Ed. Note: This is the second part of a two-part feature. Part one can be found here

For a mixed martial artist, there must be nothing more frustrating than preparing for a fight and stepping into the cage only to have one’s opponent refuse to engage in anything that can be called combat. Even as a percentage of these unwelcome opponents can be vindicated by various factors, point fighting, in its less acceptable forms, is still on the rise, frustrating fans and in-cage victims alike. But what can be done to arrest the trend and even the score in this new age of fighting safe?

In an ideal world, fighters would be able to enter the cage and fight however they’d like, concerning themselves only with victory. But we don’t live in an ideal world. The real world, of course, is one where spectator sports must be profitable. And profit is generated not by producing events with world-class athletes, but by producing exciting events with world-class athletes. Thus, every mixed martial artist must recognize that their stock is subject not only to their skill level and competitiveness, but to the (sometimes unreasonable) demands and perceptions of those looking on. In short, life isn’t fair.

Fighting for points is a surefire way to bring oneself some harsh scrutiny. At the same time, to ask a fighter to completely abandon their strategy and fight in a high-risk manner that will likely result in a loss doesn’t seem fair. No matter what, a fighter should be expected to initiate at least one sustained attack over the course of the fight. Beyond this, the rules of MMA should—wherever possible—regulate the action to ensure that the audience is satisfied. In short, the entertainment aspect of MMA should take care of itself to some extent, returning a fighter’s concern to winning and losing (again, as much as possible). With that, here are a few ways we might increase the excitement factor of low-end fights and perhaps avoid cutting some of the high-level fighters who tend toward a less interesting style that smacks of point fighting.

Smaller Cages

Thinking about a fighter of the excessive counter-striking type, the obvious solution is to reduce the size of the cage. It’s not the most creative solution, but reducing cage diameter would certainly work to the aggressor’s advantage and limit the potential for continuous evasion. Immediately, when this is suggested, fans start imagining an eight-foot cage inside which fighters have to pivot on one foot to circle. But in reality, even a one- or two-foot reduction in cage diameter could dramatically affect the ability to evade an opponent for any extended period.

Again, it’s not the most inventive solution, but it’s something that might be worth exploring. Most fans have probably seen the gif of Carlos Condit running across the cage to escape a Nick Diaz assault. Shrinking the cage would simply give Condit that much less room with which to work such an escape. However, this particular solution holds promise only for stand-up fighting and offers little help for “safe fighting” tactics on the ground.

An MMA “Shot Clock”

To be clear, no fighting discipline is responsible for lulls in action or non-entertaining fights. Wrestling, for instance, isn’t always the most dynamic martial art, yet it can be a very aggressive technique when applied in certain ways and supplemented with other forms of offense. However, using wrestling skills merely to control an opponent and reduce threat to oneself is obviously not fighting in any acceptable definition of the word. The same holds true for the various stand-up clinches used to a similar effect.

One solution that’s been proposed from time to time is the introduction of a “shot clock” to the MMA cage. Don’t worry, this has nothing to do with shooting for takedowns, rather it’s a reference to the clocks used in basketball to limit the amount of time a team has to shoot the ball. By the same token, an in-cage “stall clock” would limit the amount of time a fighter in top control has to advance his or her position, or to stage a visible offensive (a visible offensive being something more than a periodic insignificant strike). The time limit imposed would likely be somewhere in the range of 45 seconds. Thus, if a grounded fighter in top position allows 45 seconds to elapse without doing more than maintaining a stalemate, the referee would be called on to automatically stand the fighters up. Each time adequate offense is shown, the clock would be reset to a fresh 45 seconds. Clinches against the cage could be made subject to the same time limit.

This solution is not without its drawbacks. For instance, how is the stand-up to be signaled? Certainly we don’t want all kinds of bells and buzzers sounding during the course of a fight. Therefore, the referee would need to have some sort of earpiece which would relay the signal. Either that or there would have to be an actual clock mounted in the referee’s line of sight, this having its own complications. An additional drawback would be the need to employ someone to monitor the entire fight, resetting the clock and signaling the referee as needed.

