"This isn't the Ultimate Takedown Championship; it's the Ultimate Fighting Championship."
B.J. Penn uttered those words after his split-decision loss to Georges St. Pierre in 2006. Penn was frustrated by the decision of two cage-side judges that gave the third round to St. Pierre, thus giving GSP the victory. St. Pierre took Penn down in that round and was on top for some time, but really did little damage to him. Penn, while on bottom, was attempting submissions and almost was able to lock in a gogoplata on St. Pierre.
The image many MMA fans have of this particular fight is that St. Pierre was a bloody mess after that fight and had to spend the night in the hospital, and B.J. Penn hardly looked like he had been in a fight and went out to the club afterward. After all, takedowns do no damage.
B.J. has come to terms with how ground fighting is scored in the UFC. He has stated that now he realizes that if he spends an entire round on the bottom, regardless how many armbars or triangles he throws up, that the judges are probably going to give the round to his opponent.
Wrestling has become the dominant style of most MMA practitioners. That isn't a big surprise, since wrestling is such an effective style for MMA. The problem is that some fighters employ an extreme form of defensive wrestling known as lay and pray.
The lay and pray style is so effective that you even see elite fighters such as Georges St. Pierre and Sean Sherk utilize this tactic on occasion, mainly because it's so easy to win a fight on points by getting just two or three takedowns in a fight and not doing much else.
St. Pierre used lay and pray in his victories over Penn and, even more egregiously, over Josh Koscheck. In both fights, St. Pierre did almost little damage to his opponents, instead choosing to simply take his opponents to the ground and essentially hold on to them for victory.
More recent occurrences of lay and pray include Gray Maynard's victories over Frankie Edgar and Rich Clementi. Maynard really has put on some clinics for how lay and pray is done. Take opponent down, hold on tight, referee stands you back up, rinse, and repeat.
MMA is still a relatively young sport that continues to evolve, and it's time that the unified rules evolve to fit the expectations of modern MMA fans. I think a few simple changes in judging criteria and one or two rule changes to the unified rules would end lay and pray as a viable tactic for winning an MMA bout.
First, takedowns alone should not count as points toward a fighter. The exceptions should be takedowns that do damage (such as slams) and takedowns that give the fighter better-than-guard position (such as judo throws).
Fighters should get zero credit for taking their opponent to the floor with a double-leg takedown. They must actually do damage via ground and pound, or attempt submissions, or improve position to gain points.
Laying in their opponent's full guard for an entire round should not win a fighter a round. If the fighter did no damage and attempted no submissions, and their opponent was attempting submissions, he should be awarded the round.
If neither the fighter on top nor the opponent on bottom mounts any significant offense in the round, then it should be scored a 10-10 round. Once some of these lay and pray artists start getting losses and draws on their records (thus missing out on win bonuses), then maybe they will start trying to actually fight.
I know the arguments against such a change.
"Controlling your opponent counts as points. If you opponent can't reverse position or stand up, then he deserves to lose."
Yea, yea...but let me put it to you this way. If a fighter decided to pull guard and then hold his opponent in full guard the whole round, would you award this fighter the round? I somehow doubt most people would score it for him. So why do we naturally give rounds to wrestlers who take down opponents and stay in their full guard the entire round?
Another obvious solution is to allow knees and kicks to the head of a downed opponent, as well as upkicks to people in guard. This forces wrestlers to think twice about a takedown because, if their opponent sprawls, they could receive kicks or knees to the face for their troubles.
Additionally, knees to a downed opponent will also help the lay and pray fighter by giving him the option to work his way to north-south position and inflict actual damage on their opponents with knees.
Now don't assume that I hate wrestling or grappling in general. In fact, I love a good match of submission grappling when both guys are actively trying to finish the other. But takedowns alone have won far too many fights.