This paradigm seems to have been in place as long as there has been sport or competition. What the sport is, where it is played, and at what level is irrelevant; sooner or later, no matter how worthy a champion is, people tire of their success. At some point along the way, the repetitiousness of the outcome, the style in which they win, and ultimately the lack drama and variety take their toll on the fan base.
Judging by the content of MMA forums following the GSP vs. Shields fight, the sport of MMA is no exception.
The most successful athletes or franchises seem to always be the most polarizing. The LA Lakers, the New York Yankees, the New England Patriots, Jimmy Johnson, Tiger Woods, Michal Phelps, Lance Armstrong and Bernard Hopkins all come to mind. All of these champions have a loyal group of fans that adore them. In general, they have a much larger group of people who despise them. This could be easily dismissed as the David and Goliath scenario, but I think it is much more complicated than that.
Granted, some of the people that hate these winners do so because their favorite team or athletes end up falling short when they face them. But even those who have no dog in the fight tend to find the dominance irritating. I think that at our core we all want to be winners. When a new contender rises up, we feel a connection with them. We become emotionally invested in their success. We are thrilled by the new and exciting wrinkles they bring to the game. We ride the bandwagon with many of the other fans. But sooner or later, the love affair begins to stagnate.
Eventually the winning becomes routine and expected. Now the method of winning becomes scrutinized rather than the actual result of winning. Soon the style, game plan, and technique that once electrified us become the status quo and we are hungry for the next best thing. All too often, that next best thing doesn’t show up and we are left with the dreaded familiar.
Georges St. Pierre seems to have reached that level. After reading hundreds of forum posts and a number of articles written on various MMA websites, you would think that in winning a unanimous decision in the fight, GSP leaned through the television screen and spit in the faces of all UFC fans. There were forum threads that suggested that he be fined his prize money, or stripped of his title because he fought a boring fight. Others suggest he is not a legitimate candidate for a top 3 pound for pound ranking. While I would never contend that the fight was one that kept me on the edge of my seat, I don’t seem to understand the distain for one of MMA’s most consistent and dominant athletes.
Let’s put this in context. GSP has won 9 fights in a row (two of which avenged his only two career losses) on his way to a 22 and 2 professional record. He has done this against the best competition the UFC could produce, all the while tearing off a stretch of 30 consecutive rounds won. He is a technically proficient striker, the most dominant wrestler in his division, and a supremely conditioned fighter. He also happens to be a fantastic role model and all around good guy. His cardinal sin is the fact that his last five fights have gone to a decision.
As a MMA fan, I am hungry for a dominant finish by GSP. As a regular guy who has never enjoyed the level of success that GSP has earned, I can understand taking an approach to competition that results in a W on the scorecard. Like it or not, the fact that his competition cannot force him to deviate from his game plan is a reflection of their lack of ability, not his. If any of us had to walk into the cage with Jake Shields, the last thing we would do is jump into his guard or strike with reckless abandon at the risk of being taken down. Had GSP taken Shields down and gotten caught in a triangle choke, the talking heads would have torn him apart as quickly as they did when Fedor chose that fate with Werdum.
I am sure my opinion differs from some, but if I am being honest, I think that a fighter’s job is to win first, and entertain second. GSP did not press the fight, but not falling into the clinch with a submission artist is a far cry from running from the fight. Anderson Silva was criticized for the same thing, but those complaints became a distant memory when a fighter came along that dominated Silva for 23 plus minutes. Silva proved that he has the ability to come from behind to win. Sooner or later GSP will run into a challenger that will push him to the limit. We will have to wait until then to see if he has the ability and heart to finish a fighter that is beating him on the scorecards. For now, GSP will be taking the brunt of the fan’s frustration because Shields was not that challenger.