The Continuing Dismissal of Context in MMA
Context is a funny thing in life. I can be joking around with my friends, and I statement that I make with them, if taken out of context, could be seen as insensitive, offensive, or any other negative, when in reality it was just in good fun.
Ignoring context can also be used the other way, making things appear far better than they really are, and all too often we this in MMA. For instance, take this little nugget from Saturday’s UFC 153 card:
-Brad Tavares has the best takedown defence in UFC Middleweight history.
For anyone who knows MMA, this is an absolutely appalling statement to make, as Brad Tavares has racked up his takedown defence numbers against the likes of Seth Baczynski, Phil Baroni, Aaron Simpson, Dongi Yang, and Tom Watson. Hardly the elite of the Middleweight division. If Brad Tavares were to fight Chris Weidman, Mark Munoz, Yushin Okami, or any other top Middleweight fighter who is a serviceable wrestler, he would likely end up on his back (should any of those fighters choose to pursue that gameplan) en route to a defeat.
So why does the UFC, in an official broadcast, refuse to ignore the context of something like this? Because it sells a fighter, or a fight. Next time Brad Tavares fights, he’ll be billed as having “the best takedown defence in Middleweight history” rather than being a young, improving fighter. One of those things, even if false, makes a fighter far more appealing to watch and buy in to.
Similarly, in one of his recent bouts Matt Brown was said to be the most accurate striker in UFC history. Once again, if you’ve ever seen Brown fight, you simply know how fictitious that statement is. However, it sounds a lot better than referring to Brown as a journeyman who is 8-5 in the UFC, but has held on to a roster spot for a staggering four years, due to an exciting fighting style.
These examples of taking some numbers out of context are forgiveable, even if they are laughable, since the entire reason we keep statistics in any sport is so that we can later interpret them however we choose to. What isn’t though, is the UFC going a step further recently, contextualizing fan reaction from one situation to justify their decision-making.
That decision, of course, is making the Jon Jones-Chael Sonnen Light Heavyweight title bout that apparently every fan in the world wants to see. The ignored context of the situation is that: 1) Fans only wanted to see that fight as an extremely late injury replacement, 2) Fans didn’t even really want Sonnen specifically as a challenger, even in the late replacement setting, they just wanted Jones to take a fight, 3) The backlash to Jones not accepting the fight was due to the fact that fans found it to be an entirely uncompetitive match-up that he would win easily.
Fast forward to the middle of October, nearly two months removed from the cancellation of UFC 151, and suddenly Dana White is forgetting the entire context of the situation. He’s forgetting the desperation of the UFC to save a horribly top-heavy card, and using it as rationale instead to book a fight that he has since had to go on record publicly to defend due to the fan backlash.
Apparently, the rationale for the fight is that all the fans want it (simply untrue, as at one point the fans did want it in an abstract sense, but nothing more), Jon Jones wants it (and why wouldn’t he want a big money fight against a Middleweight that he holds every conceivable advantage against), and Chael Sonnen was the only one who stepped up to take a title fight on a week’s notice (which is apparently all it takes to earn title fights these days, rather than actually winning fights in that weight class).
Dana White has taken a fight that, had Chael Sonnen beaten Forrest Griffin, fans actually would have wanted to see, and turned it into something that is going to be used to prop up a stale and irrelevant TV show, and a fight that fans have actually rallied against. For the president of a company that is often excellent at reading the reaction of its fans, the UFC has really dropped the ball in this case, simply due to the fact that they’ve completed misread the reaction of their fans.
Fans are not immune to committing these same mistakes either, and examples can be found on every fight card. UFC 153 saw Jon Fitch and Glover Teixeira both fighting. Jon Fitch was almost written off by many fans heading into his bout with Erick Silva because he had one punch landed on him by one of the hardest punchers in the Welterweight division. Not surprisingly to those who were able to bet Fitch as an underdog against a relatively unproven prospect in Silva, he came out the victor. It goes to show that one loss, especially a loss that can be easily explained against another top fighter, has to be taken into context. Fitch didn’t show any signs of declining, and yet to people who look at every loss equally, he was dismissed.
On the flip side, after beating up on perennial punching bag Kyle Kingsbury in his UFC debut, Glover Teixeira was already being talked about as perhaps the next challenger to Jon Jones. Once again, context is required folks. Even now, after two wins in the UFC, Teixeira’s best win is against Sokoudjou back in 2006. Since then, he has collected a series of scalps against the likes of Ricco Rodriguez, Marvin Eastman and Antonio Mendes… and those are highlights of his 15-fight winning streak prior to his UFC signing. The excitement of having a fresh new challenger in the division is understandable, but the type of wins Teixeira has don’t qualify him to be anywhere near a title until he proves that he can perform similarly against a higher level of competition.
There should be no expectation that anyone in MMA is going to suddenly start analysing situations any differently, but that shouldn’t mean hope can’t exist for people’s thought processes to change.