We all have our tired phrases, something someone says that has become common lexicon. In mixed martial arts, there are plenty of cliches which are overused, improperly stated and often cringeworthy. Here are some phrases I could do without when listening to a UFC broadcast or some promotional material: ‘In The Mix’ It’s seemingly every year at one point or another, every big name fighter on the UFC roster has probably been described as being “in the mix” by UFC President Dana White. The over-saturation of fighters and new divisions makes the path to title contention murkier than ever. Moreso this year than years past as the generic route to a title shot remains unknown, even with the advent of official UFC fighter rankings. Contrary to popular opinion, any given UFC fighter doesn’t even have to be coming off a win in their last fight to contend for a UFC title, just ask Miesha Tate, Chael Sonnen or Nick Diaz. If the timing is just right, or you’re available on short notice, then simply being ‘in the mix’ is enough to earn yourself a title shot. For those UFC fighters not considered to be ‘in the mix’ they are still likely just one win away from thrusting themselves back in the mix for a title shot. However some fighters, in doing so, fall victim to championship aspirations instead of the task at hand. Many fighters believe if they beat a top 10 ranked fighter they should be rightfully deeming themselves a title contender. Being deemed in this sort of promotional ‘mix’ sometimes forces fighters to look too far ahead, in turn overlooking their opponent. The fact that you’re signed to the UFC allows you to mix it up. In all reality, simply being “in the mix” all the time doesn’t guarantee you championship glory let alone an opportunity to fight for the title alone. Winning a world championship is a career-defining moment. Simply being “in the mix” is not. Being a championship contender sometimes requires a fighter to be creative and standout from the others in contention to get that title shot. Unless you’re Conor McGregor, then your calling the shots. If you’re a fighter competing without any championship aspirations then you’re likely branding yourself as a gatekeeper of sorts. The Clay Guida’s of the world still have their place in the UFC, but the gatekeeper role is not a preferential position to embrace. Proving you still have what it takes to essentially hang around your respective weight division securing future employment is not something recommended as a path to longevity in the sport. The career of an MMA fighter is generally short lived. The window to be a UFC World Champion is even smaller. Those who do achieve championship status only celebrate knowing such that championship reigns can be over in the blink of an eye. Everyone remembers the Machida Era and almost everyone is currently witnessing the McGregor Era. Finding yourself ‘in the mix’ is tied to a fighter’s ability to stay relevant in hopes they will somehow or someway get a title shot. “I’d like to thank God…” There is nothing wrong with thanking Jesus or God by name, but many argue that there is a time and a place. Don’t get me wrong, religion is important to an identity of a fighter. As the UFC bars shoutouts to sponsors, it leaves lots of time for fighters to publicly praise the Lord. We’ve all witnessed when paying homage to Jesus isn’t always the greatest idea, especially given the circumstances. Whether it was Benson Henderson asking for an ‘Amen’ after winning a controversial decision or simply hypocrisy from a steroid cheat, perhaps they should instead be thanking the judges or their chemists? Fighters are not the greatest religious role models to begin with. The bottom line is that many simply fight for a living and that alone shouldn’t define their moral standing. However, let’s face it, you’re standing across from an opponent attempting to take him to the brink of death. It’s a controlled violence that fans have came to appreciate, modern day gladiators so to speak. Fighters will never be portrayed as Angels, yet fighters will always find a way to pay homage to the divine beings. If it be in the form of Vitor Belfort’s haircut embroidered with a cross or a Jon Jones tattoo – it will always find its place inside the Octagon. No matter what the circumstances are. Directly partaking in violence is not Gods work. I understand the need to give thanks. Some fighters pray directly after a victory dropping down to their knees as if their prayers had been answered. However, after getting your head punched in for 3-5 rounds the last thing you should be thinking of is using that platform to do what you deem as Gods work. You’re not having an out of body experience. That’s just the exhaustion and the concussion talking. The right to religious beliefs doesn’t really apply the same to corporate America. As much as the UFC has personified itself as a promotion of Mixed Martial Arts, at its core, it remains a