If there's one thing all MMA fans can agree on, it's the fact that they love a finish. That's exactly why the UFC should institute a bonus for fighters to finish fights on all their cards.
Fighters already pocket a cool $50,000 for Knockout of the Night and Submission of the Night along with both competitors earning $75,000 each for getting awarded with the Fight of the Night bonus. Yet, with only one of these awards on each card, there's no real incentive (monetarily, at least) for a fighter to finish the fight.
That especially goes for a fighter competing on the preliminary portion of the card where their fight isn't seen by as many people and thus won't leave as much of a lasting impact compared to the main card attractions.
Dana White was visibly upset following UFC 169. His reaction was justified given that the event had promised so much, yet ended up creating history for all the wrong reasons. The card with the most decisions in UFC history should become a catalyst for change in the way fighters compete.
Providing incentives for finishing isn't exactly radical thinking either. The UFC already offers bonuses to competitors on The Ultimate Fighter for finishing fights and other promotions are creating bonuses for finishes.
Cage Fighting Alliance promoter Jorge de la Noval made it a point to eliminate the dull action by awarding a bonus for fighters who finished a fight by KO/TKO or submission.
"Fighters are not finishing fights,” de la Noval told MMA Junkie's Steven Marrocco. “They’re just going in there to get the win bonus. Look what happened to (Lyoto) Machida and Phil Davis this weekend (at UFC 163). Neither one went in to prove a point.”
Even though de la Noval's quote is from August, you could say the same about what happened at UFC 169's contest between Alistair Overeem and Frank Mir. The fight was widely considered a "loser leaves town" type of bout and Overeem clearly held back during the contest, which he explained to The MMA Hour's Ariel Helwani (h/t MMAMania.com).
Listen, I'm still that guy that wants to knock peoples' heads off. But it is important to have that switch. Sometimes it's not possible. You can want it as hard as you want, and if I look at my history, my last fight, that was my downfall, going for that knockout. So, it's logical and I hope that viewers back home and everybody watching can understand that.
Is that really the attitude the UFC wants to promote from one of the more notable fighters? Overeem's Octagon record isn't spectacular, but he's one of the division's most known fighters and draws fans in.
Look to Benson Henderson as another example of a guy who is clearly more interested in getting the win than in finishing an opponent. Henderson has won some of the closest decisions in recent UFC history, yet he is no closer to a title shot than he was prior to facing Josh Thomson at UFC on Fox 10.
Granted, most guys at the top will likely still play it safe given their spots on the top of the roster. But the fighters competing on the lower portion of the main card and prelims would be more enticed to finish a fight for a little extra cash, especially considering how fighters and fans view fighter pay.
Dana White's known gambling issues don't help the problem either.
Even MMA legend Chuck "The Iceman" Liddell, one of the best finishers of all time, believes guys are playing it too safe.
When the issue of creating a bonus for fighters finishing a fight comes up, one of the main criticisms I've seen is that "it will create a sloppy fight."
You don't have to trade haymakers like Abel Trujillo and Jamie Varner did at UFC 169 to look for a finish. There are ways to be tactful and secure a finish (as Renan Barao pointed out in the UFC 169 headliner).
There's also the extra benefit to the UFC for preliminary fighters to go for the finish prior to a pay-per-view. Often times, the promotion will put a fight as the "main event" of the preliminary card in order to get viewers interested in purchasing the following event. Did anyone feel that way after watching Alan Patrick and John Makdessi?
What if the lead-in to the pay-per-view had been Trujillo and Varner? Or what about a slick submission like Jim Miller's armbar win at UFC 168?
The bottom line is that finishes are what draw the crowds in. With small gloves and submission grappling, the fight could literally be over at any moment. That is, unless guys are fighting just safe enough to earn a win and another day in the Octagon.
The UFC began sending the right messages by cutting the "grinder style" of fighters like Jon Fitch and Yushin Okami despite their high ranking in the company. Still, it's clear more changes are needed if White and the UFC want guys to go for it and put on a show.
If fighters aren't going to change their game, it's time the UFC steps in and changes theirs. It won't fix everything, but it's clear that something has to happen to switch things up from what we've seen in recent times.