When is the last time you can recall a fighter winning a round or a fight from his guard without finishing by submission?  Through discussions on internet forums and with reputable fighters and trainers, the overwhelming answers were Bas Rutten over Kevin Randleman at UFC 20 in 1999 and Big Nog over Ricco Rodriguez at Pride "Total Elimination 2003".

This underlines a rather unsettling trend in the sport.  Allow me to provide a few more examples of the way effective guard-play is (mis)measured in modern day MMA.

Waylon Lowe x Willamy "Chiquerim" Freire

The most recent example comes from the UFC's "Fight for the Troops 2" prelims when Lowe took Freire down and was in his guard with Freire's back against the fence.  "Chiquerim" wisely reached over and began working for a kimura.  As noted by Joe Rogan, this was not a half-assed attempt:  Freire had both of his grips locked, and had just separated Lowe's clasped hands, which was his initial strategy (locking his hands together) to defend the kimura.  Being pressed against the fence limited Freire's ability to lean back and immediately start wrenching the shoulder-lock, just as it limited many of the other potential escapes for Lowe.

At that point, Freire had the kimura fully locked.  Because they were both so close to the cage, free movement was hindered, and a short moment of patience (something that's stressed in the art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and has lead to many successful submissions) ensued.  However, the referee exercised none, and the fight was stood up.  To some it may be obvious, to others outrageous, but at that particular moment, Freire was in complete control of the action and perhaps moments away from finishing the fight (that's what achieving a submission does); or at least putting Lowe into a position that demanded he focus 100% of his efforts toward escaping.

The official rules of each state can (and do) differ from the unified rules.  For example, Keith Kizer and Nevada have admirably chosen to publish some guidelines on things such as referee stand-ups.  An excerpt from:


If the fighter in the bottom position wishes to keep the fight on the ground after being advised by the referee to improve their position, the fighter must, attempt to place their opponent in an disadvantages position. Examples would include, placing your opponent into a hold that could lead to their submission. Such as, Triangle, Arm Triangle, Omoplata (Shoulder Lock), Kimura, Arm Bar, Etc.


Unfortunately, in the Freire-Lowe fight, we're doomed to speculation.  "He wasn't going to finish it anyway" and "It didn't change the fight" were some responses from fans who supported the intervention, while "How in the hell do you know?" was my ingenious retort.  The point?  I don't want to guess what might have happened.  I want to know.  Let the fighters dictate the outcome.

Aaron Simpson x Mark Munoz

At UFC 123, we saw a showdown between two D1 All-American collegiate wrestlers.  In the second frame, Simpson hits a takedown and lands in Munoz's guard, and just as he advances past guard into half-guard, the referee stands the fighters up.  The total time that these wrestling specialists were allowed on the ground was just over twenty seconds.  Maybe Simpson (who lost a decision) would have continued his pressure and moved to a more advantageous position, or landed some meaningful ground-n-pound that would've won him the round?  Maybe Munoz could have capitalized on a mistake and latched a submission, or swept Simpson to mount some significant offense of his own?

We'll never know, because we're left with only baseless guesses.  Less than twenty-five seconds on the ground is nothing short of ridiculous.  Let the fighters dictate the outcome.

Javi Vasquez x Chad Mendes

This enticing bout between talented grapplers took place at WEC 52, and though Mendes clearly snared rounds two and three, it's the first I'd like to magnify.  Watch it.  By constantly threatening with submissions and sweeps, perfectly deflecting Mendes' punches from the top while planting sharp elbows of his own, and controlling the pace and momentum of the first round, Vasquez literally actualized the description in the unified rules for "effective grappling".

Effective grappling is judged by considering the amount of successful executions of a legal takedown and reversals. Examples of factors to consider are take downs from standing position to mount position, passing the guard to mount position, and bottom position fighters using an active, threatening guard.


Nick Lembo, Counsel to the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board and one of the most influential components of writing and implementing MMA's unified rules, lent his opinion on how (as a fan, not an official) he scored round one of Vasquez vs. Mendes in a recent interview with The on scoring and judging.


Again, as a fan watching on television, I scored round one 10-9 for Vasquez because I felt he was the busier fighter, albeit from the bottom, with more effective offense via punches, elbows, and an attempted submission (omoplata).


Mendes went on to win a convincing decision, but not one judge scored the first round for Vasquez, which only reinforces the frightening sentiment that getting a takedown and staying on top -- regardless of the level of offensive output -- might be all a fighter needs to do to win a fight on the score cards.  Until you factor in ...

Bobby Lashley x Chad Griggs

In an ugly fight rife with "go grab a beer" moments, an exhausted Lashley had finally attained the mount position on Griggs.  He wasn't entirely busy, and took a few moments of pause to catch his breath and maintain the mount, so the referee stood the fighters up.  However, the rules for effective grappling specifically state "takedowns from standing to mount position" as an example of how to identify when a fighter is effectively grappling (which ties with effective striking as the most important scoring measurement).  Note how frequency of punches, lag-time in between them, apparent cardiovascular condition, and fan appeal are oddly amiss from the description.

Therefore, the referee interrupted the action while one competitor was demonstrating the exact definition of the number one scoring criteria.  To add insult to injury, Griggs bombed Lashley with an uppercut that resulted in a TKO victory, meaning Lashley went from being in the most dominant position a grappler can be in to the worst position any fighter can be in within a matter of seconds.  Why?  Because the referee intervened, and in this case, punished the top fighter, who is usually looked upon favorably.  Let the fighters dictate the outcome.


When a striker is taken down and wants to stand, he can close his guard and control his opponent's posture and wait for the stand-up.  This is inactivity, this is not effective grappling, and this is boring.

When a top-player is inactive and relying only on control, the referee will stand them up, and then the entire process repeats.  A few moments later, we see the same position and the same level of inactivity regardless, and the wrestler racks up more points for effective grappling by getting takedown after takedown (instead of judging what happens afterward),

Five minutes is not that long.  In fact, it's just enough time to let a guard-player prove that he can catch a sub, sweep, or escape.  It's just enough time for the top-player to prove he can do some damage, advance position, or land a submission of his own.  If he does nothing, that has nothing to do with the referee.

MMA is about the fighters.  If the bottom fighter does nothing, he loses, and eventually gets cut.  If a fighter does nothing but nails takedowns and lulls the crowd to sleep with control, he quite simply bears the burden of being a boring fighter -- and that's where Dana White and company come into play and cut him, demote him to the prelims, or dig into his purse.  See the Gerald Harris situation, which was even a little extreme for my tastes, of how one snooze-inducing performance can have a fighter browsing the classifieds for work.

We all want exciting fights, but we can't force that through rules, referees, or anything else.  MMA was, is, and always will be about the fighters.  Let the fighters dictate the outcome.



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