Opinion: The Misconception Surrounding Intelligent Defense

By Andreas Hale Oct 5, 2016

Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sherdog.com, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company, Evolve Media.

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Here we are again: Another fight with a close decision and a similar misconception of what the fight game is all about. Back in August, Conor McGregor won a majority decision in his rematch with Nate Diaz, and a decent portion of MMA fans cried foul over the verdict and how McGregor chose to fight. A little over a month later, John Dodson dropped a split decision to John Lineker at UFC Fight Night 96, and the same outburst over Dodson’s fighting style erupted on social media.

The object of the game is to hit and not be hit, correct? That’s what Dodson did against Lineker, and somehow, someway he’s called a “runner.” He did lose the fight, but he executed his game plan and nearly took home a decision that would have inched him closer to a title fight, where the real money is in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. These fighters are risking their health, so maybe we should cut them some slack and understand that there’s a difference between “running” and being evasive.

Against Lineker, Dodson landed seven more total strikes (101-94) but threw far less (191-323), according to FightMetric. However, you simply cannot use the totality of strikes to decide a five-round fight. If you could, what would be the point of scoring rounds? Let’s break it down. In three of the five rounds, Dodson landed more significant strikes than Lineker. However, in both rounds two and three, the margin was only decided by one strike; and that second round ended up being the difference-maker, as two of the three judges scored it for Lineker. Honestly, I don’t have a problem with any of this. This was far from a robbery, as some tried to call it, but there is this fundamental issue I have with how fans perceive a fight.

Those that said Dodson lost because he was “running” are foolish. Dodson was efficient and effective with his movement. He made Lineker miss and oftentimes made him pay for it. Obviously, he didn’t make him pay enough to sway the judges in that second round. However, if he had simply stood in front of Lineker and traded punches, the likelihood of him having his lights cut off would have increased exponentially. What idiot would stand and trade for five rounds with a guy who has been known to decimate opponents with his punching power?

I get it: You want fighters to fight for your entertainment and not their health. As if their paydays aren’t already a problem, now you want them to risk their lives so you can cheer for a “warrior.” Sorry, folks, but that’s not fighting intelligently. We should be smart enough to realize that and not call it “running.” It’s that same line of thinking that goes with Floyd Mayweather Jr. His detractors say he runs, but he retired undefeated with hundreds of millions of dollars and, more importantly, his faculties intact.

Just like it was Dodson’s job to neutralize Lineker’s power, it was Lineker’s job to stop Dodson from executing a game plan of utilizing speed and movement. Unfortunately, defense isn’t as exciting as offense. It never has been and never will be. However, the object of the game is to win, not entertain. Sure, entertainment is what makes fans come back, but there’s a way to do both and Dodson did so for five rounds against Lineker. Unfortunately, he came up short.

The most effective comparison comes in the form of McGregor’s two fights with Diaz. In the first fight, McGregor came out to put on a show for the fans and feed his ego. He stood in the pocket and sought the knockout blow. For a round, that was great. He landed shots that would take out most featherweights. The problem: He wasn’t facing a featherweight. Diaz absorbed everything McGregor had to offer and waited for the Irishman’s conditioning to deteriorate in the second round. By the time McGregor realized his plan had gone awry, he was the victim of a rear-naked choke. So much for pleasing the fans.

The rematch saw McGregor take a more tactical approach. Aware of what happened the first time around, McGregor opted to use his speed and evasiveness to assist in the fight. Rather than stand and trade, the Irishman moved when he found himself in a tough spot. Whenever he was close to being pinned along the fence, McGregor would circle out and jog back to the middle of the Octagon, where he had more room to operate. He ended up outstriking Diaz in three of the five rounds and took home a majority decision. Some fans were upset that McGregor “ran,” but did we not already see how this movie ended the last time? Why would he do the same exact thing with the likelihood of yielding the same result?

If fighting was about seeing who could get their brains bashed in the most by the end of the bout, we never would have implemented rules, rounds and a points system. In boxing, it’s called the Sweet Science, and not every fighter is a knockout puncher. The same goes for MMA, where fighters such as Georges St. Pierre fought smart and neutralized their opponent’s greatest strengths. It’s not always fun to watch, but it is fighting intelligently. We should know the difference and appreciate both, right?

Andreas Hale is the editorial content director of 2DopeBoyz.com, co-host of the boxing, MMA and pro wrestling podcast “The Corner” and a regular columnist for Sherdog.com. You can follow on Twitter for his random yet educated thoughts on combat sports, music, film and popular culture.
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