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Trading Shots: Is it time to abolish the draw in MMA?

UFC 216 had two different bouts end in draws, a rare occurrence that hasn’t happened since 1999. But is that a satisfying way for a fight to end, or should the UFC think about instituting some changes to make sure that someone ends up a winner? MMAjunkie columnist Ben Fowlkes joins retired WEC and UFC fighter Danny Downes to discuss.

Fowlkes: Who’d have guessed it, Danny? UFC 216 gave us not one but two draws on Saturday night in Las Vegas. That’s like seeing a shooting star on your drive home and then being so distracted by it that you hit a unicorn.

I can’t be mad at either result. Lando Vannata lost a point for an illegal knee, which was a penalty he deserved, so that threw the scorecards in his fight with Bobby Green out of whack. Then Beneil Dariush and Evan Dunham fought to a draw that also just felt right, considering how close the fight was.

I understand that a tie is an unsatisfying result in a lot of ways, but should MMA get a little more comfortable with the draw, or do we need to get rid of it altogether? Should we institute a “sudden victory” round in these matters? And how are promotions and rankings supposed to treat two guys who fought to a bloody stalemate? Do we just tell them both to move on and act like they kind of won, but kind of didn’t?

Downes: Get comfortable with draws? I bet you’re the Missoula hipster who calls NFL games “American Football.” Do all those soccer stars who write into your podcast send you those fancy scarves in the mail, too?

In all seriousness, I’m not opposed to draws per se, but I’m not exactly wild about them. I feel about them the way that the Griffin family felt about their vacation to purgatory. Especially in the Green/Vannata match, I understand why that was the result. but there’s no progression. What do you do with Green and Vannata? It was a great fight, but doing an immediate rematch does nothing for either fighter.

I don’t hate the draw result, but they aren’t necessary. Why not institute the “sudden victory” round? It seems to work fine on “The Ultimate Fighter.” Thanks to the beauty of editing, we don’t know how long the turnaround is between the judges’ decision and the extra round. If there’s a way to ensure there isn’t an extended lapse, what’s the issue?

At the end of the day, I’m sure it will come down to money. Fighters would obviously want some extra pay if they have to go an extra round, and promoters won’t want to pay it. There may be some other technical issues having to do with pacing or TV time, but those should be easily remedied.

What do you say Ben? Let’s abolish the draw!

Fowlkes: First of all, I’d love one of those scarves and now I’m mad no one’s sent me one. Second, instituting the sudden victory round shouldn’t be so hard.

The UFC makes you fight two extra rounds for the privilege of being the main event, which is another decision it made unilaterally without input from the fighters, so this shouldn’t be so different. The IFL did it, even if it almost never got to use it. The UFC had the provision for that flyweight title tournament, even if it was robbed of the chance to use it thanks to a screwup by officials. So clearly, it’s possible.

What I object to are the people who would rather have the judges close their eyes and pick a winner than admit that sometimes it really is too close to call. I don’t have a problem with judges who give out 10-10 rounds. I have much more of a problem with judges who see everything as a 10-9, as if there’s no difference between winning by a little and winning by a lot.

I recognize that draws create a problem for promoters who want to know who should move up and who should move down after every fight. I’d be all for an extra round to help figure it out. But after watching three awesome, bloody rounds between Vannata and Green, did anybody seriously feel disappointed by scorecards that refused to label one of them a loser?

Downes: Well what do you know? This is one of the few times you’ve seen reason and agree with the correct side (me).

I agree that the sudden victory would require some work, but it seems very plausible. It would be nice if the UFC and other organizations would negotiate with fighters, but they’ve mandated far more intrusive things in the past.

I also think the sudden victory format would improve judging. Instead of over-weighting takedowns or “octagon control,” an increase in 10-10 scoring could convince fighters to win a round more definitively. The strategy of waiting away a round and then trying to score some quick points in the final 30 seconds becomes much less beneficial under this format.

As far as your question about if anyone felt disappointed, you’re leading the witness by phrasing it that way. I don’t think anybody felt disappointed, but what if I asked, “did anybody seriously feel satisfied by scorecards that refused to label one of them a winner?” It would be the same answer.

Draws are the “meh” of decisions. Are they better than a decision which forces a winner? Sure, but being better than bad doesn’t necessarily make it something good.

It’s also worth noting that how a fight ends does have an effect on us, regardless of how much we enjoyed the match. It’s the same way that you can enjoy 90 percent of a movie, but if there’s a crappy ending, you end up hating the whole thing. I’m not saying that an increase in draws will make MMA fights into M. Night Shymalan films, but let’s not pretend they’re pleasant to see either.

Ben Fowlkes is MMAjunkie and USA TODAY’s MMA columnist. Danny Downes, a retired UFC and WEC fighter, is an MMAjunkie contributor who has also written for UFC.com and UFC 360. Follow them on twitter at @benfowlkesMMA and @dannyboydownes.

Filed under: Featured, News, UFC

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