Octagon or an Arby’s.
A fighter utilizing lay and pray because of fear of loss (or being punched in the face), is similar to the film industry. It’s that same fear that causes studio executives to cower in terror of anything original (lay) and make the same crap that appeals to everyone without appealing to anyone (pray), which produces every forgettable Kate Hudson rom-com, every incomprehensible FX-action flick, and every 3D animated joke-machine. Making mediocre movies isn’t against the rules, and is in fact the smart move if a single flop means that the greenlighting executive gets the axe.
In the wargaming community, there are terms for tactics that win reliably with little risk: “cheesy” or “beardy.”
Because guys with beards are tools.
There used to be an army list back in the Mark I days of Warmachine “affectionately” known as God Mode. If you took a certain group of models (Harbinger, Devout, Choir, Doc Killingsworth, Heirophant and Vilmon) your models were almost immune to death which, understandably, conferred a bit of an advantage. Was it illegal? Nope. It just confuses the purpose of the game with the goal. The purpose is to have fun. The goal is to win. The difference is subtle, but important. It’s that difference that makes for a complete experience and it’s that difference that the UFC is struggling with.
The goal of a professional MMA fight is to win. From the athlete’s perspective, wrestling for decisions is the smart move. It does, however, require the collusion of both judges and referee. Judges are the ones who decide that dry-humping your opponent is sufficient to win it. The referee has the authority to stand up stalemated fighters and to dock points for timidity. The former is fairly common, but the latter is only done in extreme situations where one guy is just running away. Hardy flat out stated that if a fighter isn’t trying to actively end a fight, he is being timid, and so the timidity rules need to extend to lay and pray.
Whether or not he’s right is irrelevant to the purpose of MMA, which is to make money. Dana White understands that fight fans want to see big finishes. He rewards fighters who show up for a scrap, handing out hefty cash bonuses for Fight, Knockout and Submission of the Night. A low-paid undercard fighter who finishes his opponent with a crushing knockout is looking at an over 400% increase in his pay. Dana White is no dummy. If this kind of payout didn’t make sense, White would stop doing it. It’s important to note that there is no such thing as Decision of the Night.
The true problem lies in the goal. Fighters who lose too many fights will be cut from the UFC. It doesn’t matter how exciting their fights are. Suck canvas one too many times and you’re into the wilderness of minor-league MMA. This is ass-backwards. It keeps fighters who consistently grind out mind-numbing matches of nothing but aggressive spooning, and penalizes the brass-testicled headhunters. Take Keith Jardine. I don’t think the guy has ever been in a boring fight. Still, he was recently banished to Shark Fights (which isn’t nearly as awesome as it sounds) after a four-fight freefall. I’m not saying that the UFC should keep substandard fighters just to satisfy my bloodlust. I’m saying that a fighter’s record shouldn’t be the only factor that keeps him in the promotion.
To get rid of lay and pray, the goal of MMA must be to entertain. Only then will wrestling assume its proper place: as a tool in the belt of a well-rounded fighter but not the boring ass Leatherman that fixes both striker and grappler. Hardy’s essential gripe is right on the money. Unfortunately, the solution requires a closer look at nearly every aspect of the sport.