The majority of the scoring criteria in the sport of mixed martial arts (MMA) is pretty easy to understand.
Effective striking? Pretty clear. Hit the guy a lot, hit the guy hard, don't get hit back. Effective grappling? Easy enough. Threaten with submissions, control his position, etcetera, questions about relative importance of offense and defense notwithstanding. Effective aggression? Judges have a tendency to forget the first word, but sure.
But "Octagon control?"
There doesn't seem to be a fixed definition. Arguments abound; is the guy moving forward considered to have Octagon control, even if the other guy is having more luck countering than he is attacking? Is the fighter shooting a takedown controlling the Octagon, even if he gets stuffed?
Recent controversial fights have raised these questions time and again, and I feel I may have a possible solution.
There are very, very few cues MMA should take from boxing, especially in the current era of judges' decisions being determined entirely by promoters' interests, but one of its scoring tenets would be useful to co-opt. I propose that, rather than "Octagon control," perhaps "cage generalship" should be used as part of MMA's scoring criteria.
The wording of it is, in my opinion, significantly clearer. By this definition, the location of the fight no longer appears to be the primary concern, although it certainly is part of it. A successful general is one who controls the battle, maximizing the effectiveness of his firepower while simultaneously doing everything in his power to smother that of his opponent.
To correctly analyze cage generalship, the judges must determine three things: what each fighter is trying to do, how well he is doing it, and how effective it is. Occasionally, this is easy, with a striker trying to take his opponent's head off while said opponent tries to take him down.
Most of the time, however, it's not that simple.
Take, for instance, UFC 148's bout between Habib Nurmagomedov vs Gleison Tibau. My thoughts on who won that contest have been made clear, so I will not proselytize any further on that topic, but let us examine the fight.
From early in the first round to the end of the fight, the tactics of each man were clear: Tibau intended to counter-strike, taking advantage of Khabib's wild swings to bring his heavy left hand to bear. In addition, he aimed to shoot if the opportunity was available, although the striking took precedent. Nurmagomedov looked to use his heavy hands to rush in with wild exchanges before using the confusion to take Tibau down.
Neither man wound up securing a takedown, although Tibau did put the Russian on his back two times for about two seconds combined. Tibau, however, stuffed more takedowns and, despite Nurmagomedov's aggression, outlanded him by an appreciable amount. Again, I don't wish to start a debate on the winner, but under the criteria I laid out above, it would be fair to say that Tibau had superior cage generalship.
A somewhat-similar bout took place at UFC 149 last Saturday night (July 21, 2012) in Calgary between James Head and Brian Ebersole, a dull affair that Head edged via split decision. Again, the tactics were clear: Head wanted to sprawl-and-brawl while Ebersole looked to take him down and unleash his vaunted ground-and-pound.
Ebersole landed a single takedown out of fifteen, going 0-7 in the third round alone. He did have some success standing, but wound up on the losing end of most of the exchanges, particularly in the clinch. Head could not damage him when he was on all fours on account of their hand-fighting and the lack of PRIDE's notorious takedown-punishing maneuvers, but it is safe to say he executed his gameplan to perfection, while Ebersole tried and failed to the point of ridiculousness.
Finally, what about Clay Guida vs. Gray Maynard?
For the first two rounds, Guida had Maynard chasing him around the ring and missing the majority of his shots. While Guida's effectiveness in the area in question was hampered by his inability to slow Gray down.
After then, however, things changed.
Like a true general, Maynard changed his strategy, while Guida didn't. Recognizing how hesitant Clay was to exchange on the inside, Maynard waited until Guida was near the fence and rushed, using his strength in the clinch to land heavy knees and hooks when he could.
Further, it became clear that Clay couldn't exhaust Maynard, who was still on the attack as the 25th minute rolled around. Clay's tactics proved less and less effective as time went on, while Gray's adapted to the changing situation.
Gray wins the battle of generalship.
There are still countless alterations that should be made to the rules, primarily when it comes to making clearer the relative importance of each different facet of them, but I feel this would be a good start.
How about you?