At UFC 157, Brendan Schaub and Lavar Johnson faced off in what was expected to be a barn burner with an explosive ending. Instead, fans witnessed a smart but safe strategy employed by Schaub. The Grudge Training Center fighter was the better athlete and had a better ground game than his opponent, and he took full advantage of it.

It was a very sound strategy. Johnson can knock anyone out in one punch, but the ground game is clearly his weakness. Yet, even when Schaub was able to take Johnson down, he employed a very conservative game plan of not attacking with strikes or submissions. It was clearly an attempt to score points on the judges’ scorecards while keeping his chin as far away from Johnson’s power as possible.

With the UFC looking to cut a vast amount of its roster—reportedly somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 fighters—to make room for new additions, don’t be surprised to see more of these safe strategies employed by fighters.

There is already enough pressure on fighters competing in the Octagon just from being on the biggest stage in the world for MMA. Add the fact that a fighter could be handed a pink slip after a single loss and the pressure is only magnified. In particular, the guys on the prelims who usually tend to “go for it” more than the main-card competitors will likely start becoming more conservative if they are up on the scorecards.

If even a guy like Jon Fitch, who has been a consensus top-10 welterweight for the past few years, can be cut after one loss, then the lesser-known fighters will definitely be on a short leash. Although fighters from Strikeforce seem to be getting an equal shot to shine in the Octagon and thus far have proven themselves worthy, it’s no secret that UFC President Dana White was never a big fan of Strikeforce’s product. For all of those men, wins, by any means necessary, are crucial to their continuing employment.

Although we may see more fighters adopt safe strategies, we should also see some fighters step up their game to become more exciting. Despite losing two fights in a row, Johnson is still employed by the company and one look at his highlight reel lets you know why. He’s an exciting fighter that usually produces a highlight-reel knockout when he wins.

We could see more ground-based fighters abandon their strength to force the issue on the feet. Fitch spoke about the need to be more exciting in the lead-up to his fight with Erick Silva, and more guys will likely realize this as well.

While focusing on the stand-up game and producing knockouts generally leads to a more fan-friendly product, there are ways to be exciting on the ground as well. Ground-and-pound can be just as exciting to watch as a knockout on the feet. And a slick submission out of nowhere can also get the crowd to its feet.

It may sound a bit contradictory to say we will see more of both exciting and safe strategies, but that’s how the UFC is shaping up with all these expected roster cuts. It will either be all-out aggression or a very conservative approach, depending on the fighters in the cage. With the dreaded chopping block around each corner, fighters know their jobs are safe with a win, or at the very least, by losing with style.

Photo: Brendan Schaub (Rob Tatum/MMA Corner)

About The Author

Kyle Symes
Staff Writer

Kyle is a recent graduate of Aurora University, where he obtained a Bachelor's in Communications. Kyle resides in Illinois, just outside of Chicago. He played baseball and football in both high school and college, but is now focusing on an amateur MMA career.