Sunday, January 9, 2011

Pat Miletich on Strikeforce Challengers 13

I have decided that Strikeforce color commentator Pat Miletich stinks. For you non-mixed martial arts fans out there, Miletich is a former UFC champion and he has a martial arts school that's actually really good. My bone is not with his fighting or his teaching, but with his commentary in MMA events.

In particular, watching Strikeforce Challengers 13, several times he opined it was a bad idea for fighters with top control on the ground to attempt submissions because of the likelihood of losing top control. He suggested, apparently quite sincerely, that the best way to win is to grind out a victory using wrestling lay-and-pray techniques . . . which is a big "ugh" for me. Wrestling in MMA is probably the perfect defensive art. Good takedowns, takedown defense, reversals and escapes, it allows a fighter to decide if the fight is going to go to the ground and if it's going to stay there. Being able to control position is one of the keys to victory in MMA. I grasp that. Wrestling is, and should be, a part of MMA.

I also grasp that MMA needs scoring criteria and it is reasonable that one of those scoring criteria should be who "dominates" the fight. Often, particularly with defensive fighters, like wrestlers vs. Brazilian jiu jitsu fighters, nothing much will happen. Both wrestling and BJJ basically teach fighters how to stop the action from progressing. Given this reality, at least some fights are going to end with the fighters basically holding onto each other for fifteen minutes as two defensive grapplers refuse to do anything, waiting for the other fighter to make the move that will never come. No one is going to be really pleased with those kinds of fights, but they happen. So you're going to need to come up with a scoring mechanism and dominance is it . . . and as the rules currently stand, being on top is "domination". So when very little happens in a fight, the guy who stayed on top longest wins.

I think this is a problem in a couple of different ways. First, it's boring. MMA fights are entertainment. Boring fights should be avoided whenever possible. While it's true that every sport is going to have boring events now and then, it's wrong, I feel, to encourage athletes to be dull.

Second, it's bad self-defense. One of the reason MMA is so popular is the notion that these guys really are the best unarmed fighters in the world. That MMA fighters, with their skill at so many talents, are the guys you least want to meet in a dark alley at night. That MMA would work in a fight. Lay-and-pray tactics hurt that idea. In a real fight, finishing it quickly is of great importance. If you're engaged in violence in the real world, it's because something is tragically wrong (dismissing as irrelevant those situations where guys brawl for fun), because you're fighting for your life. Laying on the ground for five minutes trying to smother your opponent is a pretty stupid idea when at any moment some of his pals might come by and stomp your guts out. Sure, a cop might also come by and save your ass, but do you really want to take that chance? Also, in grappling where you're not doing very much, desperation starts to set in. If, while grappling, you keep moving, you radically reduce the odds of your opponent deciding to start the really dirty techniques that make ground fighting on the street so mind bogglingly dangerous. For the less bloody minded out there, I'm talking primarily about eye gouges, but also fish hooks, head butts, throat grabs and groin pulls. If you're moving from position to position, it's harder for a person to visualize and execute the brutal moves not to mention a submission, by defeating your opponent or going very substantially in that direction (sure, a person COULD fight with a broken arm, but most won't and even if they do, uh, they've got a broken arm) makes it impossible or almost impossible for them to pull anything off. So, in a self-defense situation, pretty much the last thing you want to do is lay on top of your opponent while they figure out how to gouge out your eyes or hope one of their friends comes along.

So, when a wrestler wins by top control, they're gaming the rules in such a way that breaks the idea that MMA is good for self-defense. This idea is pretty important for the popularity of MMA. The decline in interest in boxing in the US is attributable in large part for the lack of faith Americans have in the "utility" of boxing as a self-defense art. Vulnerable to kicks and grappling, boxing is seen as a kind of "partial art". MMA, I feel, better fits the ethos that combat sports should be self-defense oriented, that what happens in the ring or cage should be useful "on the street".

Gaming the rules to grind out a boring victory, then, is bad for MMA generally. (The way to fix the problem is to recognize, in grappling in MMA, position is neutral. While I can be occasionally frustrated at the defensiveness of BJJ fighters (when it slips into "doing nothing"), the truth is that they can win from the bottom. That they want to be on the bottom. Yes, the top position is good for ground-and-pound, but the bottom position is good for submissions. Indeed, there is hardly a single submission in MMA from heel hook to guillotine choke that isn't best finished with your back to the ground. It's sort of silly, I think, to say that the guy on top, in MMA, is somehow "winning". How can putting yourself in the position to be submitted be considered winning just because you might launch a couple of leverage-less punches? By recognizing that a top position is not inherently superior, you could get rid of most lay-and-pray fighting techniques. I think this would be for the best.)

Additionally, from an MMA-rules based point of view, saying that you shouldn't try for submissions because you'll lose top position isn't particularly good tactics. While some fighters ought to lay-and-pray, in order to win a fight, they should do that only if they don't have a good submissions game. Submissions end fights. Lay-and-pray grinding means giving your opponent additional opportunities for them to win the fight. Many a good wrestler has lost because, rather than submitting their opponent, they've tried to grind out a victory and found themselves in a triangle armbar. Yeah, they were really winning until they lost.

To top it all off, it's a disservice to pretty much the only reason color commentators in MMA shows exist - to give new fans an idea of what the hell is going on and to clarify complex action. When Miletich opines on what he thinks the fighters ought to do rather than describe what they are doing in the midst of a fight, he's not being real useful to anyone. At that point, he might as well shut the fuck up.

Which is the whole point of this: he should shut the fuck up. What he's advocating is bad for MMA. No one wants to see boring lay-and-pray grinding victories. What he's advocating isn't necessarily good advice -- a submission, ending a fight, means you win. Maybe that's worth giving up top control for a bit. And by trying to coach the fighters rather than commenting on the fight, in the sense of describing the action to make it more comprehensible to the audience who isn't right there at ringside with three monitors viewing the action from different angles with people pointing out where subtle action is going on, he's voiding the warranty for why he should be on the show at all. I like it when an MMA pro is right there to talk us through the action, and I don't mind if they have opinions -- my favorite in this regard is Bas Rutten from when he was doing commentary for Pride FC -- it's just that if they're criticizing the strategy of the fighters rather than explaining it, why do they exist at all?

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