MMA Opinion: Slow and Steady or the Big Play

Edwards vs Usman
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Leon Edwards knocking out Kamaru Usman at UFC 278

Three fights recently have had a pretty interesting phenomenon in common. Two main events and a prelim (though the prelim was much shorter in length). One main event was the astonishing title win of Leon Edwards who defeated Kumaru Usman at UFC 278. The other two fights were on the card at UFC on ESPN 41. The first of those being Ode Osbourne vs. Tyson Nam (prelim), the second was the main event between Marlon “Chito” Vera and former champ and future hall-of-famer Dominic Cruz . Plenty could be said by way of analysis in any or all of them, but the goal here is to take a look at the idea that in all three, it sure seemed (at least to some) that one fighter was not doing nearly enough to even come close to winning – right up until they did everything in knocking out their opponent - with all three (Nam, Vera, and Edwards) delivering devastating knockout blows to win. Vera and Edwards winning with stunning head kick KOs.

A quick aside that might have a bearing here is how wonky the commentary on the fights unfolded. In the Nam/Osbourne fight, two champs argued about how the fight was going until the second it was over in the first round. Daniel Cormier at about the halfway point was saying unequivocally that Nam was losing the fight and Ode was winning – which was met with incredulity by Michael Bisping. It probably could be said there was a smidgen of waning professionalism with the ‘fun’ spirited debate seeming to be about Cormier and Bisping and who was right when a man was knocked unconscious. But regardless of commentary, Nam really had not had a big moment until the moment he did. The comments in the Cruz fight seemed to sound as though the two fellow former champs were trying not to give a bias to Cruz, who for all intents and purposes was handily winning. It was all about the more effective few shots of Vera. And finally, by their own admission, the booth at UFC 278 including coach and analyst Din Thomas and excluding Jon Anik were saying as Cormier put it, they were “writing his *Edwards+ obituary” because he was a minute away from losing his one chance at gold. All told, the point is these fighters were not in a back and forth fight and the commentators made sure we knew it.

Aside from how strange the commentary was, the fights were actually a lot alike. One-sided affairs when the one side that was winning was knocked out. There have been plenty of fights that have had plot twists in them. This writer has drawn attention to more than a couple (Paul Graig’s recent win and/or Buzzers in MMA – which had Edwards in the mix too). But the question arises: Which tact is best in Mixed Martial Arts? The slow and steady methodical approach or the attempt to find an opening and make what the other sports would call a big play? Is it best to score and push on being active in the fundamentals, or is better to be prone to flashes of brilliance? Vera suggested his victory at least in part was in fact due to his approach to being grounded in fundamentals.

It is undeniable that most fans love a homerun in baseball more than strategic pitching or base-running. Most fans love long passes and exciting run plays in football rather than the methodical ‘inch-by-inch’ routine of slowly plodding down-field with the ball. Aces in golf, dunks in basketball, whatever the equivalent is in soccer (sorry, never watched before). There are those purists who might ‘say’ they prefer the more mechanical or tactical approach to any sport, but there is very little chance after a grand slam in a Major League Game that a fan of the hitter who pulled it off would say “You know, I really wish he would have tipped 8 or 10 foul balls and then got walked.” Everyone loves a knockout! The sooner it is admitted the better.

But what about the actual work of being a fighter? The ratio of fighters promising a knockout to actually delivering one has to be about the same as that of a lottery players versus winners. It would seem that those athletes that focus on fundamentals are on to something. However tedious it is to rehearse footwork and kick a heavy bag a thousand times a session, it certainly seems to be effective in prepping a fighter to be able to maintain their composure at the very least in unarmed combat. No small feat.

What if though, it was proposed that instead of either/or you could have both/and? What if it were true like in geometry that every square is a rectangle, but not every rectangle is a square and the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive? What if the MMA fighter trained all of the fundamentals as though their career depended

on it, but left room for creativity and brilliance? What if a fighter maintained a kind of composure that would pave the way for the big move? What if they were like the new champ Leon Edwards, Tyson Nam and Chito Vera, solid in their approach to real and maybe even basic fundamentals, but then prepared and were creative enough when an opportunity presents itself to make a big play? Ode Osbourne and Dominic Cruz both gave fantastic accounts of their preparation in their respective fights. Usman was about to win four rounds to one. They all looked good right up until the moment a big move stopped them. And it must be said, big moves that were on the heels of a slow and steady maintenance of composure and poise.

MMA fans love this part of the sport. They love the unpredictability of it. Which is it for the reader? Do you prefer that technical precision and mastery of the fighting fundamental approach? Do you love the unexpected and explosive approach? Are your favorite fighters either/or, or both/and?

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