Ten Things That Need to Change in Mixed Martial Arts

10 things

By Jake Rossen Nov 14, 2006
2006 is nearly behind us, and pop culture has experienced some seismic shifts in its wake: Mel Gibson has morphed into a complete Fruit Loop; Britney and Kevin couldn’t make it work; and mixed martial arts has become the water-cooler sport of the new millennium.

Sherdog’s mission statement being what it is, we’ll concern ourselves with the latter. (Though the ‘Dog himself was rather upset with K-Fed’s unceremonious dismissal.)

The explosive growth of our Violent Little Freight Train That Could has been pleasant enough to watch, but with that increased attention comes a microscope on its internal politics. Conclusion: nothing’s perfect. Except Beyonce. But that’s another column.

What follows are 10 things the sport should be addressing as it continues to evolve — hopefully for the better.

10) Judging criteria needs to be clarified

What’s more valuable in a judge’s eyes: a takedown or an attempt at a submission from the bottom? Does a knockdown count as much as a triangle that nearly has your opponent unconscious?

Beats me. And there’s the problem: judges are left to make subjective choices about the myriad ways to contest a freestyle fight. One judge will consider submission attempts from the guard to be more impressive than the takedown that initiated the position, while the man sitting next to him will believe the inverse is true.

Result: a much howled about call that irritates fans, confuses the athletes, and molests the history books.

The state commissions could help alleviate controversial outcomes by assigning offensive and defensive strategies ascending levels of importance. Were Georges St. Pierre (Pictures)’s takedown attempts against B.J. Penn (Pictures) later in the fight more impressive than the substantial damage he accrued in the opening moments?

Put it down on paper before, not after, the fact. Fighters and fans will be aware of what it takes to win, and judges won’t need a police escort to leave the building.

9) “Legends” need to be respected

Few men have done more for the latter-day success of the UFC than Ken Shamrock (Pictures). Love him or hate him, he’s been the fulcrum for some of the promotion’s most profitable events. His bouts with Tito Ortiz (Pictures) — horribly one-sided they may be — were responsible for record business and ratings, momentum that promoters used to their advantage.

And how is he escorted out of the ring? By being sacrificed to whomever Zuffa cared to push at the time. His aging, stuttered physicality was little match for Ortiz or Rich Franklin (Pictures). Worse, he gave his retirement speech after being pummeled into another religion — again — by the “Huntington Beach Bad Boy.”

Am I the only one that finds this awkward and depressing? After everything Shamrock has done for the business, shouldn’t he be afforded the opportunity to be matched in a competitive contest with someone his own age and skill level?

The same goes for Randy Couture (Pictures), Mark Coleman (Pictures), and Royce Gracie (Pictures): all champions, all men who seem destined to go out on a loss.

Matching fighters in the twilight of their careers for co-main events isn’t a charity case. Shamrock and Bas Rutten (Pictures) would make for one hell of a contentious rivalry, which means appreciable ticket sales; Couture is probably going to fare very well against anyone not named Liddell.

Better: the fights themselves would actually harbor some degree of suspense over the outcome. Two legends walking in means at least one of them has a fighting chance of going out on their shield.

8) Steroid testing needs to be mandatory for all bouts

Let’s not hear about how “expensive” pervasive steroid testing is: events that pull in a $4 million gate and an additional $30 million in cable revenue can’t claim poverty with any conviction.

Of the 18 fighters at UFC 62, only four were drug-tested; of the 16 competing at PRIDE’s first Vegas show, 10 were asked to fill up the cup; at UFC 64, seven.

While the seeming randomness of the tests would ostensibly deter athletes from using, Bonnar, Randleman, Nastula, and Belfort all apparently conspired to argue against that theory.

What’s good for one should be good for all. Testing should be mandatory for everyone and anyone walking into the major promotions, regardless of their position on the card.

Better yet: solicit random testing at fighter camps, negating the possibility that athletes could “cycle off” banned substances in order to produce a clean sample. It would take time and effort, but either the commissions are serious in their pursuit of a level playing field or they’re just doing the bare minimum to keep up appearances.

7) The athletic commissions need to relax — and get tough

The NSAC had its heart in the right place when it refused to sanction “Butterbean” in a freestyle fight against Mark Hunt (Pictures); they argued Hunt’s wins over Wanderlei Silva (Pictures) and Mirko Filipovic (Pictures) gave him an unfair mat advantage over the green ‘Bean.

The ruling was awfully superficial, though: Hunt’s ground game didn’t win him either of those fights, and judging from his rapid collapse against Josh Barnett (Pictures) once it hit the canvas, he wasn’t going to be a terror there anytime soon. A bout that seemed predestined to provide some good slugfest fodder was scrapped for ill-informed reasons.

That ignorance was far more pronounced in California director Armando Garcia’s proclamation that Brian Ebersole (Pictures)’s bout against Shannon Ritch (Pictures) looked “suspicious,” and that Ebersole would be suspended from competition as a result.

Obviously, Garcia had never seen a cartwheel guard pass before.

Commissions prioritize safety of the fighters above all, but that edict needs to be tempered with more than just a passing knowledge of the MMA game and its many variables.

On the flip side of the coin, Garcia and his team had no compunction over allowing an 0-0 Cesar Gracie (Pictures) to make his MMA debut against a 21-7 Frank Shamrock (Pictures). That pointless contest ended in seconds — it should’ve also ended any commission’s desire to value box office over someone’s health.

I cringed when I saw Ortiz batter a helpless Ken Shamrock (Pictures) a third straight time. When a 42-year-old man displays no propensity for being competitive, is that a fight that really should be allowed to take place?

Before you answer, think about who’s more likely to get their brains served up scrambled: an agile young man with youth on his side, or a plodding middle-aged pug with too much heart for his own good.

6) Frank Shamrock (Pictures) needs to fight …

Yes, Frank. We know you make lots of money just “being Frank Shamrock (Pictures),” and we know you won’t “sellout” to Dana White and his Evil Empire. Still, would it kill you to take a competitive bout once in awhile? As intriguing as a fight with Phil Baroni (Pictures) is, does it really deserve multiple years of hyperbole?

In the International Fight League, you have an opportunity to tangle with Carlos Newton (Pictures), Renzo Gracie (Pictures), or even Bas Rutten (Pictures). All would be well-matched fights with strong interest from fans. Instead of producing painful comedy bits on YouTube, how about using that time to negotiate a bout and start scrapping? Remember: fans chide you because it’s frustrating to watch you sit on the sidelines. They want to see the guy that decimated Tito Ortiz (Pictures), or the guy that drove Igor Zinoviev’s head through the mat like a fencepost … not the paper tiger from the Burger King commercial.

So, please, Frank: answer a bell other than the one at your front door.
<h2>Fight Finder</h2>