A liability to change rapidly and unpredictably, especially for the worse.
Mixed Martial Arts’ isn’t really a sport like boxing or wrestling. It is a rule set that implies that everything outside of these exclusive rules are OK.
Athletes normally enter MMA with competitive experience in one combat sport (boxing/kickboxing, collegiate wrestling, Brazilian jiu jitsu) and build up the other aspects of their game. Some end up becoming dangerous everywhere (Jon Jones, TJ Dillashaw, Tyron Woodley), while others stay as specialists (Damien Maia, Israel Adesanya, Ben Askren). Normally good fighters have one or two ways that they can control the fight: “A should be careful of B’s knockout power” or “B’s ground game is dangerous, A needs to keep it on the feet”, these are the kind of conversations that we have about MMA. It’s highly unlikely for two fighters walking into the octagon to have comparable skill sets in striking, takedowns and grappling. There are also variables like physical attributes, conditioning, ‘fight IQ’ and mentality that make the outcome of an MMA fight hard to predict.
What I’m trying to say is that in the cage, anything can happen. In mixed martial arts there are no journeymen and there are no tomato cans. Jorge Masvidal had two back to back losses (albeit decisions) at the hands of Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson and Demian Maia, before knocking out Darren Till at UFC Fight Night London on the 16th of March. Till’s only loss until that point had been at the hands of the-then dominant welterweight champion Tyron Woodley.
Before the fight, Masvidal’s UFC welterweight ranking was at #11*, which may as well have been #111 because most casual fans only care about the top 10, i.e. who has a chance at getting the belt. I’ll be honest, before the fight I would have struggled to identify him in a police lineup. In any case, after the Till fight, Masvidal is ranked at #5.
Two days after the Till fight Masvidal was asked what fight he wanted next, he answered ‘biggest fight out there or title shot’. When ESPN journalist Brett Okamoto spoke to his Masvidal’s manager Ali Abdelaziz, Abdelaziz said ‘We think Jorge Masvidal deserves the next title shot.’ Before the Till fight, Masvidal hadn’t won a fight since January 2017. Now he is a legitimate contender with a chance to be champion; while Damian Maia (who bested Jorge Masvidal in May 2017) takes Masvidal’s old spot on the rankings at #11. Darren Till, once the starlet of the welterweight division, sits further out of the championship equation at #7.
Unlike boxing, MMA doesn’t give much of a fuck about having losses on the record. I’m not saying that a shine doesn’t get lost when an undefeated fighter gets handed their first loss; like when Darren Till lost to Tyron Woodley at UFC 228 or when Brian Ortega got brutally out-struck by Max Holloway at UFC 231. MMA fans know that the game is volatile, we know that anything can happen. There are exceptions (Jon Jones and Khabib Nurmagomedov are both undefeated), but at the highest level of MMA this is particularly rare.
In MMA, everything is to play for. This is what makes it so compelling and why we are so endeared to the people that step into the cage. We’ll talk more about the players of the volatile game next time.
Thanks for reading.
*All rankings are at the time of writing (24/3/2019).