by Jordan Breen (firstname.lastname@example.org)
In his epic strategy-and-swordsmanship treatise “The Book of Five Rings,” Musashi Miyamoto writes, "You can become a master of strategy by training alone with a sword, so that you can understand the enemy's stratagems, his strength and resources, and come to appreciate how to apply strategy to beat ten thousand enemies. And you should always watch videotape."
Clearly, Nate Marquardt and Thiago Silva know the martial way.
Although I may have fabricated one of the sentences above, the point remains. No matter how you view MMA -- as pure martial arts, as sport or even as business -- these are all realms where the adage of "know thy enemy" are foundational. Yet, it's only in the very recent past that the concepts of actual strategy and planning have crept into this sport. This is why I am so ecstatic for Marquardt and Silva to have dominated Saturday night. More importantly, it's not that they won but rather how they won.
It took Marquardt just 21 seconds to completely nuke Demian Maia, as he countered an ill-conceived Maia kick with a flush right cross. Instead of tucking his head and keeping his left hand up to protect his chin, Maia's head was rigid and upright, and his left hand aimlessly drifted toward Marquardt's face. The counter was reflexive and instantaneous, because it had already become muscle memory.
"I had watched tape on him and had kind of noticed how he telegraphs when he kicks," Marquardt said at the post-fight presser. "I have a lot of counters for kicks and stuff … . It's crazy how it worked so easily."
It's not that the counter itself was special. It is that Marquardt focused on a specific technical flaw in his opponent, and the instant it appeared, he sent him flying at the canvas forehead-first. Yet for as obvious and effective as this kind of hyper-specific stratagem seems, it is a rarity in this game. Even with major money now at stake, MMA is still a sport where lines like "It's a fight" and "We'll see where it goes" are familiar phraseology.
Just a few months back, Josh Koscheck commented that he never watches his opponents before he fights them and almost seemed to brag that he had no idea what Paulo Thiago looked like. I imagine he might have liked to have at least a gander at some fight tape now. Likewise, talented middleweight Dan Miller admits to not watching his opponents beforehand, but after being completely dominated by a one-dimensional Chael Sonnen for 15 minutes, hopefully he realizes that a bit of time watching tape may have helped him find an opening for a submission against a fighter far less skilled in that department than himself.
Part of the reason these attitudes persist is that MMA is still reliant on crippling generalities. We still discuss the sport in terms of "strikers" and "grapplers" and throw out adjectives like "unorthodox" and "world-class" without much thought to individual skills and technique. However, it isn't 1999 anymore, and fighters have become generally, if not perfectly, well rounded. In 2009, these oversimplifications are lies, as fights are more often won and lost on the very specific and unique wrinkles -- both positive and negative -- in a fighter's game...
Flame Not, Lest Ye Be Flamed Yourself.