UFC 117: Risks Don’t Outweigh Rewards

Risks Don’t Outweigh Rewards

In the wake of his victory at UFC 117, Jon Fitch is being rightfully acknowledged as the second-best welterweight in the world. He is also taking his usual amount of heat for securing a fifth consecutive unanimous decision victory.

While Fitch has long been the poster boy for the anti-wrestling movement and been labeled as “boring” for quite some time, there is a new approach being taken when it comes to taking the American Kickboxing Academy trainee to task for his successful style.

Ben Fowlkes of MMA Fighting offers this assessment of Fitch in his Falling Action column for UFC 117 (emphasis mine):

Least Impressive in Victory: Jon Fitch

No doubt about it, Fitch is great at what he does. But honestly, is there anything less interesting to watch than what he does? With as much success as he’s had taking guys down and controlling them for fifteen minutes, I can understand why he doesn’t seem to want to change. But what bugs me is that Fitch rarely takes any risks to try and finish a fight. Whatever he may say to the contrary, he sure doesn’t fight like a guy who minds winning decisions every time out.

The problem with wanting to see a fighter take more risks in an attempt to finish a fight is that the risks don’t outweigh the rewards.

Fitch was clearly in control of Thiago Alves for the duration of their bout in Oakland. It was obvious from the opening bell that Alves was impacted by his difficult weight cut, and probably hampered by being out of the cage for over a year as well. Facing the ultra-talented Fitch certainly didn’t help matters either.

There were a couple different occasions during the fight where it looked as if Fitch might find a way to finish; he had Alves’ back, but wasn’t able to secure a choke and earn a stoppage. Where Fowlkes and others want to see Fitch step outside of his usual strategy and look for a finish, I say there is no value to taking such a risk.

In this sport, a single loss can be very damaging. The perception is that you’re only as good as your last fight and snatching defeat from the jaws of victory because you’re trying too hard to find a finish can be a very costly mistake.

Fitch won his fifth straight fight and still might not get a rematch with Georges St-Pierre. If winning thirteen-of-fourteen inside the Octagon doesn’t earn you a second opportunity, imagine the impact a loss would have on his title aspirations.

In addition to sending you back down the divisional ladder and removing you from contention, losing reduces the amount of money a fighter takes home. Everyone agrees that the majority of fighters do not receive enough financial compensation for what they do, so why would Fitch or any other fighter want to take an unnecessary risk, suffer a loss and watch their win bonus and potential sponsorship money disappear?

What we’re seeing with Fitch, as we have with Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre at times as well, is a need to find something to criticize of fighters performing on the highest level. While winning is key, earning a victory is no longer enough for some fighters – they need to try something new, take more risks or fight on their opponent’s terms, as if doing so increases the strength of their win or would serve as a positive takeaway in defeat.

It only takes a small error for the tables to be turned. Ask Chael Sonnen; he fought a near-perfect fight for four-plus rounds and still came away with a loss. While taking a few chances may up the excitement for the fans, doing so isn’t accompanied by enough rewards to make it worthwhile for a fighter.

Truthfully, Fitch is in a no-win situation.

If he went out and lost in the third round because he was taking chances and trying to finish the fight, he’d probably be met with a serious of questions about rolling the dice against a dangerous opponent like Alves when he’s up 20-18 on the scorecards, and if he regrets abandoning his normal approach.

By sticking to the strategy and securing another decision, the soon-to-be-married 32-year-old earned himself a new line of criticism. Winning isn’t enough to satisfy the masses; he needs to be more of a risk-taker, putting future opportunities, financial gains and his place in the division on the line in the name of entertainment.

Honestly, would having choked Alves out in the third round really have made that much of a difference?

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