With the influx of talented wrestlers entering MMA, fans are starting to demonize coaches and fighters for developing game plans that involve imposing a stellar top game against mismatched opponents.
To get a better understanding of the phenomenon that ignites boos and groans amongst MMA fans, we must first define the phrase. What is lay and pray?
Most MMA pundits would describe it as a phrase referring to a fighter stalling on the ground to avoid exchanging on the feet. Related words and phrases include smothering, blanketing and dry-humping. The phrase is generally handed down to grapplers with a relentless and inescapable top game.
Now that we have a definition, it’s time to attack some issues.
Imagine if NFL commissioner Roger Goodell had a sit down with quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning that went like this.
"Tom, Peyton, you can still take shots down the field every now and then, but we need you to focus more on the run. Teams are struggling to keep up downfield. This will make things more interesting."
As a sports fan, would you want to watch this? I’m sure Goodell wouldn’t promote it. Sporting fans around the world enjoy watching the essence of true competition. They dress up and argue amongst rivals in support of their favorite teams and athletes.
The alluring nature of professional sports is the opportunity to see the best compete. Athletes train long and hard in formulating specific game plans to gain an edge on the opponent.
If all of this is the nature of true competition, why is MMA treated differently? Isn’t it a sport?
I believe people forget the answer to this question at times. MMA is a sport. One athlete is trying to defeat another in combative competition. Doesn’t it make sense to use the tools best at your disposal to ensure victory?
Why should fighters like Georges St-Pierre, Jake Shields and Jon Fitch disregard their dominant ground games to appease standup fanatics?
This isn’t the WWE. Bouts aren’t scripted and spotted to "give the fans what they want." This is a sport that depends on the general knowledge and understanding of its fans. Human psychology dictates that people tend to dislike what they don’t understand.
If I read you an entire book about modern-day geology, you would most likely fall asleep in less than 20 minutes. If I read the same book to a geologist, he would probably be more interested.
The infancy of the sport has stifled the understanding of casual fans. The casual fan doesn’t understand the fundamentals of positioning, guard-passing and body control. A casual fan does understand the fundamentals of punching and kicking another human being in the face.
If MMA is to be considered as a sport, we have to treat it as such. This isn’t boxing, kickboxing, wrestling or BJJ. It’s all elements rolled into one. Both ground and standup will play major roles in every MMA bout.
Like every sport, winning is the ultimate goal in MMA. The UFC generally cuts fighters after two or three consecutive losses. Why should a fighter risk his or her livelihood by standing and slugging it out with a superior striker?
Slug-fests may appease agitated fans, but they don’t put food on the table. Winning is the determining factor in sustaining a successful career.
This sport isn’t some bar room scuffle. It’s an art form that combines a multitude of aspects. Sadly, the general public has yet to see it as such.
In his personal column on the Nottingham Post, Dan Hardy publicized his discontent with some of the excessive grappling in the sport.
"I think the problem is there’s beginning to be too much wrestling in the UFC Octagon, not too little of it in the gym. There are a lot of people out there calling themselves ‘UFC fighters’ who are nothing of the kind," Hardy posted.
"In the UFC, you should go for finishes. But there’s guys going out there who just want to use wrestling to hold a stalemate for 15 minutes, without ever risking going for ground-and-pounds or attempting submissions."
Hardy isn’t alone in his sentiment. American Top Team fighter Cole Miller lashed out against wrestlers in an interview with bjpenn.com.
"I hear all this talk about dominant top position…are you kidding me? These guys take you down because they don’t want to get beat up on their feet and they let you up because they don’t want to get beat up there either and then everyone thinks they’re so well-rounded when all they did was keep from getting beat up in any spot," Miller said.
The problem with both of these statements is that neither takes responsibility for personal inefficiencies. Offensive wrestling isn’t the only aspect of the sport. There is also defensive wrestling, footwork, timing, scramble ability and BJJ. All of these aspects come into play during every ground tussle.
Is it the top guy’s fault that you lack the defensive or offensive skill set to deal with his level of grappling?
Fans tend to buy into the false perception that the guy on bottom is completely helpless. As a professional mixed martial artist, you are paid to prepare and perform in all areas of the game. It’s easy to point fingers at outside circumstances in reasoning for past and present failures. It’s harder to actually accept defeat and rectify the problem.
How did I get taken down? Did I overreach? Does my sprawl need improvement? What did my footwork look like? Can I make any improvements from my back?
These are some of the questions that should be answered.
Every fighter comes into a fight looking to finish. There isn’t one UFC fighter who wouldn’t want a hefty bonus for submission or knockout of the night.
It takes two to tango. The same hate thrust upon wrestlers could be returned on downed opponents for stalling from bottom. Instead of opening their guards and looking for submissions or scrambles, some fighters merely lockup full guard and wait for the ref to stand the bout back up. This strategy in itself can shut down all forms of offense.
It has always amazed me how some people claim to be fans of MMA while brandishing a complete and utter distaste for grappling. This isn’t the sport of only punching and kicking. There are sports out there that encompass those aspects alone.
Some fights are definitely more exciting than others, but the reasoning for this is delegated more towards the styles and performances of both individuals. There will always be wrestling in MMA. Fans have to either get used to it or change the channel. Maybe the "Just Bleed" fanatics would find boxing and kickboxing more aesthetically pleasing.
(Originally posted at SportsHaze.com)