Finishing Is Easier Said Than Done

It’s much more difficult to finish a fight than you might think.

If you want to see every fight finished, go play Mortal Kombat.

The glorious game of my teen years, Mortal Kombat stood a beaten opponent in front of you, wobbling back and forth, offering visual and auditory encouragement to “Finish Him!”

If you knew the right controller combinations, your merciless martial artist could end the beating in impressive fashion. If you were like me, you tried to do something cool and ended up just punching the guy in the face, a move that should have been accompanied by the sound of Pacman dying to add to your embarrassment.

As much as some fans think of mixed martial arts as the closest we’re ever going to legally come to witnessing Mortal Kombat in real life, the cries of “finish him” that rain down during every fight can’t be satisfied with a button-mashing chain of commands.

Last weekend at UFC 118, both Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard came away with victories, setting up a rematch between the two for Edgar’s lightweight belt. The fact that both bouts ended in the hands of the judges just didn’t sit well with some fans. In fact, any fight that ends with a reading of the scorecards seems to be slammed by a portion of the population that calls themselves MMA fans, and it makes no sense to me.

“The only problem I have with Edgar / Maynard is that both of them have a tendency to not finish fights, both go to decision.”

That was the commentary I got from a friend on Facebook following the debut event in Boston, and it became the impetus for this effort.

If you picked up the phone and called either of those fighters, they would tell you instantly that they too would have liked to finish their respective fights. The next thing they will say, presumably, is that it’s easier said than done.

While a flashy knockout or submission finish is certainly going to get people out of their seats more than hearing the final horn sound to end a bout, the reality is that not every fight can be “a finish.”

This isn’t professional wrestling, where heels and babyfaces have finishing maneuvers with fancy names and routine set-ups – Hulk up, block the punch and counter, big boot, leg drop – which they follow every night. In these fights, the other guy isn’t in on the action and is actively trying to fend off getting knocked out or put to sleep.

Fans are fully aware of this, of course, as Dan Hardy was given serious praise for surviving his encounter with Georges St-Pierre at UFC 111 in the same breath as the champion was challenged for not putting away “The Outlaw.” Same goes for Demian Maia when he was clowned by Anderson Silva in Abu Dhabi. The loser showed heart and perseverance, while the winner somehow failed because they couldn’t put away the fighter being praised for their gutsy performance.

One of the criticisms of fights that finish in the hands of the judges is that they are not definitive; while a knockout or submission leaves no questions, the implication is that subjective scoring leaves the door open for debate.

While that may be the case in some instances – with judges occasionally providing other opportunities for argument with horrific decisions – there are also fights that end at the final bell that leave no stone unturned, and both the Edgar and Maynard wins of last week fit that bill.

Nothing about Edgar’s clean sweep of B.J. Penn can be debated; the lightweight champion out-everything’ed Penn from the opening bell. A finish of some sort would have been the cherry on top of the ice cream sundae, but even without the Marciano goodness, it was a pretty tasty treat.

And faulting Edgar is insane when you look at who he was up against. Penn has been finished once in his career, at UFC 63 against Matt Hughes. Former light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida couldn’t put away Penn when they met in 2005, and while GSP beat the stuffing out of the Hawaiian in their rematch, it was his corner that actually ended the fight.

Maynard comes under heavier fire because each of his last seven victories have come via decision, and his wrestling based attack doesn’t deliver as many “oohs” and “aahs” as a stand-up battle. That said there was nothing inconclusive about the ending to his bout with Kenny Florian in Boston, as “The Bully” dominated the two-time title contender. A finish would have been great, but since coming off the original season of The Ultimate Fighter, only Penn has been able to put away the MMA Live analyst.

Finishes don’t come as easily in the cage as we would hope from the crowd or the couch, but not for a lack of trying. Every fighter wants to end their fight with a finish. You don’t hear anyone in the pre-fight promotion of their bout discussing how much they’re looking forward to getting into the cage and riding out a win; they all want to knock out or tap out their opponent, and they’re always trying to do just that.

So too is their opponent.