Mixed Messages: Winning Isn’t Everything, Except When It Is


“…not the outcome I wanted but I’d rather go down Looking 4 the finish than just grind out a boring dec!”

Said the man coming off a knockout loss. Not just any knockout loss, mind you.

Jamie Varner was in touching distance of an impressive victory over Abel Trujillo at UFC 169. With the finishing line in sight, Varner marched forward swinging a wide left hook and ended up walking onto the end of a solid right hand to the jaw, leaving him unconscious, face-down on the mat. Varner’s twitter proclamation should then come as no surprise:

What better way to justify snatching defeat from the jaws of victory than to declare a post-fight ‘finish at all costs’ ethos. Going into this fight, it’s unlikely Jamie Varner would have chosen not only to lose, but to be the victim of a KO of the night finish. One suspects a “boring dec” would have been preferrable. Then again, the $75,000 in his pocket is a compelling argument to the contrary.

This is not to say Varner hasn’t thrown caution to the wind in the past, this was his fifth bonus under Zuffa employ, there’s little doubt that the former WEC champ would rather win a memorable battle than simply ease his way to a decision. The key word here though is ‘win’ – even the most exciting fighters eventually get cut without it.

In the co-main event, Alistair Overeem cruised to a unanimous decision win over former heavyweight champion Frank Mir, in a performance described by UFC president, Dana White as “crappy”. This is despite White coming out prior to the fight and admitting that it ‘appeared’ Overeem would likely be cut with another loss. Overeem did what he needed to do to stay employed: he won. And emphatically. ‘The Reem’ out-landed Mir by an overwhelming 139-5 in strikes, dropping Mir in the first with a knee to the face and dominating for the full 15 minutes.

So what was ‘crappy’ about this lopsided beating of a former champion? Was it that Overeem didn’t go in recklessly for the finish and tire, like he did previously against Antonio Silva? Or was it that he kept the fight where he wanted it – never letting Mir back in the fight, like he did Travis Browne? Or was he simply a scapegoat for a card that set a new record for decisions?

The UFC never cuts exciting fighters, at least not straight away. Leonard Garcia was granted a stay of execution after being assured “…there’s no way in Hell we’re cutting Leonard Garcia!” Eventually though, the goodwill ran out and Garcia was let go after a 5th consecutive loss. Dan Hardy was another to curry favour with the UFC for putting on a show with Lorenzo Fertitta stating in no uncertain terms “Will not cut Dan Hardy. I like guys that WAR!!!”. More recently, Bobby Voelker survived the cut despite going 0-3 by “moving forward and trying to win”. They don’t cut guys like that, apparently.

So where was this free pass for Overeem? In his previous 3 fights for the UFC, Overeem dismantled Brock Lesnar and lost two fights he was comfortably winning by looking for the finish. Two fights where, had he fought more cautiously, he could possibly have won. But he didn’t, he chose not to ‘leave it in the hands of the judges’ and where did this get him? One loss from being cut.

Perhaps it would simpler to get to the root of who gets cut: Are they worth what they’re being paid? Exciting fights or not, Overeem costs the UFC a reported $285,714 to show (per UFC 169) – considerably more than Leonard Garcia or Bobby Voelker. This is fine, so long as he wins, preferably in style.

For any prospective UFC fighters the message is very clear: If you want to keep your job, you need to put on a show but you need to win fairly regularly too (this is a sport, after all). Well, unless you put on such a show that they simply cannot cut you (this is entertainment, after all), but even that good grace only lasts for so long. So maybe consider mixing up the exciting fights with conservative wins, but no so conservative as to be ‘crappy’, that might undo the work you put into the previous fights. Oh, and ‘crappy’ is relative – what you might think is a clinical one-sided beating, could easily be dismissed as playing it safe. So remember to always go for the finish, but not so much that it costs you the victory, you still need that ‘W’. Maybe just negotiate for less money – you’ll get a smaller cheque, but more of them – though this will effect your leverage for future renegotiations (this is a business, after all).

On second thoughts, just be lucky.

By JJ Saddington – @JJSADDINGTON

Owner/Editor of SevereMMA.com. Writer, Podcaster, Producer of 'Notorious: Conor McGregor' film, 'Conor McGregor: Notorious' TV series, 'Ten Thousand Hours', 'The Fighting Irish' and more documentary films.

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