corporation. As top Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao discovered, speaking publicly about your religious beliefs can hurt your financial brand. The same protection you may receive constitutionally doesn’t apply when your seeking corporate endorsement. Offending any particular group could result in loss of sponsorship revenue. Therefore it’s not the smartest thing to praise God in this sort of way in a post-fight interview, as evident when we watched the confusing no gay Jesus statement by Yoel Romero. According to his public relations mitigation strategy, it was blamed on a language barrier issue., but whatever it was. it was better left unsaid. “Don’t leave it in the hands of the judges” This has to be one of most recognizable phrases in the UFC. Every time Dana White gives out this phrase as advice, it’s as if following it would easily solve any UFC fighter’s problems. Before a fighter’s very inception into the UFC, this catchphrase is hammer-fisted into their brains. Attempting to never leave a fight in the hands of the judges embodies the reality that the UFC wants to continue promoting. That every man has his chance to win if they would have simply had a bigger will to finish. That this is the closest thing we have to emulating a fight to the death. And if your willing to go to that level, then their would be no need for judging. While in all reality, expecting every fight to end without a judges’ decision can be in fact detrimental to a fighter’s career. That very mentality actually can jeopardize their longevity in the sport. Thankfully, elite fighters smart enough to realize this is just a corporate guise actually end up having better having better overall careers as long as they can ignore the phrase. Sometimes that involves feeding into the corporate branding with promos to the tune predicting violent finishes. I can basically tell you a thousand different ways to get that point across based on the hours of promotional material the UFC pumps out. Predicting a finish should be given no more credence that Rampage Jackson telling you that he’s in the best shape of his life. Slogans such as “never leave in the hands of the judges” make the UFC seems scripted at times. The unpredictable nature that happens inside the Octagon is sometimes outweighed by the predictability of the promotional lead-up to the fight itself. If the promotion had it its way, judges wouldn’t exist. It’s easier for one to say after the fact that a losing fighter shouldn’t have left it in the hand of the judges, especially if you’re not a fighter to begin with. So let’s take a minute and look at some fighter’s actual perspective on the age old saying:
“I don’t want to be a decision fighter, but when it goes to a decision, you want to have the judges give you a fair one.” – Sean Spencer “It’s a very ignorant statement, and it’s a very played-out statement .. It kind of bugs me. I’m not one to get too worked up, but when you get two guys that are so evenly matched and at such a high level, sometimes time runs out… It’s not that either fighter isn’t giving their all and going as hard as they can for a finish. It just doesn’t come. That’s part of the fight game; you’re not always going to see finishes. It’s just so ignorant to think if you try your hardest, you can get a finish every time.” – Matt Wiman “People! Quit saying don’t leave it in the judges hands! That’s the stupidest comment ever. You sound bites are delusional. No fighter thinks ‘Hey I’m going to leave it in the judges hand’. No fighter wants to get finished. The higher you go in competition the closer the matchup is! Quit being a recorder and repeating everything you (hear) Joe (Rogan) or Dana (White) say. Be an individual and a fan. Know you have no clue the mental capacity it takes to compete at this level.” – Tyron Woodley “It’s up to the fighter. Don’t leave it in the hands of the judges, especially when it’s a close fight.” – MMA Judge and former Kick Boxer Chuck Wolfe
It’s a mentality that essentially derives from playing to the crowd. Part of that crowd include the judges watching cage side. No matter how impartial they are supposed to be, they are still part of the crowd. The masses of fans want to see a finish. The fact that neither fighter put themselves in substantial risk to finish their opponent weighs on the minds of judges greatly. Simply scoring each round on the basis of the criteria put forward by the commission is a mere formality. A judges’ perception of who actually won a fight differs from judge to judge without much recourse. So fighters have the mentality that they don’t care what the judges think. The moral of the saying essentially being that you shouldn’t matter, but it does. The Judge may not like your style of fighting or see the fight your way. Leaving it all inside the Octagon should not be contingent on a finish. Not leaving it in the hands of the judges should be given preference, but not priority.