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To Be the Champ

To Be the Champ

MMA decisions don’t get any closer than 48-47, 47-48, 48-47. And yet the GSP-Hendrick bout is still churning up outrage. Going into the fifth frame I had Johny up 3-1 (losing only round 3), but as I watched him lean back against the cage I started screaming at the TV, “Get active, Johny! He’s going to steal this from you, Johny! Put him in a body bag, Johny! Why does your name only have one ‘n’ Johny?” When my wife wanted to know why I was so worried if I had it 3-1, I said, “Round 1 was close: To be the champ, you have to beat the champ.”

This old chestnut drives certain members of the MMA media crazy. Ariel Helwani thinks it’s meaningless. Adam Martin at Cagepotato wrote today, “Listen up, jackasses: There is NOTHING in the Unified Rules that says, ‘To be the champ you have to decisively beat the champ.’ It’s made up logic by people who don’t know how to properly score a competitive round.”

Adam is both right and wrong, because he is confusing the way the world “is” with the way the world “ought” to be. It shouldn’t make a difference that GSP has been the reigning champion for nearly as long as Hendricks has been in MMA, but it does. Why? Because of who your average MMA judge is.

Boxing and MMA judges are patronage jobs. Typically, they are the brother-in-law of some state legislator. Sis goes to her brother and says, “I know you think my husband is an idiot, but I’m pregnant again and we need the money.” What does the state legislator say to the idiot brother-in-law? “Whatever you do, don’t embarrass yourself or me.” How does a judge avoid embarrassment? By remaining anonymous. How does he remain anonymous? By scoring fights the same as his fellow judges. (There’s a reason why we all know who Cecil Peoples is: his scorecards are outliers.) How does a judge predict how his fellow judges will score a fight? Based on tradition. What is one of the oldest traditions in boxing and MMA? Close rounds are scored for the champion.

Is this the way it “ought” to be? No, but it is way the world “is.” Every single MMA fighter understands this truth in their bones: If the fight is close, the judges will almost always give it to the champion. Two-time NCAA Division I wrestling champion, Johny Hendricks, certainly knows this. And Dana White knows Hendricks know this. That’s why Dana bit off Johny’s head when he said at the post-fight presser, “I only used 70% of my power.” Johny thought he was ahead enough on the scorecards to coast through the fifth round. GSP knew he was in trouble and dug deep, just as Jon Jones did against Gusty. That’s why they are still champions and their challengers are not. To win that fight Johny needed one more round—that round turned out to be the fifth. It’s not fair, but, to borrow another old chestnut, “it is what it is.”

But here’s another hard truth. If MMA judges are biased towards tradition, MMA journos, fans, and even promoters are biased towards the “new.” GSP has been champ for six years. He hasn’t finished a fight in four, since B.J. Penn on January 31, 2009. His reign has become as boring as his five-round technical fighting style. That is why so many people are outraged over such a close decision.

  • Brandon Burghall says:

    I honestly don’t give a shit that gsp hasn’t finished a fight in years. I mean duh..finishes are fun, ideal even. But it’s not like every fighter could just decide to not be so damn exciting and then win every fight. “it is what is is”. It’s unfair to be too critical of a man with a nearly perfect career, who is fighting within the allowed rule set, for not finishing opponents. Neutralizing and dominating in most aspects (i mean typically,save this last fight) opponents who frequently finish there opponents is exciting too if you really are a fan.

  • Matthew Polly says:

    GSP is a great champion and a great guy. I only met him once, but I liked him immensely. The question is: what business is he in? Is he in the winning fights business or the maximizing the enjoyment of the audience business? He has made it clear that he wants to win by taking the least amount of risk possible. Fair enough for him. But I also think it is fair, as fans, to criticize that choice as boring.

  • A. J. Delgado says:

    OUTSTANDING column. Great point re: the judges playing it safe by scoring a close round to the reigning champ but an even greater point re: the fans’ tendency to lean towards the fresh newbie (we also saw this to some degree with the # of folks pulling for Weidman to beat Silva — was some of it patriotism for the All-American from Long Island… or was there also a bit of “We want a new champ!”?)

    That said, I scored it 3 rounds (1, 3, and 5 for GSP).

    And LOL re the way judges are recruited: “Hey brother, my hubby and I need the money.” LOL

    But, seriously: why does Johny only have one N in his name? This vexes me.

  • slack78 says:

    Good to see you back Matt. If you see Ryan again, tell him we miss him.

    I think that there is a fair amount of nationalism that is going into this as well. I mean the Melendez vs Henderson was a clearer robbery and I don’t remember people losing their shit over it as much.

    I had it for Hendricks but not significantly so. I know there is a lot of Hendricks love but quite frankly I’m mystified. If Hendricks takes the belt, I can’t see him holding it for more than one fight before a killer like Condit takes it from him.

