I’ve got an admission to make. More often than I’d like, I’m reduced to looking at a fighter’s record to make meaningful comment on their upcoming match. However, the more I’ve learned about MMA, the more I’ve realised that the cold stats of a fighter’s record doesn’t tell you all that much.
A win/loss ratio is meaningless unless you can see the calibre of opposition, a list of titles is meaningless unless they were won and defended in credible fashion.
Depending on a fighter’s background, location, weight class and management, their route to the parts of MMA well enough lit for me to be talking about them (I know a damn site more about the local scene in Scotland than in say, Poland or Canada but I know that they exist and have events of depth and quality) can be very different.
Just because you haven’t heard of a fighter before, you don’t follow the promotions that they’ve fought under and you’re not blown away by their stats (he’s too short, he’s only got x fights, blah blah blah) doesn’t mean they are no good.
I’ve learned that you need to look at where a fighter trains, where and who they’ve fought, what local media say about them and try and watch some meaningful tape of them, before you can really comment on their chances.
I’ll admit, I don’t always get the chance to do that for every preview, but if I’m cribbing off stats, Ill damn well say so. It also shows in the fact that I can write a whole lot more, and a whole lot better about fighters I’m familiar with.
The tendency of casual fans, and even many media types to discount fighters that they aren’t familiar with is infuriating – I’ve spent the past few months listening to UFC fans broadly declaring that Gegard Mousasi isn’t UFC class and would be easily handled by Alexander Gustafsson because he hasn’t been in the UFC yet. That is maddening circular logic.
All of a sudden, Mousasi is the sure fire favourite over Ilir Latifi, who is discounted as he is an unfamiliar name to American fans, despite his grappling credentials, positive record in an underrated Swedish scene and the fact that he’s trained with the likes of Gustafsson, Bigfoot Silva etc.
In fact, his speciality is the area that Mousasi has most struggled with – wrestling – yet so many fans immediately write off the unfamiliar name.
There is a certain type of fan who will always be attracted to padded record and name value, rather than accepting that picking up losses by taking more challenging fights early on is probably the worthier path and we shouldn’t allow MMA to pander to this, lest the sport end up as vacuous as boxing.
It’s also worth considering that the less developed a fighter’s domestic scene, the more likely it is that they will have a less impressive record.
In the USA it’s become increasingly easy for college wrestlers, martial artists etc. to get fights, pick opponents and build their game and record away from the limelight.
In more reduced scenes, such as we have in Scotland or the broader realm of women’s MMA, fighters often have to take the fights that are available, travel further for them, shift weight class when it doesn’t suit them, fight opponents above their level because there are no other fights etc. this leads to more… fractured records than would exist in a broader market.
This results in fighters like Kaitlin Young, a highly ranked female fighter with a record that is only even at 7-7-1. Of course, you have to look further into her career to realise that she has wins over the likes of Miesha Tate and Julie Kedzie and her losses have mostly come to luminaries of the women’s game like Leslie Smith, Gina Carano and Liz Carmouche.
Another good example is Mark Hunt, who controversially entered the UFC with a negative 5-6 record on a contractual technicality.
Of course, if you look at his record you see that he held wins over Wanderlei Silva and Mirko Filipovic from back when they were THE wrecking machines of the sport. You also see that the 0-5 streak he suffered after his initial 5-1 run comprised losses to top five talents (at the time) Fedor Emelianenko, Josh Barnett, Alistair Overeem, Gegard Mousasi and what amounts to a kickboxing loss to Melvin Manhoef.
That’s not sucky form, it’s falling to some of the very best. If you look at the matches, you’ll also see that despite those five first round finishes, Hunt made a good account of himself.
Of course, the naysayers were out in force when Hunt was tapped by Sean McCorkle, but his subsequent 4-0 streak have proved that he was always a talent and actually possesses the cardio and grappling skills to go deep with younger, supposedly more well rounded athletes… until his fists find their mark and his opponents go to the ER.
There’s more to it than just the record. So before you write a fighter off because they don’t have a ten fight win streak, haven’t fought in the UFC yet or you just haven’t heard of them before… look a little deeper.
For all that all MMA writers and fans throw stats around like confetti, they aren’t want matters. What matters is the story, the journey, who you fought, when you fought and how you fought. What MATTERS is what’s left on the canvas and burned into the memories of the fans.
Context, is everything.