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Finishing: MMA’s Embarassing Obsession

“Did you watch the card last weekend?”

“No, was it any good?”

“Yeah man, there were only two decisions on the whole card!”

Unfortunately, exchanges like this are commonplace in MMA discussions.  And it’s not just events that are often rated by how many finishes there are, it’s the fighters too.  A fighter who goes to decisions often is boring, whereas “finishers” are seen as exciting fighters.

While I would readily admit that there are fighters that have less fan friendly styles than others, it’s a crude oversimplification to equate decisions with non-excitement.  Indeed, many of the greatest fights in MMA history have gone to the cards:  Dan Henderson vs Shogun, Benson Henderson vs Anthony Pettis 1, Wanderlei Silva vs Chuck Liddell.  And indeed, this year is no exception, with some of the best fights coming out of 2013 include Dennis Bermudez vs Matt Grice, Carlos Condit vs Johny Hendricks, Diego Sanchez vs Gilbert Melendez, and Eddie Alvarez vs Michael Chandler 2.  All decisions.

So that brings us to this week’s UFC 167 main event of Georges St. Pierre and Johny Hendricks.

St. Pierre is seen as a conservative fighter who is often accused of “fighting to not lose”, rather than “fighting to win” (assuming this distinction has any meaning — which it doesn’t.)  Hendricks on the other hand is being promoted as the exciting knockout artist.  In reality, Hendricks’ decision win over Condit is arguably his career defining performance, and while St. Pierre has been unable to find the finish as of late, none of his recent fights have been boring by any stretch of the imagination.

Tom Lawlor was once asked if he was hoping to win a ‘Fight of the Night’ bonus.  He responded no, on account of ‘Fight of the Night’ bonus winners usually ending beaten up pretty badly, win or lose.  Rather, he said he was hoping to get out of there as quickly as possible.

For some reason, the MMA community thinks Lawlor is alone out there.  The MMA community thinks there are fighters that exist who would rather prolong a fight rather than end it as quickly as possible.  This is nonsensical.  There is no professional fighter alive who would choose to prolong a fight, rather than finish his opponent, if that fighter’s odds of victory were equal in both cases.  And yet repeatedly, we are told that certain fighters “don’t go for the finish”, as if there is some sort of expectation that fighters are supposed to put themselves in unnecessary harm’s way.

Watching two fighters trying to win at all costs is entertaining as is.  I don’t need fighters to try to entertain me by doing something that they think I want to see.  Just ask Jorge Gurgel how being “entertaining” worked out for him.