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Opinion: Fast Finishes Hurt the UFC

Conor McGregor, Jose Aldo
Photo Courtesy of AP

For many people, fast finishes in mixed martial arts is the only acceptable means of entertainment.

Whether it be a crackling knockout or bone-contorting submission, a chunk of the combat community lives and dies by split-second outcomes. It’s a reason why impatient hoards whine over a tactical chess match between two submissions artists, and one of the more glaring issues with attracting new fans to a sport enriched with calculated technique.

Obviously, a fight that culminates with a spectacular finish is undoubtedly exciting. But to expect it, or even get frustrated over it’s non-existent maturation, is an injustice to the game as a whole.

However, in the harsh reality we often reference as an expanding sport, promotions like the UFC have no other means of attracting fresh viewers than to hope someone like Conor McGregor snaps a quick left hook and flattens a legendary Jose Aldo in 13 seconds.

Because that’s what fight fans want these days, right?

While that may be true, or at least half true, these quick finishes may end up hurting the promotion in the long run. Some reasons are most certainly not cut and dry, and probably won’t come to a head for a long time. But other outlooks pertaining to the overall value of fast knockouts and swift submissions are certainly plentiful.

The most negative aspect to churning out these second-sized matchups between elite competitors is the fact that fans will begin to expect it. Like seeing the New York Yankees compete for a World Series or Steph Curry sinking a 3-pointer as times expires, flash finishes become anticipated. And when they don’t come to fruition, sour tastes are felt worldwide.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rbOV_mVK2uI

Indeed, there is no way to control the outcome of a fight, unless the UFC has transformed into a corrupt society hellbent on picking winners (let us assume they have not). But these contests we pay money to see are not usual fights. They are not backstreet brawls between two blubbering drunks. These are promoted tilts between world-class professionals hailing from multiple-month training camps. So while we may not see extended exchanges come fight night, we should certainly want to.

In addition to the expectation of highlight-reel finishes forcing the otherwise prudent hands of fighters in the future, the effect that these split-second occurrences have on a top contender’s stock is enormous. It not only sends them packing for the night, but makes it extremely difficult for the UFC to further promote their cause down the line.

Top names like Jose Aldo, Alexander Gustafsson, Donald Cerrone and Chad Mendes, all fell victim to a first-round flash knockout this year. Gustafsson did go on to fight UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier at UFC 192, but his credibility took a gigantic hit following his knockout loss to Anthony “Rumble” Johnson.

As for Aldo, Cerrone and Mendes, how do you justify them fighting for a championship again in 2016? They are easily three of the biggest stars the lower weight classes possess, so it’s uneasy to imagine them absent from ongoing title hunts.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nPJyBat4PSw

How can the UFC resell the public on a McGregor vs. Aldo rematch, outside of the Brazilian previously being undefeated for 10 years? Can a guy like Mendes stay afloat in a division that’s, for the most part, beneath him? Will Cerrone have to rack off another eight wins in a row to reclaim a title shot after losing to lightweight champion dos Anjos this past Saturday at UFC on FOX 17?

Truthfully, who knows? These are the problems with running a system based on quick finishes and trying to appeal to a market that wants the action to unravel quicker than their toilet paper.

Of course, there is a reverse effect to this epidemic. We’re all familiar with the curious case of former UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey. Her dominance over a near-three-year period was not only historic, but socially trailblazing. In a sport dictated by alpha male egos, Rousey simply took over.

But along the way, somewhere between her three-straight title defenses (Alexis Davis, Cat Zingano, Bethe Correia) combining to last 64 seconds, Rousey’s abilities inside of the cage were built beyond her control outside of it. In other words, her quick performances gave the public reason to believe she would forever maintain that cohesiveness.

So when she was absolutely laid to waste opposite an underrated Holly Holm at UFC 193, the reserve effect of flash finishes came full circle. How can the UFC, given their exhausting efforts to promote Rousey, justify her glaring weaknesses against Holm? Can such a one-sided affair possibly result in an immediate rematch?

The UFC is finding out the hard way that it is never easy to please the masses. At its core, the promotion is, well, a promotion of MMA. It is an extension of an internationally respected sport that infuses, physical, mental and emotional abilities into one beautiful magic trick. But to juggle that ongoing combat credo with the immediate needs of a seething fan base must be exceedingly taxing.

Say what you will about the sexy one-punch knockouts and first-round submissions the MMA world has seen over the past few years, the UFC would be better without them. Not only for the sake of maintaining a fighter’s stock and ability to quickly turn it around, but also to uphold the allure of legendary possibilities, like Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson or Robbie Lawler vs. Rory MacDonald.

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