THE RUKUS PERSPECTIVE- FIGHTERS VS ATHLETES
The date was November 12, 1993. The Ultimate Fighting Championship hosted their first event in which a tournament style format would showcase finalists Royce Gracie and Gerard Gordeau, in which Gracie would sink a rear naked choke to win. This Saturday night we have UFC 158, which pits Georges St Pierre against Nick Diaz. To say that the sport has come a long way would be a massive understatement. We look back and see mixed martial arts in its rawest form, when fighters were more or less trained in only one discipline. As the sport grew, you began to see fighters understand the importance of multiple disciplines to avoid their opponent capitalizing on a particular weakness. Bring us to the current, where we have many who are born into the sport, have grown up in it, and have trained multiple disciplines all their lives. Strategies have been implemented, huge MMA schools and high profile coaches have come along who “breed” champions. It is amazing to see the evolution of the sport in just 20 years, but what about the evolution of the fighter? While the sport continues to evolve, so does the fighter. The “fighter” we see today has become elite hybrid athlete. But even though it’s easy to say, and rightfully so, that fighters are some of the most elite athletes on the face of the planet, there is still an intangible trait where some are not viewed as fighters, but rather, just athletes. None can be the more apparent than this weekend’s UFC 158. Nick Diaz, a triathlete in his spare time, still brings the aura of a “fighter”, and GSP, who seems to be the epitome of all that is the perfect “athlete”.
With this upcoming fight, there seems to be a ton of underlying social issues here when you look at how the two interact with each other, their backgrounds, their training as well as their marketing, but that’s a topic that will be saved for another day. More so, the paradox that is presented seems to be “fighter vs athlete”. I went on Facebook this past week and asked people to tell me what they thought the difference was between fighters and athletes, and was surprised with some of the answers. All in all it is easy to say that fighters and athletes are one in the same, but for some reason there is still that “thing” when you see two fighters who are polar opposites in some cases causes you to feel that one is a fighter and one is an athlete. Why do you think that is?
The answer is simple….killer instinct. In all of the years we have watched mixed martial arts, you see fighters who enter the cage and fight to finish. These men put everything on the line, every single time, whether the fight goes to the ground, stays on the feet, ends up in a clench, etc. You can feel their ferociousness, Chuck Liddell, Wanderlei Silva, Anderson Silva…Nick Diaz. Fighters like these, whom whether they do it for fans or not, go in for the simple reason of fighting and finishing. At the other end of the spectrum, you have fighters who come to win, to score points. They used to have that killer instinct, but somewhere along the way it became strategy. They began to study, look at things from a scientific aspect. They look for a way to dictate the pace of the fight, a way to engage as little as possible, and appear to do enough in the eyes of the judges to secure a victory. Some look at it strictly from a job security standpoint. Unfortunately for the fans it may not be as exciting as some would hope, and in some instances can be downright frustrating when you drop 50 bucks to see a fight and end up with is a stalemate of sorts, where one man exposes a weakness in another man’s game and controls the fight by “scoring points” to win.
When looking at the current UFC Welterweight Champion, one has to wonder, what happened to his killer instinct? GSP has not finished an opponent in the Octagon since a TKO corner stoppage of BJ Penn back in January of 2009. There is no question about his dominance in the cage, a superior “athlete” in every aspect, but honestly, when is the last time you saw GSP enter a fight where you thought he was going to finish someone? We know it, he knows it, his approach to his fights are not what they were pre-title reign. Nick Diaz knows that GSP has lost his killer instinct somewhere along the way, and knows that his fight could very well go the way all GSP fights go. Diaz also doesn’t want to end up in a fight like he did with Carlos Condit, who back pedaled and picked apart Nick for 5 rounds, which seemed very uncharacteristic of Condit. It was clear Condit was fighting to win. So, Nick took it upon himself to give one of the greatest conference call interactions in UFC history, and in the process, somewhat baited Georges into a situation where he may end up fighting Nick’s fight. It’s clear that St. Pierre is the favorite, and he has the ability to dictate the fight, the pace, where it goes etc… but maybe…just maybe… in this clash where the imagery of a Rocky vs Ivan Drago comparison, where one guy is in a sweaty low end gym, and the other being in a high end scientific facility, maybe there was a fire that was reignited. Maybe Nick lit that fire under George, to bring him back to that place where he wants to finish. Nick would have it no other way, because at the end of the day, he is a “fighter”. He wants to fight Georges and he wants Georges to fight him. For the first time since GSP’s reign as champion, he is meeting someone who could care less about the belt, about job security, scoring points, dictating the pace etc. We have a man, who is taking us back to the early days of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, a man who wants to test his abilities against the best in the world in a FIGHT, not a MATCH. With just days away to the most anticipated grudge match in the UFC’s history, one could only HOPE it plays out that way.
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