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During a period in MMA when there are plenty of fights but not very many of consequence, focus can sometimes turn to the wrong issues. That was certainly the case this weekend, where for some reason one of the leading points of discussion was the cornering of Aspen Ladd’s fight with Norma Dumont by Ladd’s trainer Jim West.
It was a rough night all around for Ladd, who has struggled in recent years with weight cuts and suffered her first setback inside the Octagon as well. Once viewed as a top prospect, her bout with Dumont was an important fight in trying to reestablish herself as a dangerous force. Unfortunately for Ladd, the bout came closer to doing the opposite as she struggled to get any offense going, averaging fewer than seven significant strikes a round.
In spite of her substandard performance, it’s easy to be sympathetic towards Ladd. Her struggles on the scale have at times been harrowing, her pained expression making clear the desperate state she was in. It was clear the fight was not going her way. In addition, on the telecast Michael Bisping was very frank in his criticisms of Ladd’s performance. Things were not going Ladd’s way, so when West went after her as well, passionately imploring her to improve her performance, he received backlash for the way he conducted himself.
To be fair, the criticism of West was far from universal and many of those who spoke out were more focused on other issues than his harshness towards Ladd. Specifically, there was a feeling that he wasn’t offering enough in the way of technical advice and that his demeanor felt more performative than helpful. However, the criticism was enough that West put out an apology the next day.
No corner owes their fighter an apology for being too harsh verbally between rounds. The role of corners is to do what they can to help their fighters win the fight. That sometimes can come via tactical advice and it sometimes can come via impassioned pleas. There’s nothing new about that and there’s nothing wrong with that. Coaches have been yelling at athletes for decades and when you’re in a cage fight, there are much graver threats than those to one’s emotional sensitivity. That goes for female fighters as much as it does for male fighters.
That’s not to say that such an approach is necessarily going to be effective. Corners know their fighters as well as anyone so they’re in a better position to judge, but they still can miscalculate. However, a tactical mistake is not a moral failing. There is no such thing as a corner being too harsh, only a corner not motivating a fighter in the most effective way.
A couple other thoughts from the weekend’s events:
The Bellator light heavyweight grand prix got off to a bit of a rough start when Yoel Romero and Anthony Johnson both dropped out of the field without having lost. However, it appears that the tournament will end up in a good place. Vadim Nemkov vs. Corey Anderson is a fresh and intriguing final fight, about as good as could have been hoped for the last bout of the tournament.
Nemkov remains one of the more underrated fighters in the sport, rolling through Bellator’s best 205-pound fighters and capturing the title. Anderson, on the other hand, has taken his game to another level in recent years. He’s finishing high-quality opponents with strikes and still has his excellent wrestling base to fall back on. That’s a tricky matchup for Nemkov and another great test for the champion from fabled Stary Oskol, Russia.
It’s been a rough year for supporters of the sport in the sense that there have been an inordinate number of stories involving fighters getting into legal trouble. For those who want to admire and view fighters positively for the way they conduct themselves out of competition, the string of violent incidents has been dismaying. Jim Miller’s win on Saturday, on the other hand, was a reminder of the many fighters who represent much more positive traits.
For 13 years now, Miller has fought in the UFC and has been a model of consistency. He’s never missed weight. He’s never gotten himself into trouble. He fights with the same gritty toughness he’s exhibited from day one. His knockout of Erick Gonzalez was a reminder that opponents can’t sleep on him even after all this time. Miller’s goal of fighting at UFC 100, 200 and 300 remains a challenge given he’s already 38 and lightweight is not a weight class for fighters in their 40s, but it would be a fitting tribute to his consistency and endurance if he can pull it off.
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