When is the last time you heard a coach say “You’re doing great, now do something different”? When something is working, we should keep doing it, right? Not always. Two recent fights displayed this exact kind of strategic conundrum.
Last weekend at UFC 120 in London, the main event between Bisping and Akayama was a great example. Early in the fight, Akayama landed a thudding overhand right to the left cheek of Bisping. it was eerily similar to the punch that Henderson floored him with at UFC 100. Bisping looked staggered, and retreated for the rest of the round to clear his head.
For the rest of the night, Akayama kept looking for that punch, and as he tired seemed to forget all other options including his excellent judo. Bisping on the other hand, was able to come back in the 2nd round, and with his typical excellent cardio and movement, was able to land a wide variety of punches and kicks while he danced in and out of range of the right hand. It was an easy decision for the judges to make in Bisping’s favor, while Akayama could only walk out of the cage still searching for another stunning blow, a victim of his early success.
Another example is the September 30th WEC event, in the fight between Mark Hominick vs. Brian Caraway. Caraway was successful early in faking takedowns and landing the overhand right. Shortly thereafter, he was able to secure takedowns and work ground and pound into a guard pass repeatedly. Hominick however, was able to defend himself very well on the ground and escape significant harm although he did take a few punches and elbows intermittently. I kept thinking Caraway was in total control of the fight, and to the judges he probably was. Commenter Frank Mir then made the astute point that Caraway continued to pass to the left, even though it was working, he was getting predictable. Sure enough, once again Caraway when had him down and had his weight shifting left, Hominick bucked him in that direction. Caraway put his arm down to keep from getting swept, Hominick then quickly turned the sweep attempt into an armbar/triangle. Even though Caraway may have been winning the fight in the minds of the judges and the fans, he also got too comfortable doing the same thing. Hominick meanwhile was staying safe, watching his opponent and finally took advantage of the pattern he had observed.
Striking early, moving forward, and getting to better positions are all good things to do in a fight, but the longer a fight goes on, the more each combatant is learning from one another. Even the most skilled fighters in the world can get a little too comfortable with one strategy or idea, and a patient adversary can take advantage of it. Variety and unpredictability are often just as important as what’s working in the moment.