What do Rashad Evans, Chael Sonnen, Jon Fitch, Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard have in common? Less than half of their victories have come by way of finish.
Specifically, Evans is at 46 percent, Sonnen's at 41 percent, Fitch is at 39 percent, Edgar is at 35 percent and Maynard is at 20 percent.
This isn't to discount their skill, as each of these fighters has been quite successful in the Octagon. Still, though, a lingering thought beckons, and it asks, "How well would these fighters perform in the Octagon of olde?"
It's been over 15 years since we last saw a fight needing to go to the finish in the Octagon. That's a long time for fights having the possibility of going to a decision.
Beginning with UFC 5, quarterfinal and semifinal matches had a 20-minute time limited instituted. During this same event, Ken Shamrock officially became the first grinder by willingly laying in Royce Gracie's guard for over thirty minutes, thus disappointing the crowd and walking away with a draw.
In between the UFC's beginning and UFC 5's boring superfight, and despite Gracie's withdrawal from UFC 3 due to exhaustion, every single fight had a finish. Before UFC 5, there was no ability to win by decision at all. This was a different kind of pressure than any recent fighter has ever faced, aside from Randy Couture.
Nobody should knock fighters for strategically finding ways to win. Evans, for instance, has come back from a devastating knockout loss to Lyoto Machida by securing strong decision victories over Thiago Silva and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson.
Georges St. Pierre is also a good example. Considered to be the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world by many MMA fans, and he has gone to decision in the last two of his welterweight title defenses.
But trouble comes in when such grinders show a lack of ability to finish an opponent.
Granted Evans had a successful strategy against two dangerous strikers, he gave up a secured mount against Silva early in round 1 and still chose to wrestle a dazed Rampage after landing a clean shot about 30 seconds into the fight.
Against Dan Hardy, St. Pierre showed that he needs to work on submission offense. Hardy was completely dominated on the ground, yet St. Pierre couldn't finish the job despite having complete leverage over Hardy's limbs on a number of occasions.
A lot of people see this decision wrestling as a lack of adaptation in MMA, but this couldn't be further from the truth. Fighters have adapted to the system of rules imposed on MMA, and one of those rules is 5 minutes-long round, 15 minute time limit in standard bouts and a 25 minute time limit in championship bouts.
Nevertheless, taking St. Pierre's ground-and-pound prowess into consideration versus the one-dimensional striker Hardy, there was absolutely no excuse for St. Pierre to not finish that fight. Hardy's joints end the same way everyone else's does, and no amount of bone flexibility could account for surviving those submissions unless they were poorly executed.
One wonders how that fight would have ended in the old Octagon. It's safe to say that nobody could picture Hardy winning it, even without a time limit, but how long would it have taken St. Pierre to finish him?
And in considering Evans, in the last two of his fights, he was dazed in both of them toward the end. Silva landed a clean strike and made Evans's legs wobbly and Evans had dazed himself by shooting on Rampage and getting hit knee-to-face.
Evans hung on until the end of the third round in both cases, and though Silva didn't seem to have the energy to follow up with punishment of his own and Rampage couldn't break Evans's wrestling after he brought the fight back to the standing position, how would these fights have ended in the old Octagon where there were no time limits?
The examples of timed rounds and time limits on fights could go on and on: Sean Sherk vs. Evans Dunham, Anderson Silva vs. Dan Henderson, Diego Sanchez vs. Clay Guida, Lyoto Machida vs. Tito Ortiz, et cetera. Not saying that these fights would have necessarily ended with different outcomes, but the outcomes were at the very least questionable.
So how would these fighters, who have some of the lowest win rates by way of finish, fare in the old Octagon? Of course, there is the issue of having a lack of weight divisions, but we're talking about a relative shift to the rules of having no time limit in those first few UFCs, where a fight had to be finished.
Well, it's hard to say. Every aforementioned fighter has finished fights, so we know they have the capability of doing so. The question is whether or not they would have the same prowess with the old format that they currently do. An answer isn't so simple.
One thing to take into consideration is that grinding out opponents takes energy away from both parties, and when the UFC started, champions needed to win in a tournament format. Systematically winning over a long period of time would only take away one's odds at being able to perform the same task in up to two other fights in the same night.
To survive in the old Octagon, fighters like Fitch and Sonnen would definitely have to add more submission attempts to their game. Edgar and Maynard would need to focus more on strikes and less on positioning, and Evans would likely have to go back to being willing to stand and trade with dangerous strikers.
Nobody is doubting that, for the most part, MMA has evolved for the better. However, more than just fans' interest can become ambivalent when a fighter enters the Octagon with the intention of gaining a decision victory versus trying to actually finish the fight.
Until time limits on rounds and matches end, though, we will likely never know how some of these fights would truly end. Given the current organization, though, can we really blame the fighters for not finishing fights? After all, they are simply adapting to their environment.
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