By Schwan Humes
In this series, the focus has been on prospects, specifically developing them in MMA. The goal was to provide the reader with an overview of the things that often contribute to a prospect not reaching his or her full potential in functionality or in personal accomplishment. In our first installment, we discussed athleticism and how it is a gift and a curse, something that can propel fighters forward while simultaneously holding them back. The second installment addressed activity, i.e. the efficient, structured, and purposeful training, sparring, or drilling that helps develop a fighter's skills, IQ, and awareness. Today we have come to the final installment of this series: Matchmaking.
The previous installment focused on the activity that takes place in the gym and helps the fighter develop the skills, conditioning, strategy, IQ, and wherewithal to compete at the highest levels. When discussing matchmaking we are addressing activity of another nature, the activity in competition. In competition all the things developed in the gym and with your training partners come to bear, and you discover whether you are on the path to continued success, or whether you need to regroup with respect to the points of emphasis, the philosophy, and the direction you're currently using to develop as a fighter. Things can be simulated in the gym, but you never know how far you can go, how good you are or can be, until you're in an unfriendly environment, facing an unfamiliar fighter. That is the proving ground; that will tell you who and how you are as a fighter.
Many times in fighting the focus becomes less about the development of the fighter and more about the development of the fighter’s record. As long as the fighter continues to win, and do so in dominant fashion, organizations, managers, coaches, teammates, and fans are happy, but the ends don't justify the means. In the fight game, how you accomplish a goal is as important, if not more, than the goal itself. Being 10-0 doesn't mean much when you're beating up on 4th or 5th-tier opposition. Not only are you not testing yourself, you're not being forced to diversify yourself in regards to approach and technique. Once again, that's fine if your goal is to be the toughest guy on the local scene, but when your goal is to fight in the bigger organizations, a lack of growth is a sign that either you're not serious about your career or that you don't plan on having a very long or successful career.
Ronda Rousey is a notable example of this. Here we have a fighter who hadn't faced a significant test in her career, a fighter who had essentially been able to mask technical deficiencies with an overwhelming advantage in physical ability and in specific ranges of MMA. In fact, she developed a one-size-fits-all approach that worked. It made her a champion, made her a superstar, made her the baddest woman on the face of the planet, but it also made her predictable. This is fine if you have skills you're not showing us because you don't have to.
And that was the point of this series, to examine the highs and lows that accompany a blue chip prospect when he or she is not properly developed. Rousey was very accomplished, but she was never able to be everything she could have been, and last Friday at UFC 207, we all bore witness to the possibility that she never will. Some would say Rousey was an easy target, but in regards to this topic, there is no other fighter whose career so clearly relates to the subject. She was the best case scenario in that she achieved unparalleled heights as it pertains to MMA, but each and every one of the obstacles covered in this series were painfully apparent in the rise, plateau, and eventual fall she experienced.