The gassed and the furious: A closer look at the role of conditioning in combat sports

UFC 93: 'Franklin vs. Henderson' from the 02 Arena in Dublin, Ireland, has officially wrapped, meaning we can now set our sights on the upcoming superfight between Georges St. Pierre and BJ Penn at UFC 94: 'St. Pierre vs. Penn 2' on January 31.

In a way, I think the UFC is fortunate to have such a massive pay-per-view (PPV) looming on the horizon, because it takes some of the spotlight off an event that as a whole, was a little underwhelming.

One of my biggest gripes coming out of UFC 93 is (once again) the complete and utter lack of physical preparation that some fighters were exhibiting come showtime. And inexplicably, it seems to be getting worse, not better.

Simply put, a lack of conditioning is a lack of professionalism.

Today's mixed martial artist, especially in the UFC, has an uphill battle when it comes to fighter compensation. With Zuffa pretty much ruling the roost, finding ample employment outside of Dana's umbrella can be a daunting and often fruitless task.

To that end, the responsibility to further a fighter's career from a monetary standpoint rests solely on the shoulders of the fighter himself. With great fights, come great opportunities. Sponsorships are becoming more and more lucrative as the sport of MMA gains wider mainstream appeal.

Nutritional supplement companies like BSN are throwing money at fighters because they know a big name competitor can influence the product's key demographic.

But is it realistic to think a fighter who cannot make it out of the first round without gassing will lock up an endorsement deal for a sports nutrition company?

Now it's important to differentiate between a legitimate lack of professionalism and the inability to win big fights or keep the crowd entertained. Not every fight is going to be Griffin-Bonnar 1.

Furthermore, I've never once criticized a fighter who came to the cage, gave it his best shot, and got turned inside out.

What I have criticized, and will continue to criticize, is the contempt some fighters seem to have for the fans and the UFC management.

I'm sorry, but I just don't know what else to call it.

By the end of the summer, we should be at or near UFC 100. That's 99 events since Royce Gracie toyed with some human yarn in a showcase of submission fighting.

By now, I would expect fighters so desperate to be considered 'professional athletes' to start acting like them. A fighter not being able to compete for three rounds without gassing out is forgivable on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF), not the main card during a PPV.

Are there any fighters currently on the UFC roster who don't know what to expect coming into a fight?

Phil Baroni stood up at the post-fight press conference for EliteXC: 'Primetime' and talked down to the media in attendance (present company included), philosophizing about the true meaning of mixed martial arts and how nobody can ever say anything bad about a fighter because they aren't the ones in the cage or ring laying it all on the line.

Bologna.

I paid for my right to be heard. The second I plunk down fifty bucks for a PPV, I expect to get my money's worth. If I go to Steakhouse and drop fifty bucks on a filet - only to have it taste like it was seasoned in the chef's ass - you'd better believe it's going right back to the kitchen with a complaint in tow.

Today's fighters don't compete for charity. They compete because they get paid to do so. The money they get paid comes from us, the fans, when we shell out for a PPV, or buy the products our heroes shill for on a monthly basis.

I just want to make sure I get what I paid for.

Certain fighters have their bread and butter, and that's okay. For example, I don't expect Chuck Liddell to come out and dazzle me with his ground game, nor do I expect Demian Maia to knock somebody out with a head kick.

What I do expect however, is for Chuck to go in there and strike for fifteen minutes and for Maia to manipulate more joints than Joe Rogan.

It's unrealistic to expect them to win every fight, but not unrealistic to expect them to show up for every fight.

Not having the conditioning to fight competitively for three rounds should no longer be tolerated because it cheats both the fans and the sport. Nothing is uglier than watching two guys who can barely stand try and fight. They may have the mixed and they may have the martial, but they certainly don't have the arts.

Not only is it void of anything remotely technical, it gives ammo to the many detractors who just love to air highlights while pointing and laughing.

I won't say I'm the world's biggest GSP fan, but goddamn that guy gets it right every time. His conditioning helps elevate the rest of his game to another level. "Rush" is the prototype for what every aspiring fighter should strive to become.

And it wouldn't hurt a couple of veterans to follow his lead either.

There are plenty of fighters who have excellent cardio and genuinely try to make their fights entertaining. They aren't born with it, they work for it. I remember Quinton Jackson telling me that he hates training cardio more than anything in the world, but that he did it anyway because he was a fighter and that was part of his job.

He knows, just as every fighter knows, conditioning is just as important as striking, jiu-jitsu or wrestling. What good are your boxing skills if you're too tired to use them? And because every fighter knows this, it's completely inexcusable when it happens, especially considering how the future of the sport could hang in the balance.

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