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Random Rant: How to curtail booing of ground fighting

There’s been a lot of talk recently about booing during major MMA events. After UFC 73 and the behavior of the Sacramento crowd I really began to think about what can be done to educate the crowd better.

Personally, I think the booing of ground fighting will decrease as the years go by. If you look at the markets in the Midwest, which was an area of the country where MMA was kept alive after it was on the verge of extinction, they are pretty good when it comes to understanding the psychology of a fight.

Hell, I even thought the Trenton crowd was pretty good when it came to the booing. Obviously, I had other issues with them but it seemed like I was quicker to dismiss some of the lack of activity in fights than they were.

From what I can remember, the first mass boos I heard didn’t happen until the Roman Zentsov vs. Branden Lee Hinkle fight and I didn’t think they were booing the fight because it went to the ground, but because the ref wouldn’t stand them up when Hinkle wasn’t doing anything.

Educated crowds understand the nature of a fight and realize it’s not pro wrestling. They realize these guys are going at each other full bore and that a fighter needs to be allowed to fight his or her game.

If you look at the booing in Sacramento, it could be one of two reasons, or both. Perhaps some of the fans simply weren’t educated when it came to the ways of MMA or maybe they understand MMA, but just don’t like ground fighting. MMA is pretty big in Southern California (although maybe not as big as some people think) so I think the fans in attendance at the Sacramento card might get it. But if you look at the Strikeforce promotion, they have a tendency to promote fighters who come from striking backgrounds.

If you look at Strikeforce’s most popular fighters such as Frank Shamrock, Cung Le, and Paul Buentello, they are all noted good strikers. In the case of Shamrock, he was originally a submission wrestler but has focused heavily on his striking in recent years and has a martial arts school in the San Jose area.  On the last Strikeforce/EliteXC card, the only fighter with a strong ground resume that appeared on television was Josh Thomson, who wrestled at Stanford. But Thomson’s Muay Thai has gotten a lot better so even he’s doing a lot of striking in his matches.  And for years Strikeforce used to co-promote K-1’s events at the Bellagio in Vegas. Maybe Sacramento just doesn’t like the ground style?

In the NFL, some cities in the Northeast prefer smash mouth football. Out West, I think the fans prefer wide open passing. Maybe we’re seeing a similar trend in MMA? Different regions prefer and appreciate different styles?

But even if Sacramento booed because they love their strikers, they are still likely an exception as to why fans decide to take a shit on fights when they go to the ground. Ignorance could play a huge role. I know in my case I really didn’t have a true appreciation of ground fighting until I trained in Jiu-Jitsu. Once I started training I didn’t watch fights the same way from that point forward.

Asking people to take Jiu-Jitsu just so they can fully appreciate a fight isn’t feasible. So what can be done to speed up the learning curve?

Part of the issue is visual. When you watch a show on TV you usually get to see the best camera angle if a fight goes to the ground. When you see a match live, it’s a completely different story. From what I’ve been told, the UFC does a great job of having video screens placed throughout an arena so that fans can get a look at the best angles.  Things are different at some of the smaller shows, though. At Bodog on Saturday they only had the overhead screens on the scoreboard. From my vantage point, I could see fine and relied on the scoreboard monitors whenever a fight went to the ground. However, I am now hearing from a lot of people that couldn’t see the screen.

If you’re seated at a show and the fight goes to the mat, you can’t really see much because everyone stands up. So you have to stand up and even then you can’t see much if the fighters have their backs to you. I hate to say it because I cringe whenever someone else says it, but there are really times when it looks like two guys are humping.

Whenever a fight goes to the ground at a live show and it’s in an area of the ring or cage where people can’t see much movement, it creates an uncomfortable silence in the building. It’s like time suddenly just stops. I feel like yelling something out sometimes just to break the tension. Perhaps that plays into one’s decision to boo?

So what can be done? Well, make sure there are multiple video screens at a live event, for one. But video is only one aspect. Sound is another element.

I have an idea that I’m not even sure is logistically possible, but how about simulcasting the audio from a telecast to all the fans in the arena at times when the fight goes to the ground?

