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Does Dodson have a point about UFC fans?

By on April 23, 2017

It was a repeat of a scenario that has played out over and over again at UFC events over the past 24 years: a fighter won a fight on Saturday in a fashion that the fans didn’t appreciate, and they rained boos down on him as a result.

This isn’t a rare thing, and it isn’t always undeserved. As far back as Ken Shamrock and Dan Severn’s legendary snorefest at UFC 9 in Detroit, fighters have decided that they valued self-preservation above all else, even to the extent that they’d give away chances to win the fight. Clearly, booing that kind of performance (or say, Houston Alexander’s puzzling tactics against Kimbo Slice years ago) is completely acceptable and understandable.

Then there’s a fight like John Dodson’s win over Eddie Wineland at UFC Fight Night 108. Dodson was the faster, smaller fighter and facing someone whose only real prayer of a win was a finish. Thus, he fought a masterful bout, forcing Wineland to miss 85% of his 138 significant strike attempts. In the process, the fight went the distance and the fans let him have it.

“Everyone hates intelligent fighting,” Dodson said of the reaction from fans at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena. Dodson added that fans expect “barbaric” fights akin to chicken fights. Does Dodson have a point?

He does. UFC fans have proven again and again that seeing an entertaining fight trumps all; even allegiance to a specific fighter. Only in rare occasions (Randy Couture’s methodical wins over the hated Tim Sylvia and polarizing Tito Ortiz come to mind) do fans set aside their expectations for fireworks to simply cheer for the fighter they want to win, entertainment value be damned.

This makes mixed martial arts a lot different than other sports. When Cubs fans file into Wrigley Field, they’d like to see an entertaining game, but would be just as happy if the Cubs left with a sloppy 4-1 win where a couple of errors, rather than home runs, decide the outcome. Ditto with NFL fans, NBA fans, or fans of any other team sport. Only when a team loses does their boring style of play become an issue.

Even in other individual sports, fans will be loyal enough to certain competitors that they aren’t so worried about seeing a classic competition as they are about seeing their favorite get his or her hand raised. NASCAR fans don’t particularly care if a race is memorable, as long as their driver comes out ahead, for instance.

MMA is different, and it’s not a problem that starts with the sport itself. It starts in grade school, where everyone remembers seeing circles of kids jeering two mostly unwilling fighters, telling them to hurry up and punch one another already. Even as kids, spectators learn that regardless of their own willingness to get punched in the face, they can feel perfectly comfortable criticizing someone else who’s putting their neck on the line.

Sure, there may have been a time where fighters were incentivized to have entertaining fights, outcomes be damned. But with what we know about brain injuries now and the way the UFC handles its bloated roster, fighters can’t afford to put their livelihood, health, and thousands of dollars on the line in order to please a few spoiled (and likely inebriated) fans. And as I’ve said many times before, it’s not as if those fans are going to pass the hat around and pay someone like Dodson his win bonus if he gambles in the third round of a fight he’s winning and gets knocked out trying to entertain them.

Fans can be mad all they want about fights that aren’t as entertaining as they’d like. But don’t expect the fighters to care. They have their own lives and careers to worry about, and there’s too much on the line to fight a stupid fight.

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