“Finishing fights.” “Entertaining fans.” “Brawler.”
On the other hand?
“Lay and pray.” “Distance-focused.” “Point fighter.”
There are a lot of buzz words that pop up when it comes labeling fighters and their styles. While everyone has their tastes regarding how they want to see a fight play out, it is time to acknowledge that MMA has moved beyond the point where fans' wishes should take priority over game planning and strategy.
MMA should be viewed as a sport. Not as the vague, intangible concept that is “entertainment." Granted, fans tune in to be entertained. However, the same can be said of any other sport.
Think about football. The Pittsburgh Steelers, for example, historically prioritized defense and offensive clock control. They would run the football first down, second down, and probably on third down. Passing? Maybe. Sometimes. Maybe.
Football fans generally have never labeled them as “boring." Football journalists certainly do not. They acknowledge the fact that they utilize a grind-it-out strategy that works. Because it works. It works so well that they are one of the winningest teams in sports history.
Some variation on the low-risk, medium-reward strategy is present in every major sport. The 2011 Stanley Cup Boston Bruins got by on a goal or two per game, but locked down their own zone and had spectacular net-minding by Tim Thomas. Don Cherry, not once, ripped on the Bruins for not being more offensively-minded.
The San Diego Padres? They have gotten by in recent years using strong pitching and small-ball. Again, Joe Buck and John Kruk have managed to resist saying that they do not like watching them because they never hit home runs.
Why, then, should MMA be the exception to this mentality? “Just win, baby” is a commandment for all sports, not just football. Rex Ryan is yet to have a nine-point lead with six minutes left in the fourth quarter and tell Mark Sanchez to air it out because the fans dig the long bombs.
With that in mind, think of fighters like Jon Fitch and Yushin Okami, who frequently get beaten on by bloggers, but favored by judges for their wrestling-focused style. Now consider is Yushin Okami vs. Dean Lister any different from the 2011 Denver Broncos vs. Kansas City Chiefs game, where the Broncos whittled away at the Chiefs by running the ball 55 times after getting a teeny-tiny lead?
In this writer's opinion, they should be viewed the same way. Doing what it takes to win should be the only goal of a fighter.
Some fighters, naturally, would still be labeled as more exciting than their peers. Michael Vick, for example, was one of the most popular players in the NFL from 2001-2005 because of his entertaining, run-first style of quarterbacking. By no means does this mean guys like Nick Diaz or Chris Leben, who are always looking for a knockout, should be phased out or considered over the hill.
Ultimately though, the biggest priority of Chris Bosh, Alexander Ovechkin, Georges St-Pierre, Tom Brady and Miguel Cabrera is to come out on top. That is how it should be. Whether they win by defense, offense, clock control, home runs, ground balls, three-pointers, wrestling, the running game, long bombs, leg kicks or slam dunks, it does not matter.
So next time Jake Shields fights, keep that in mind. He's a fighter with elite grappling skills and he should be expected to try and use them the same way Vikings fans should expect Adrian Peterson to run the ball. MMA, after all, is a sport.