Fighters frequently pay an inflated price in their quest to entertain. In exchange for cheers and fanfare, some fighters appear to fight away from their strengths. Decorated grapplers forgo the takedown and engage in standing slugfests in hopes of obtaining “fight-of-the-night” bonuses, taking unnecessary damage in the process. The mandate to perform in exciting fashion is also bolstered by the desire to obtain additional bookings from promoters. Numerous promoters include “KO” bonuses in contracts, while including no correponding provision to reward submission victories. Without question, these promoters are encouraging a certain style of fighting. Where bonuses frequently exceed the entire fight purse of the athlete, the incentive to alter style away from the surest route to victory is further amplified.
Mo Lawal, an emerging superstar in the sport's light-heavyweight division, readily admits he fights to win in the easiest manner possible. Utilizing world-class wrestling techniques, Lawal repeatedly took down the highly regarded Gegard Mousasi to win the Strikeforce light-heavyweight title. Lawal’s ease in dictating where the fight took place minimized the damage he incurred during the bout, catered to his strength’s and maximized his chances of victory. Instead of being admired by all for his technical mastery and skill, many criticized the performance.
Reproach of such superb performance in other sports is the exception, rather than the norm. Winning in competition is the ultimate goal, and style points are a distant second. A quarterback who excessively throws “the long-ball” in the quest for excitement would not hold his job for long if such play did not result in victories. Peyton Manning's preeminent goal in any game is to accomplish victory. John Elway never won a Superbowl while having to throw the ball 40 plus times per game. Only when the Denver Broncos defense and running game emerged did Elway become a champion.
How does a sport remain exciting without having athletes presented primarily as entertainers? Simply put, sports remain incredibly popular regardless of “style” because elite athleticism is itself exciting. MMA's audience has yet to fully come to this realization.
Pay structures and a desire to obtain bookings continue to pressure MMA's athletes to entertain rather than strictly compete. Refreshingly, in a press conferene for his upcoming title defense against Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante set for August 21, 2010 in Houston, Texas, Mo Lawal unapologetically explained that his goal is the opposite—and is strictly to win:
“I don't want to fight a war. I'm going to look to finish (Feijao) as fast as I can. I don't ever want to fight a war. I always want to dominate and fight as one-sided a fight as possible.”
Mo Lawal is smart, and realizes that his longevity and maximum earnings will result from winning and taking the least damage possible. For those interested in hearing more from Mo Lawal and his desire to win, I encourage you to listen to this episode of No Holds Barred with Eddie Goldman.