Opinion: The Nature of the Beast

By Eric Stinton Oct 3, 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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I know what you’re thinking, and the answer is yes: UFC Fight Night “Lineker vs. Dodson” also reminded me of the fable of The Scorpion and The Frog. In case you’re not familiar with the fable, a scorpion asks a frog to carry it across a river. The frog is worried that it might get stung, but the scorpion assures it that nothing of the sort will occur. After all, if the frog goes down, the scorpion would drown, too. Of course, when the frog decides to give it a ride, it gets stung and they both descend into their watery fate. Before they die, the frog asks the scorpion why it stung him, to which the scorpion replied, “It’s my nature.”

  Humor me for a minute. UFC Fight Night 96 was a solid billing as far as these sorts of events go. It had a few fights with varying degrees of divisional relevance and a few fights for quasi-name value action; and some fights were just there. Whatever the card lacked in substance, however, it apparently made up for in outrage-inducing circumstances.

John Lineker and Alex Oliveira, half of the headlining and co-headlining bouts, missed weight and won. On top of that, Oliveira was blatantly disrespectful after winning. Then there was the close decision at the end between Lineker and John Dodson. All of these elicited a fair amount of foot stomping and fist shaking from fans and media, but such things are the nature of the sport.

First things first: I’m 100 percent in favor of calling out and making fun of fighters who miss weight. It’s a fighter’s job to make weight, and there is enough knowhow out there that it shouldn’t be an issue, let alone a consistent one. I’m looking at you, Lineker. However, mockery and legitimate anger are very different. If a coworker of yours shows up to work hungover, by all means make fun of him or her, but there’s no need to be a schoolmarm about it if he or she still gets his or her work done.

More often than not, fighters who don’t come in on weight lose their fights. It’s rare that overweight fighters win, let alone twice on the same card. In Lineker’s case, it’s frustrating because this is becoming a habit of his and one that is preventing him from contending for the title. Even so, that half a pound of added weight didn’t beat Dodson. Lineker’s weight problems are not preventing him from fighting and they aren’t hurting his actual performances, so there’s no need to get upset. He’s ultimately only hurting himself and his ambitions, while we still get to enjoy his Octagon presence. Perhaps it’s simply his nature to be awful at cutting weight.

As for Oliveira, I concede that missing weight by five and a half pounds is bad and taunting a TKO’d opponent makes it worse, but think about the situation for a moment. “Cowboy” was ridiculously off weight before the scale, and because Will Brooks criticized him for it, he was also ridiculously classless after the bell. Allegedly, it’s because Brooks made a comment about Oliveira’s mother, making it all the more hilarious. I assert that making fun of Oliveira’s sensitivity is more warranted than getting upset about it.

Keep in mind that taunting an opponent is seen as good promotion if it happens before a fight, and the Ultimate Fighting Championship is perpetuating a culture of spectacle while, through the Reebok deal, simultaneously restricting fighters’ ability to express themselves on fight night. I’m not commenting on the relative rightness of any of this; I’m simply stating how things are right now. The classlessness of Oliveira’s “suck it chop” is worthy of ridicule, but what should we expect from adrenaline-charged athletes who see others rewarded for being disrespectful? At least he apologized, I guess.

To see people get riled up about Oliveira made some sense to me, but it was genuinely baffling to see the ire emerge after Lineker took a split decision in a closely contested bout. There are robberies in this sport, and when they happen they are deserving of your outrage. This wasn’t a robbery, though. It could have easily been a W for Dodson, but the fight was close enough to justify the final scorecards, all three of which were reasonable.

There are fundamental problems with judging a fight. Consider this: One of the pre-fight graphics listed Lineker’s volume as “the best in the bantamweight division.” Really, they meant “highest,” but a short sentence introducing a fighter to audiences that may not know much about him has little room for nuance. If high output equals the best, then you’d see all the champions fill up the top 10 list for the most strikes landed per minute in the UFC. Instead, only two of them are on there -- Joanna Jedrzejczyk at No. 6 and Conor McGregor at No. 8. Fighting styles are idiosyncratic to a given fighter’s physical attributes and personality. For some, higher output might make them better, while it may cause others to get into more unwanted exchanges. Clearly, there is a difference.

This applies to assessing a fight, too. Those upset by the verdict pointed to the fact that Dodson landed eight more strikes than Lineker did while throwing 132 less strikes. First, throwing more or less strikes doesn’t matter if they don’t land. Which does more damage: 100 missed strikes or five missed strikes? More importantly, eight additional strikes across five rounds do not a victory make. Not every strike is created equal. For instance, Dodson and Lineker each landed 82 strikes to the head and body; guess how many more leg kicks Dodson landed? You got it. Sometimes a thudding leg kick is better than a pawing jab to the head, and sometimes a body shot in the opening rounds pays dividends in the later rounds. It’s hard to look at a fight as a whole, which is part of the reason why they’re broken down into rounds. The point is that numbers don’t tell the whole story, and eight more strikes is not a convincing argument to call a close fight a robbery. Tight contests and debatable outcomes are just part of the game.

The real robbery, which ironically drew little attention, was that Dodson was deemed ineligible for what should have been a shoe-in “Fight of the Night” bonus. Why? Because his opponent missed weight. I understand having the fighters who miss weight forfeit 20 percent of their purse to the other fighter. Taking away money seems like a crude mechanism to incentivize fighters, but at the same time, too stiff a penalty could mean more bout cancellations, in which case nobody wins. It’s a fine line. However, to have a fighter make weight, barely lose a decision and then lose out on a $50,000 bonus because the opponent was a half pound heavy is absurd, and that’s where the outrage should be directed. The other stuff? Personally, I think there’s more cause to be upset over the fact that there won’t be a superstar collaboration cover of “Face the Pain” from the UFC’s new celebrity lineup of stakeholders.

All of this comes with the understood caveat that being irrational and easily triggered comes with the territory of being a fan. Every call against my team is a bad call, and every no call that helps my team is a good one. I get it. If sports were the realm of reason, they would be a whole lot less than what they are. We can’t help but get riled up over these things. It’s our nature.

Hailing from Kailua, Hawai’i, Eric Stinton has been contributing to Sherdog since 2014. He received his BFA in Creative Writing from Chapman University and graduate degree in Special Education from University of Hawai’i. He is an occasional columnist for Honolulu Civil Beat, and his work has also appeared in The Classical. You can find his writing at ericstinton.com. He currently lives in Seoul with his fiancé and dachshund.
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