A major argument against this idea is that it would encourage the fighter on the bottom to maintain guard and wrist control in the interest of being granted a stand-up. However, a lot of fighters without submission skills already apply this strategy and often stall the fight for much more than 45 seconds in their efforts. Odds are, if the fighter in top control has been unable to land strikes or initiate a submission attempt for close to a minute, they’re probably not going to get much done before the end of the current round. That said, it’s important to remember that 45 seconds is only a proposed figure, and the actual amount of time could be more or less.

Additionally, these automatic stand-ups would be a clear indicator to judges not to score the prior sequence for the fighter who was merely controlling the action. And it’s also important to note that certain positions would be exempt from the “stall clock.”

The whole idea may seem a bit far-fetched, but it’s like anything else—we’d get used to it. However, would it be something that improved the sport and expanded its popularity? That’s the question. And even if it would, is it practical enough to consider for the remedy to the “lay and pray” tactic that rears its head all too often? If not, maybe it will at least inspire additional ideas which could be implemented with fewer complications.

Other Options

As mentioned in my other article on this topic, referee Dan Miragliotta went so far as to warn Clay Guida about his fight-avoidance conduct in the Gray Maynard fight. This raises the question as to whether point deductions should be considered in such instances of extended non-aggression. Why not? In football, there’s a penalty for a delay of game. In hockey, there’s a penalty when the puck is shot out of play to stop an assault by the opposition.

Another thought is that judges could be instructed to give out 9-9 scores for highly inactive rounds, even those in which a takedown was landed by one or both fighters. This would have the additional benefit of reducing the range of 10-9 scorings. Currently, a 10-9 is given both for a round where one fighter was outstruck 3-2, as well as for a round where one combatant controlled the action for the entire five minutes and landed every significant strike. This often skews a fight’s result, which might have been different had each round been judged on a finer scale.

Further re-education of judges could involve training them to recognize less-obvious submission attempts and to understand that the fighter on top is not always the one winning the fight. Also, points that are now offered for every takedown might only be offered for damaging takedowns and takedowns followed by additional offense.

If all else fails, there’s always the yellow-card system, which was used in Pride Fighting Championships to warn fighters for non-aggression and even to dock their pay. However, this kind of thing places the burden back on fighters to be conscious of how they’re performing for the audience, something it would be nice to avoid as much as possible.

On the whole, point fighting is something that must be kept in check. If allowed to become the prevailing fight style, MMA would quickly become an endangered sport. New fans are going to be roped in by dramatic finishes, not technical chess matches. And we certainly don’t want the sport starting to attract fighters who are averse to risk and prefer to fight safely at a distance.

MMA is a sport that requires extra vigilance to maintain its integrity and vitality. Perhaps the best thing we can do as fans is support those fighters who do uphold the original vision of the sport and consistently go above and beyond to keep the sport vital and marketable. They are the “Korean Zombie”s and “Axe Murderer”s of MMA, possessing an inner warrior which knows no retreat. They are the ones who need no added rules or regulations, and who are so often called on to take up the slack in an ailing event. They are the champions of the spirit of MMA, and the cage belongs forever to them.

The solutions to point fighting are within our reach. And if we can’t stop it in its tracks, maybe we can reduce it to a slow crawl. It’s all about turning a Machida versus Henderson into a fight more closely resembling Bermudez versus Grice. With that in mind, I’m calling on MMA fans everywhere to add their own suggestions below, and to keep the ball rolling in the quest to preserve the sanctity and restore the pride of a sport that must never stop pressing forward, inside or outside the cage.

Photo: Lyoto Machida (L) celebrates victory (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

About The Author

Robby Collins

Robby Collins considers himself a johnny-come-lately to the sport of MMA. He was introduced to it less than three years ago but has since delved into the sport at all levels. As an aspiring fiction writer, Robby adapted his skills to promote his latest passion and landed with The MMA Corner by way of personal initiative and auspicious timing. Robby has dabbled in karate and wrestling, and is currently learning to kickbox.