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UFC 114 shows MMA fighters can't always be crowd-pleasers


Some people are difficult to please, and others are just plain impossible. As luck would have it, both types ended up together at the MGM Grand last weekend to watch UFC 114.

I've seen a few live MMA audiences over the years, and I realize they can vary greatly from one time and place to another. In Iowa they love wrestling and beer. In New Jersey they're suckers for fast-paced brawls and ring girls with attitude. And beer.

But sometimes -- and last Saturday night in Vegas was definitely one of those times -- you get a group of people that aren't quite sure what they want from one moment to the next ... but they're pretty certain that whatever it is, they aren't getting it right now. It's nights like this one when you really don't envy the life of a fighter.

Take Rashad Evans, for example. He came into a main event facing an opponent with significant advantages over him in the stand-up department. Quinton "Rampage" Jackson might have been a little rusty after spending more time on the movie set than in the gym over the past year, but that doesn't mean he can't still scramble your brain like an egg with one well-placed punch.

So Evans did everything possible to stay away from the punches. He got too close, or else stayed too far away. He engaged just long enough to get Jackson to open up, and then he put him down.

To some people, that made for a boring fight. It also made for a smart fight. But as anyone who attended junior high knows, smart isn't always popular. That's why Evans was about as well-liked as a hall monitor after beating Jackson via unanimous decision.

Maybe it's because of the pre-fight trash talk, or maybe just a general bloodlust, but many fans seemed to feel like they were owed a certain type of fight. In their minds, animosity equaled a lack of strategy and technique. Those fans didn't get that fight, and they made their disappointment known.

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Now, no person gets to tell another what they should or shouldn't be entertained by, but what I can't understand when I hear the boos raining down after a fight like that is, why are these people at a mixed martial arts event to begin with?

If all they care to see are two guys swinging ham hocks at one another's chins, maybe they should check out some boxing or K-1 matches. Better yet, go see a Toughman event. It's got all the charm of a bar brawl only without the jukebox.

Mixed martial arts is about being complete. It's about having as few weaknesses as possible, and about exploiting the weaknesses of others.

Is there a certain level of pre-fight hype that obligates a fighter to ignore his strengths in favor of an exciting fight he'll probably lose? If so, when does he hit that level? Does he need to have his own "Primetime" series, or is a particularly compelling internet feud enough to necessitate him throwing his game plan out the window?

This is why, in many ways, the MMA fighter has one of the most complex relationship to fans in all of pro sports. Unlike a football or baseball player, he has to worry about entertaining and not just simply winning. He also doesn't have any teammates to absorb attention or deflect blame on to.

Tennis players and golfers may know what that pressure is like to some extent, but none of them know what it's like to wake up in the center of the cage with fans who hate them howling in triumph. That's the kind of thing that might convince a man to play it safe and get the victory. The leather whizzing by his head is another.

It probably isn't necessary for MMA fans to understand every single technical detail of what they're seeing on fight night, and, truly, often enough the ones who think they do are the most annoying of all. But that doesn't mean they can't recognize a savvy approach, even if they'd rather see a knockout in every fight.

Sometimes we see shootouts in MMA. Sometimes we see chess matches. If the range between the two doesn't interest you, maybe you're watching the wrong sport.