I know a lot of Internet fan boys are mixed when it comes to Joe Rogan. Some people love him and some people complain about everything little thing he does. From my perspective, he does a great job and excels at explaining to viewers just exactly who has an advantage when the fight hits the mat. He also does a good job of pointing out what a fighter is leaving themselves vulnerable to.

A guy who I think might even do a better job at breaking down ground fighting during a bout is Frank Mir. I’ve been really impressed with his work during WEC telecasts.

So if you’re televising an event and you have an expert on the mic breaking it down for the viewers at home, why not flip a switch and pipe the audio throughout the arena and let the fans here? Once the fight goes back to standing, just flip it off.

Another idea on a smaller scale could be to mic the corners and the referee. Hearing instructions being yelled to a fighter from the corner when the fight is on the mat might create a higher level of excitement. Also, hearing the ref issue warnings to fighters could garner a big reaction from the crowd and add to the drama. If a crowd is unhappy with the pace of a fight on the ground and they know a fighter is at risk to being stood up, they might not be as prone to boo because they could want to wait and see what’s going to happen.

The last thing is educting fans when they aren’t at a show. Having commentators on a telecast who have technical knowledge about ground fighting is a must. Some fight promotions are covered in that area while others are not.

I’d also like to see the UFC step up their efforts in educating fans about wrestling and Jiu-Jitsu but maybe doing a video series of tutorials at UFC.com. Luke Thomas from BloodyElbow.com made an awesome point during his “Any Given Saturday” Internet audio show. Back in the day, the UFC used to air a pre-taped segment during its PPVs called “On the mat with Marc Laimon.” This was a favorite of mine because Laimon did an awesome job of explaining key elements of ground fighting. I have to say, I learned a lot from those little segments he used to do. Brining something like that back for the telecasts or their web site would be welcomed.

Also, they show a lot of training footage during airings of The Ultimate Fighter.  When they talk about how a fighter needs to improve his ground game they might show you a brief clip of a coach going over something with a fighter. Why not extend the segment a bit and actually allow the audience to see and hear the whole sequence in which a fighter is being instructed something pertaining to Jiu-Jitsu or wrestling?

I know I’m not the only one with ideas. Let’s hear ‘em.

15 COMMENTS
  • says:

    easiest way to curtail booing- every event should emanate from japan

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  • says:

    I don’t think you’ll get rid of booing…as more people are educated about the sport, you’ll see less, but it’ll still show up. The best thing would be to stand up lay-n-prayers faster. if a guy doesn’t advance his position, stand him up. Pe de pano in that IFL matchup should have been stood up at least 5 different times. that was brutal to watch. Marcio Cruz has some skills, but literally sitting on his butt in the guard throwing weak punches is not a way to sway fans…
    normalize the standup rules, make it crisper if someone’s just sitting. killing the clock is boring to watch.

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  • says:

    people hate to hear how mma’s fanbase is becoming exactly like Pro wrestling’s in the sense that MMA has smart fans and marks.
    The majority (and i stress the word “majority) of american fans are akin to what they call in Pro wrestling “Marks”. The marks are the ones who scream for knockouts and bloodshed. Most of the booing is contributed to the inbred hillbillys known as marks.
    i think rambled their somewhere so i apologize

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  • says:

    I was actually thinking about this last night while re-watching Gomi vs Aurelio 2. It’s not just ground fighting that is boring – that Gomi/Aurelio fight is two guys tap dancing for nearly 15 minutes. The Japanese crowd is dead silent throughout. I seriously doubt they are better educated fight fans – it is most likely cultural that they don’t boo. Compare that with Guida/Tyson, which featured tons of exciting ground fighting. It might have even been the fight of the year.

    I think the orgs in the US need to do more to keep ALL fights engaging, including adding the yellow card, heavily increasing the bonuses for KO, TKO, and submissions, and standing fights up when the guy on top is not advancing his position or working for submissions. I train, and love grappling, but an MMA event shouldn’t be freestyle wrestling with the occasional submission.

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  • says:

    Here’s a two-fold solution: a) Stop papering shows and b) Either limit the sale of alcohol by a certain match or not serve alcohol at a show. The arenas and fans would throw a fit, but the crowd atmosphere would be quite different if there wasn’t so much ‘liquid courage’ being consumed.

