Thus far in 2011, there have been four UFC headlining bouts, two of which have ended in hard fought draws. This type of conclusion rarely sees the light of day, especially during main events, which consist of the most dangerously technical and tenacious mixed martial artists the UFC as to offer.
Ironically, this notable half of matches—Edgar vs. Maynard and Penn vs. Fitch—have been the most thoroughly exciting headliners of this young year. Each of these contests possessed a high variety of thrilling aspects, from impressive transitions and submission attempts on the ground to effective striking angles and foot work on the feet.
Most intriguing of all, technical prowess aside, were the moments of immediate triumph by fighters on the brink and overall vigorous valor, dug up deep from within each combatant’s heart. Lightweight champion Frankie Edgar overcame an early barrage of attack from Maynard, who ended up gassing his arms, only to come back in the next round with his own take-downs and refreshed pace.
Similar to that drag out war of a headliner, UFC 127’s Penn vs. Fitch produced many of the same qualities, but within a frame work of two less rounds. By the start of the third and final round, the fight’s progression and steam was just picking up—the plot was thickened after Penn was stealing the show with his own take-downs—only to be abruptly stopped five minutes later with a disheartening decision that left fans yearning for a conclusive curtain call.
The lead up was excellent, a back and forth battle between two elite fighters trying to impose their strategies. Fitch’s game plan was far from surprising, a vintage grinder strategy that has brought on praise and criticisms. On the other hand, Penn’s camp slammed down a wild card, having Penn come out fast with his own take-downs over his decorated opponent, a Purdue alumni wrestling captain.
Fitch was admittedly shocked by Penn’s tactics, saying he had trained zero wrestling defense leading up to the fight. It was the perfect plan on paper only to be compromised by Penn’s own cardio deficiencies in the third round, but more so by the fact that the fight was not for a title. All non-title fights are traditionally waged within three five minute rounds, regardless of where on the card they happen, not a full five.
As speculative as it may seem, nobody knows for sure how a fourth and fifth rounds would have went down. Fitch was certainly getting into a rhythm in that last round, smothering a slightly fatigued Penn from start to finish from that power top position he utilizes so well.
Would an extended continuation from round three tell us the whole story? Would we have seen Penn revitalized with a second wind to continue what he started in the beginning of the fight—scoring his own take-downs when he wasn’t successfully defending Fitch’s—or would we have seen Penn fade away in the later rounds like he did in his rematch with Georges St-Pierre?
The hypothetical result is not nearly as prominent in this equation as the potential solutions. Draws have a place in MMA—in fact they should be used more often. There have been numerous fighters that have equally deserved a draw as a result, much like soccer clubs during a regular season. Draws can be the solution, not the problem (I much rather see a draw than an awful decision), except during main events that people pay hard earned money to see finished.
After all the hype leading up to the headliner, the payout has to be pretty substantial to keep fans satisfied. There’s so much effort and time exhausted by the fighters and the UFC—all the interviews, pre-fight video blogs, ads, countdown production, marketing—to attract interest in a card’s main entrée.
All competitors across the board dedicate an abundance of time and energy in training, but so many more people are involved in preparing a fighter for a main event; which makes a draw the worst case scenario for everybody—fans, trainers, suits, and fighters alike.
Once a nail-bitter ends without an obvious victor, everybody is on pins and needles until Bruce Buffer announces the score cards. And then just like that, there’s silence or deflated boos by the crowd once the math is done and a draw is deduced.
The agonizing reality almost makes modern day gladiators tear up, knowing that progression up the ladder was just lost and that the best outcome might be an immediate rematch six months down the road—assuming they go injury-free.
It’s clear that draws are a curse for all battle-weary fighters, who have just been through the grinder in a consequential war of attrition and grit.
The UFC needs to give serious consideration to amending some rules to their non-title, main event bouts. To make the task easier, let’s explore a couple of options.
First, the rumor mills have been turning the last couple of months about the possibility of adding two rounds to all headlining fights. Dana White has confirmed in recent interviews that he has entertained the idea of making all main events five rounds.
Fighters would have more time to secure a victory, or at least a convincing decision, with an additional ten minutes to salvage. Seeing a fourth and fifth round would have really told the story between whose game plan would have survived the later portions of the fight Saturday night. Not only would Penn and Fitch have felt less slighted, but paying fans would have gotten more bang for their buck.
Of course, this plan isn’t a fail-safe solution to all draws conceded in main events. Edgar and Maynard had their five round campaign that resulted in our dreaded draw and who’s to say either Fitch or Penn would have been clearly dominant enough to avoid such a conclusion had their fight lasted another two rounds.
Luckily, the answer has been in front of our eyes for 13 seasons on Spike TV—sudden victory. Make all main event bouts five rounds, regardless of championship stakes, and add an extra sudden death (or victory, however you care to spin it) round when needed to avoid a draw after 25 minutes.
It is not uncommon in the world of sports for paramount results to be rendered in extra time. Soccer uses a golden goal or shootout to settle their championship games, hockey uses a similar shootout, football and basketball implements overtime periods and baseball adds extra innings. A lot of times, this type of protocol is even used in regular season games for many sports.
So why not MMA, when so much is at stake with every headlining fight?
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