    I don’t see people raging at Hendricks about not finishing which I think is funny. He couldn’t put Condit away and he couldn’t put GSP away. I think he has a problem finishing. HA!

    Also it turns out that the problem was the lawsuit that was with his old manager. I can see why a guy like Dana didn’t think that it was such a big deal and GSP did. I lost a lot of sleep on my first lawsuit but it kind of became old hat after about the 5th.

  • Nick. R Salavery says:

    retarded post

    GSP clearly won under unified rules

    Hendricks won under PRIDE rules

    there is nothing else to it

  • Nick. R Salavery says:

    Are you a boy or a girl?|

  • MadMan says:

    Johny couldn’t pull the trigger, close the deal, and finish Georges in the 2nd or 4th rounds because he is not a killer….he is a nice guy. He has too much respect for GSP as a man… a champion… an icon. He didn’t want to see Georges go out like that. He thought that he could take the belt on points. He let his better angels conquer his killer instinct whilst in the heat of battle. He did not beat the champ. He blew it.

    btw: Good read Polly!
    slacker78: you get sued too much mang!

  • slack78 says:

    don’t worry about me. I’ve been in business for a long time and the one thing that I’ve noticed is that there are a lot of angry people in the world and the angrier you are, usually the wronger(?) you end up being in the eyes of the law.

  • Letibleu says:

    “His reign has become as boring as his five-round technical fighting style. That is why so many people are outraged over such a close decision.”

    I payed for and read your books, even after I was supposed to get one free for winning a contest on here, so don’t take this the wrong way…

    Those are the most retarded two sentences I have ever read from you.

  • Matthew Polly says:

    I don’t, but only because I missed you, buddy. You are my favorite jackal.

  • Matthew Polly says:

    I wonder if nationalism plays a role. Johny is about as red state American as it gets. But not since GSP v Serra has nationalism really played a factor in fan reaction. GSP is so lovable I think Americans have adopted him and don’t think of him as not-American.

  • Letibleu says:

    Good books. I have since talked with Danaher and started taking BJJ classes at Tristar (Danaher was there for GSP’s camp). I figured if your old out of shape lard ass could do it, so could I!

  • slack78 says:

    Dude, If you are from a red state and someone says that you are Canadian, you might as well be wearing a dress. If you are French then there is no doubt that you are gay. I can only assume that French-Canadian is viewed as not as female so much as anti-male.

    Which is funny because it is about as ahistorical as one can get, but, that’s a book of misperceptions that I’ll leave for another time

    Hang out in one of the chats some time and see the Canadian fighter rage. Most Canadians don’t care so it’s in good fun, but still….

    GSP is about the only fighter that I’ve heard people automatically assume is gay. Personally I don’t see it, but I’ve never really been interested in men so my gaydar is about zero. I have no idea, but if he did come out, it would surprise me but it wouldn’t really change anything.

    I guess it must aggravate the average MMA fan in the US that such a dubiously male person has been kicking their guys asses for so long. It must be like Fallon Fox kicking everyone’s asses and so I can only assume that Johny Hendricks must be like the second coming of Ted Nugent Jesus.

  • Matthew Polly says:

    I can assure you he’s not gay.

  • slack78 says:

    You don’t need to tell me, I don’t care and I never saw it myself.

    I just heard a bunch of MMA journalists figure that the “personal crisis” was that he was having an identity crisis about his sexuality. They aren’t hard to find.

  • CAP says:

    I was surprised at how relaxed Hendricks was through the whole fight. His confidence seemed high. Credit GSP for taking some good shots that messed up his head even more than it already was. Obviously mentally GSP wasn’t right with all his drama I wonder how much that effected his performonce or if it would even change anything.

    Welcome back Polly.

  • JoeRoganIsAnnoying says:

    Kick rocks & blow dirt, Matthew Polly!

    Dana White is 100% spot on calling for an instant rematch. George St. Pierre’s career will be forever tainted by his most recent performances; mired in controversial decisions, finding no finishes. I acknowledge a ‘victory’, but without rematches for Hendricks, and Diaz, there will be no true claim as current champion.

    Champion’s hold belts. This mean’s to be champion one must defend their belt. GSP may be scared of the challenge. ‘Fighting Safely’ may be his best (and most lucrative) path towards success. Yet as welterweight champion, he has vanquished previous champions! Serra, Penn, & Hughes all granted him the opportunity of championship fights with rematches.

    These champions didn’t pick their fights. These champions did not bow out gracefully. These men did not ride off into the sunset. They went out on their shields. Like true champions. Like true warriors.

    Love the new site FL!

  • Matthew Polly says:

    Good to hear from you, too, Cap. GSP fought that first round like it was his first match and he hadn’t slept in 3 days. I predict he’ll be back and he’ll be tougher next time. The question is: will Hendricks cardio improve. He looked like a heavyweight in that last round.