Glaring Differences Between a Good Cornerman and a Bad One
Coaches assume different roles and varying levels of importance in every single sport.
In the NFL, the tactical brilliance of coaches like Bill Parcells and Bill Walsh will live on for generations as people who completely changed the nature of the game. In MLB, managers are there to motivate players, but generally have little influence over the game itself—and even less over things like roster decisions.
When it comes to MMA, we see cornermen assume a comparably broad degree of relevance when it comes to influencing and motivating their charges.
Regardless of what role the cornermen play for any given fighter, though, there will always be Scottie Bowmans, and there will always be Bobby Valentines.
So what makes a cornerman fall into one category and not the other? What are the key differences between a good coach in MMA and a bad one?
Find out here!
Actually Knowing the Sport vs. Not
This should be a bit of a no-brainer, but when you look at the supporting cast of some top fighters, it sometimes seems to get forgotten.
On one hand, there are geniuses in specific areas of mixed martial arts. These are the guys who can point out the most minute detail a fighter can exploit. These guys can identify and explain to their charges that keeping one knee off the ground can help them advance to side control more easily or that a feint opens up enough of a window to slip in an offside body kick.
The flip side, of course, is when coaches don't know the sport well enough or simply aren't capable of articulating it, to the point where they are basically of no use.
Perhaps, the greatest example was Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, who was unable to give advice more advanced than “don't get taken down” or “stop getting hit so much” while he was coaching The Ultimate Fighter Season 10. Other similar examples would be when the Diaz brothers corner each other and do little more than accuse opponents of greasing.
The Ability to Motivate vs. Telling Fighters to “Coast”
There are plenty of ways to push fighters, whether it's getting in their face and yelling at them or giving them an ol' fashioned “you can do this.” Good cornermen know precisely how to get their fighters to the next level as a fight goes on.
Listening to the MMA Lab's John Crouch, who corners the likes of UFC lightweight champ Benson Henderson, former WEC lightweight champ Jamie Varner and current flyweight top contender John Moraga, you can hear somebody who knows precisely what buttons to press for each man.
The same goes for Chael Sonnen during his time as the coach of the most recent season of The Ultimate Fighter.
Sometimes, though, fighters are told to turn their energy down a little bit. That has, on numerous occasions, brought losses.
While the most famous example of this is Miesha Tate telling boyfriend Bryan Caraway to “coast” through the third round in his fight against Takeya Mizugaki, the best (and worst) example of this is Greg Jackson inadvertently sabotaging Nate Marquardt's fight against Yushin Okami. You can read the details here.
Having an Emotional Investment vs. Indifference
Think back to the days when Jon Jones vs. Rashad Evans was the hottest rivalry in MMA. Rashad Evans' biggest gripe over Greg Jackson was his increasing lack of investment in each individual fighter's success due to the ballooning size of the gym.
No matter which side of that feud you came down on, Evans was spot-on. Having a coach who actually cares about your success is a big deal, and the one example that best demonstrates this, again, had Evans right in the center of it all.
That would be The Ultimate Fighter Season 10, which featured a deeply dedicated Rashad Evans and a completely checked-out Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. As Evans rolled with his team and bonded with them on a one-to-one level, Jackson was distant and disinterested in actually connecting or teaching his fighters. The result was a downright steamroll in favor of Team Evans.
The dynamics of “The House” and a full-blown professional situation are obviously fairly different, but the lesson to be learned applies to all levels and all stages of a career.
Recognizing When to Quit vs. Endangering a Fighter
The brain of a top-level athlete is wired differently from that of the average person. An unflappably high level of pride and self-esteem, along with a general cockiness, is essentially a must for any given player.
Everyone thinks they're the greatest, from Muhammad Ali to Joe Flacco in the NFL, but only one of them can be correct. That is why, in all sports, we constantly see fighters stick around longer than they should and/or get into genuinely ugly contract disputes because of an overestimation of just how much gas they have left in their tank (that's you, Brian Urlacher).
In MMA, unlike other sports, the burden of telling an athlete that the game is over, and they've lost, can fall on the coach. The famous act of throwing in the towel is something that rarely comes up in MMA, but there are always slews of fans and pundits waiting to say it needs to happen more often.
Two particularly egregious examples have come up in the last year. One of which came at MFC 33, where Greg Jackson got in the face of a barely conscious team member (read about it here). The other was at Bellator 86 where Michail Tsarev reentered the cage while unable to stand.
In both these cases, the corner of a fighter failed to accurately assess the risk their fighters were in, relative to their ability to win.
The results, in both cases, were disastrous.