Tuesday, December 10, 2013

MMA: Lost in Translation?

It's a year and a half in the making. It finally happened. I had to force this one, and my goodness, it's pretty.

After finishing the last blog post, I had to quickly call my friend Andrew (who has poked his head around on this blog a couple of times) because I had a really good idea. After knowing him for four years, I've learned a lot about him, including his involvement in taekwon-do. When it comes to what he has learned, I wondered what he thought of mainstream MMA sports organizations like UFC. Long ago, he had pondered on whether he wanted to write a post on this topic. Obviously, that never happened. It took a half-hour conversation over Skype to get all of the ideas down. Enjoy and leave a comment if you'd like.

--AZ (Andrew too)

Who Are You To Judge?

I will get this out of the way now: I am not the biggest fan of UFC. While martial arts can be seen as a competitive sport by many, I still see it as an art of personal enrichment and knowledge. Call me old-fashioned. I dare you to.

On a personal note, I've been gone for a month. Have you missed me? I missed me. I've been incredibly busy with other projects, but I haven't forgotten about this baby. Who are you to judge my absence? Honestly!

A month after the fact, UFC 167 is still being seen as one of the most controversial MMA events that had occurred in quite a long time.

On November 16, the UFC Welterweight Title was on the line as Georges St. Pierre was fighting against a favored Johnny Hendricks. While Hendricks held his own for three rounds, the match when the five full rounds and went to the decisions of the judges. In a stunning move, St. Pierre won the fight by split decision, shocking everyone in attendance, including UFC President Dana White. Social media blew up, and it was such a big deal that it was even on the front page of ESPN for all of a day or so. What made the matter even more controversial was the St. Pierre had later announced that he was stepping away from MMA to tend to personal matters. While he had said there would be a rematch, that will remain to be seen. Rather dramatic, don't you think?

Could this judging issue have been avoided? It's rather obvious that people were displeased with the result, and everyone observing the event became armchair judges. It really isn't that difficult to follow along with a match, so you could judge subconsciously and get results right just about every time. As complex as the UFC realm may seem, the rules are relatively simple and just reading them over for a brief minute helps you understand what's going on and how things are run. For example, there are little tidbits that count as fouls and other infractions, and when it comes to earning points, it depends on effective strikes and grapples and the precision of each attack/defense. Simple enough, right? That is where the "10-10, 10-9, 10-8" business comes from.
If you want more information on the judging criteria in UFC, check out the rules here.

After exploring the judgment system in mixed martial arts, it's rather similar to the sport of boxing, in which there isn't a declared winner until the contest is over. Sure, you might get a general idea of who wins the fight based on overall performance in each round, but your opinion might be substantially different from the official judges. That is where we run into the fly hanging around in the ointment. Could we be running into the controversial problem of errant booking and gambling?

Gambling in sports has been a giant pink elephant in the room for centuries. It works like a ninja in most sports, considering how gambling and betting on sports is a major offense in the United States, especially when it involves match fixing. While betting isn't a four-letter word in the sports world, it certainly makes for awkward entertainment and sportsmanship. It becomes even more awkward when the athlete isn't in on the match fixing and they're like: "What just happened?"

There was a book written called The Harder They Fall, and it was later adapted into a film in 1956 starring Humphrey Bogart in his last role before his death the following year. The book and film explored the dark side of match fixings in the world of boxing, and how it tainted what once was a sport of honor and a showcase of fighters with the biggest aspirations and heart. Sixty-plus years after the release of the novel, about sixty since the film, we're experiencing a dark side in real life. Although there hasn't been anything confirmed behind the scenes, you have to admit that something fishy was going on.
[I highly recommend the film, by the way. You will actually see some real-life famous boxers in the film like Max Baer.]

Yes, "All the world's a stage and we are merely players," but the line needs to be drawn when it comes to pure sport and pure entertainment. Mixed martial arts organizations like UFC have been pretty good with that, especially when they adopted a more formal system outside of what they had in the 90's [i.e. dudes fighting in sneakers, for real] and--for the lack of a better term--began showcasing different martial arts styles and lovechildren of said styles. You're probably thinking: "Steph, you're an idiot. This is already entertainment." Okay, hush your face; this isn't the kind of entertainment I'm talking about. In entertainment, I'm thinking of more staged outlets like professional wrestling. While fights are entertaining in boxing and MMA, the fights aren't booked in advance, making each event more of a "watch and see athleticism that has no premeditation attached to it." Does that make more sense now?

When you're a judge for a sport like boxing or MMA, you are put in the hot seat and you need to make sure you are observant in each movement and each attack, especially when it is a close fight. I'm stating the obvious here, but it's a job that needs to be taken seriously, especially when careers [and money] are on the line and they're crucial to keep the credibility of the sport going along. It isn't difficult to get something wrong, but when there is no responsibility claimed in screwing up judgment, things get muddy and all kinds of foggy. Would you rather claim responsibility and admit you got something wrong, or screw up the reputation of the sport that you had once admired and observed.

With that said, you have to admit that seeing the you-know-what hitting the fan at UFC 167 really takes away some form of credibility with the sport, especially when it comes to the honor behind most arts. You could tell it was bad when Dana White was not pleased with the aftermath. It can't be helped when controversy involving poor decisions leads to poor press. This is especially true when it comes to the judges for each event and what they're looking for in each fight. Is favoritism involved? Was something done under the table? I could be thinking into it too much, but those are just some things that can't helped but be considered when you see a screwy finish to a fight that looked like it had a decisive winner.

With UFC 168 coming around in less than three weeks, we're going to see some animosity with the crowd and the judges will be n deep water until things start moving along smoothly. Let's not muddy the waters anymore now, okey dokey?