Din Thomas, coach to UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley, has a bone to pick with MMA fans who just want guys to slug it out.
It’s something of a dirty little secret to fans, but sports are often pretty boring. For every home run there’s four innings of small ball. For every 40 yard touchdown pass, four punts out of bounds. One week it’s 38-32 Falcons-Saints, a week earlier it’s 12-10 Texans-Bengals. Show just about any sport out there to someone that isn’t all that familiar with it, and there’s as good a chance they’ll be yawning as there is that they’ll be enthralled.
Becoming a ‘fan’ often means investing yourself in the minutia of sports, while waiting for the really big, exciting stuff to happen. Knowing how the O-line matches up with the D-line, how this batter fairs against that pitcher, how interested a fighter is in checking leg kicks or stopping takedowns; those become points of interest between bigger moments.
Sometimes there are no bigger moments.
It’s times like that, when an athletic contest comes down to minutia alone, that the intersection of fandom and boredom really starts to get into trouble. What happens when even dedicated fans get bored? In the wake of Tyron Woodley vs. Demian Maia at UFC 214 Woodley’s coach, Din Thomas (himself a 9-fight UFC veteran), gave his feelings on sports and fandom during a recent interview with the Slip ‘n Dip Podcast (transcript via FanSided).
“Fighters fight within the rules and they fight to the best of their ability to win the fight. If winning wasn’t the ultimate goal of a sport, then why have a winner? Why not just have entertainment? Why not just have a fifteen-minute time limit and wait ’till somebody gets knocked out? But the reality is, this is a sport and you gotta do what you gotta do to win.”
That stance may hit all the logical notes in terms of trying to keep an athlete winning – especially one who has a title belt to lose if he gets sloppy – but that doesn’t mean that Thomas can’t understand why fans aren’t loving it.
“The one thing I understand with fans is that they vicariously live through fighters,” Thomas said. “In their own head, they see themselves as this warrior that would just go out on their shield, and they want to battle, and they want to be in these epic fights. These back and forth epic battles. They live vicariously through fighters.
“When they see a guy not going through that they automatically say, ‘This guy is boring. I don’t like that guy. I want to see a guy who’s willing to just stand there and take punishment because that’s how I would do it if I was a fighter, but I’m not tough enough to fight, so I want them to go through it for me,’” Thomas continued. “But the reality is, every fighter I know would fight like Floyd Mayweather…if they could.”
And his Floyd Mayweather point leads Thomas to some harsh words for exciting, fan-favorite talents out there. Mostly, the idea that fighters are often exciting because they’re not good enough to fight safe.
“Every fighter I know would fight like Floyd Mayweather if they could, but they can’t,” Thomas said. “The ones that really can’t, tend to be journeymen and they have to fight to entertain because they don’t have the ability to make it to that championship level. So what they do is they gain their fans by fighting for entertainment.”
Even if you don’t agree with all of Thomas’ takes – MMA has certainly had its share of entertaining championship level fighters – there’s something to be said for the idea that elite talents often become risk averse, especially once they win the belt. And more to the point, it sounds like as far as Woodley’s camp is concerned, that’s exactly the way it should be.