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  • says:

    I don’t train, but the original UFC game on the Dreamcast really schooled me on the intricacies of the ground positions and counters and gave me a much greater appreciation for it. THQ is putting out a new game in the near future. Let’s hope it does well.

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  • says:

    new game looks awesome.

    the excitement factor goes back to the scoring issue we talked about before, though i haven’t heard much in the way of a new system. when a fighter knows he’s ahead in the fight, and he’s got an edge in say wrestling over a better striker, he’ll lay on him. kongo-marreiro, o’brien-herring, etc. and if he moves around a little or drops an elbow from time to time, he’s ok, and he’s scoring.
    there’s gotta be a better way to score a better sport. lame ten-point must system needs to GO!

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  • says:

    Ok I have two things to say on the subject. First I think Zack has it right about Japanese fans, they just don’t boo. I have heard Baseball players comment on this being such a huge thing to adjust to in the states. I don’t think American ‘Ball are less educated then their eastern counterparts but they do boo like hell. Second I was at Arco and the fans really got into a lot of the ground fighting. I was suprised but when there was ACTION on the ground, sub attempts, scrambles, reversals, fans were going nuts. But when Sherk kept taking Franca down and we knew all we had to look forward to was 5 min of looking at the top bar of the octogon we felt riped off. That fight WAS boring to watch. Total dominace but still boring.
    If you want fans not to boo you have got to provide exciting fights. Stand fighters up, take points for stalling, and don’t give a point for simply taking someone down. In other words make fighters win the fight, not just the majority of rounds,and no it is not the same thing.

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  • says:

    Garth – I just read an interview with Kos where he openly talks about how his strategy is to wait until the last 30 seconds and then go for the takedown. I’ve seen others following the same strategy (Evans vs Ortiz round 3). Lame.

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  • says:

    I’ve said this a hundered times in regard to the Sac crowd at 73: The reason they were booing is simple. If you watch all the prelim fights and look at how good they were and active the fighters were, then watch the entire televised portion except the last fight ( Florian ) you’ll:
    a) see the crowd wasnt booing earlier, b) see they only started booing Herring/Nog after Herring didn’t finish and for awhile were just standing there looking at each other c) booed Sherk/Franca because they weren’t stood up after the BJM OFFICIALLY MANDATED ( lol ) 21 sec requirement d) really didn’t boo much during the Silva/Nate match, though some did ( boo mode was in full swing at that point ).
    Two weeks before, the ppl saw an entire card without one single fight going to the judges, saw an actual MMA “Show”, and I believe had high expectations of the “Biggest Show” in the world.
    If a fan, say, booed Nick Diaz or Nog or Joe Daddy or any other active ground fighter, then that fan is obviously new and clueless. If they boo Sherk v Franca or any other lay and pray contest, then they have a good point. JMHO.

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  • says:

    My wife like to laugh at me because each time I’ve got a mma event on tv and she comes by for a look it’s always a guard position. She’s always ribbing me about why I want to watch two guys humping…

    Seriously, I’d stand them up faster if there is nothing happening. Some fighters are boring on their feet too.

    I watched a WEC event last month and I have to say it was as or more entertaining than any UFC event I’ve ever seen, and I think the reason is that these guys are generally hungrier and fighting more to fight than for a payday. You get these UFC champs making the big bux and all they want to do is keep their title or their win streak going because that keeps the revenue coming in. I probably would too. They have a lot to lose. And it makes fights boring.

    The more MMA becomes established and mainstream the more boring the fights are going to get… that’s just the reality of it.

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  • says:

    Sam,

    You’re going to think I’m a liar, but I just posted a piece at Fight Opinion regarding this same topic. I had not read your post yet before I wrote it, but we are literally on the same wavelength when it comes to The Ultimate Fighter show. They need to show the coaches teaching a specific technique, the fighters practicing said technique, and then eventually, one of these techniques will probably be used in a fight, either to finish, gain position, defend, etc. and shows your average fan the technique from start to finish. From the technique broken down to each step to its practical use within a fight.

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  • says:

    […] Related post from Five Ounces of Pain. […]

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  • says:

    I like the idea of broadcasting live audio of the fight (including ref and corner voices), without commentary. And several large screens are also key.

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  • jason hughes says:

    pride already invented it. it was called the yellow card, moslty issued during boring uneventful ground action.

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