Mixed Martial Arts
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By In Mixed Martial Arts

The Gray Area Between Cheating and Savvy

As much as we try to quantify and categorize combat, there will always be things that evade scoring but still influence the result of the fight. When a fight goes to the judges, it is not just effective striking, grappling and cage control being scored. No judge sees everything, so the perception of who is winning is just that—a perception, as innately limited as any other human endeavor.

It should be noted that this is not a criticism of judging or any particular judge, rather a plain assessment of an inherently complex task. Attentively watching a fight unfold from a fixed position and rendering a score in the whirlwind of the moment is incredibly easy to do poorly, and everyone notices when that happens. Fighters and their coaches also know this, and often actively employ tricks to capitalize on it…

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By In Mixed Martial Arts

What It Means to be the Best

Consider this a hot take if you must, but know that it is still a sincere one. The more I think about it, the more I’m inclined to immodestly propose that Alistair Overeem as the greatest heavyweight ever in mixed martial arts.

Hear me out.

Accusations of recency bias are expected—and valid. MMA pundits are notorious for being overeager in anointing the latest greatest fighter, and Overeem didn’t even make the Top 10 cut when I analyzed the greatest heavyweights four years ago. Surely beating Augusto Sakai—a solid heavyweight with a bright future but by no means a career high—at UFC Fight Night 176 doesn’t suddenly vault him into the all-time elite, let alone definitively place him ahead of Fedor Emelianenko, Fabricio Werdum or Stipe Miocic.

Beating Sakai is far from Overeem’s best or most notable win. Unless Sakai goes on to become a champion, the win probably won’t even stand out all that much. What it did, however, was make me reassess what greatness means and what it looks like…

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By In Mixed Martial Arts

There’s No Going Back

In the run-up to UFC Fight Night 174 on Aug. 8, Chris Weidman kept his expectations reasonable, if not a little vague. “I’m going to go out there and put a dominating fight on and make a statement and show that the ‘All-American’ is back,” he said in the pre-fight promo video. Whatever it meant for the former champion to be “back,” whether it was to find a vintage finish or to get back into the title picture, it at least required a win over Omari Akhmedov. The uncertainty of that result was an indication of the distance between where Weidman is now and where he used to be.

It’s strange to think that it had been three years since Weidman’s last win in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, a submission of soon-to-be title challenger Kelvin Gastelum in July 2017, which was itself more than two years removed from the previous win before it. It wasn’t that long ago when he was the undefeated champ with back-to-back stoppages against the sport’s most incredible champion. Now we’re impressed that he toughed out a decision victory against a former welterweight in Akhmedov, a solid fighter who would have been on Weidman’s highlight reel circa 2012…

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By In Mixed Martial Arts

Legacies and Losses

As is customary when a prominent fighter calls it quits, there was an immediate effort to contextualize Cormier’s legacy. Also customary in this process is the clash between recency bias—“He just had a big fight and UFC employees called him the greatest, so it must be true!”—and reactionary invalidation: “Cormier has never beaten anyone good, actually.” Neither of those sentiments are correct even as a strict assessment of his accomplishments, and both are even more inaccurate when measuring the totality of Cormier’s legacy.

By any competitive standard, Cormier’s career doesn’t quite match the fanfare he has received in the aftermath of his retirement. He was a two-division champion in the two thinnest divisions, with no title reigns nearing anything resembling historical notability; he’s certainly a better fighter than Chuck Liddell ever was, but it’s not so clear that he was a greater champion. Cormier was the clear loser in his biggest rivalries in both of his divisions, and outside his win against Miocic—which was a remarkable achievement, no doubt—his best win was either his five-round drubbing of Josh Barnett or his split decision win over Alexander Gustafsson. There is a lot of “good” and “very good” woven throughout Cormier’s career, but there is very little “great…”

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By In Mixed Martial Arts

The Things That Matter

Defining what matters and what doesn’t has always been at least subjective and debatable. People have different values and perspectives, informed by different upbringings and life circumstances. It’s only natural then that people can watch the same thing and walk away with entirely different feelings.

Yet the distinction between the things that matter and the things that don’t is blurrier and more elusive than ever, a heat shimmer as a border wall. It’s why so much seems to get earnestly conscripted into dumb culture wars these days. Wearing masks during a pandemic is not just a mild inconvenience; it’s an attack on our constitutional rights, an assault on the very core identity of America. Never mind the hundreds of thousands of COVID-infected body bags strewn across the globe. The real virus is the business owners who want to mitigate unnecessary risk for their employees by requiring customers to cover their face for a few minutes. The rightful recipients of our stress and frustration and anxiety are not our impotent leaders but cashiers and front desk workers doing what their bosses told them. Paying too much attention to one thing while ignoring another is unavoidably human, which isn’t an excuse so much as a warning. We are often best-served to question our gut reactions and intuitive targets…

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