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Lay and Pray Alive and Well in MMA – Just Not How You Think

Let’s face it, not every fight is the most exciting barn burner in the world.  Some time ago, somebody decided that it was a good idea to give referees the power to stand fighters off of the ground in the event of inactivity.

And, in a result that has surely never happened before, a poorly thought out rule has had unintended negative consequences.

The Intended Effect

The rule is simple in theory:  If a fight hits the ground, and nothing is happening, then the fight should be stood up.  This should cause fighters on top to want to create activity to stay on top, and encourages guard passing and active ground and pound.

The Problem

The rule has the reverse effect as well.  As much as it creates an incentive for the fighter on top to create action to avoid standing up, it creates every incentive in the world for the fighter on the bottom to create as much inactivity as possible.  Rather than working to sweep, submit, or get back to their feet on their own, many fighters and their teams have realized it’s a lot easier to just hold on and pray for a standup.  Just listen to Shawn Tompkins’ (RIP) instructions in the first round of the Mark Hominick vs Jose Aldo fight at UFC 129, in case you’re skeptical.

And these aren’t isolated incidents either.  Consider former Bellator Heavyweight champion Alexander Volkov.  His win over Vinicius Queiroz was highly controversial due to the referee’s quick standups, brought about by the inactivity created by Volkov.  Then, this past weekend, Volkov did it again against Vitaly Minakov.  Minakov took Volkov down, and rather than try to sweep or submit his opponent, Volkov did nothing more than hold on to Minakov and pray for a standup — which the referee gave to him.

The Solution

Eliminating standups altogether seems a bit harsh, although it’s certainly the better rule.  If a fighter gets taken down, he should have every incentive to work from the bottom, knowing that if he doesn’t, he will receive no help from the referee, and will likely lose the fight.

Will this create an influx of boring wrestlers?  Unlikely.  A rule change like this wouldn’t somehow cause the likes of Cain Velasquez, Jon Jones, or Jose Aldo to change their style any time soon.

At the very least, the rule change needs to eliminate the subjectivity of the referee in determining when a fight should be stood up.  If there is true inactivity from both fighters, then I don’t have a problem.  But watching a fighter on the bottom milk the rule?  It’s almost as bad as the ‘grounded opponent’ rule.