With their ability to slow the pace in fight, wrestlers can be the great equalizer in many mixed martial arts matches. They can stymie the best strikers in the world if they choose to employ a "Princeton-offense" approach: slow things down and grind it out. At least that used to be the thought. It appears things are changing with pressure from promotions like the UFC as well as the fans in the stands, who quickly grow restless and boo any lull in the action.
It's become commonplace for elite wrestlers to step into the cage and exclusively showcase their stand-up game. No shots. No takedown attempts. No clinch game. Gray Maynard's performance at UFC 96 is a perfect example. The former Michigan State wrestler waited until late in the fight to take down Jim Miller. You can't bang on the guy too much, it worked. But in the case of elite wrestlers, great ground and pound fighters like Josh Koscheck, Sean Sherk and Matt Hughes they fallen hard in certain fights by going away from their bread and butter. Ryan Bader, an All-American wrestler from Arizona State, is just starting his UFC career and says his mindset has already been affected:
"Well, I think that there is a lot of pressure, especially in the UFC, to be exciting. But sometimes it leads to the demise of the wrestlers because they end up getting knocked out," Bader told Ariel Helwani from Versus.com. "You can win by taking a guy down and laying on him, or you can try to knock a guy out. So, I think that kind of comes into the play, especially in the UFC where they are dropping fighters left and right."
Do fans really hate wrestling or is the UFC and its fighters catering to the loudest and most uninformed fans? Fighters should be encouraged to execute their game. If B.J. Penn rides off into the sunset in the near future, a well-rounded Sherk can dominate the lightweight division. But Sherk "the boxer" can be beaten. Penn shredded him and Tyson Griffin barely lost a decision to the "Muscle Shark".
We'll see how this all affects Bader in a few weeks when takes on Carmelo Marrero at Ultimate Fight Night 18.