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MMA Opinion: Quality vs. Quantity

Updated: Oct 30, 2023

Business self-help gurus say things like, “It is better to have $1 from 100 customers than it is $100 from one for the long-term health of your business.” Sounds smart enough. What about strikes in combat sports? Is it better to have landed a hundred scoring strikes or one significant strike? Obviously, the answer to this is going to depend on what arena the fight is in. In a sport where points are the thing, quantity is the guiding principle. But how about in MMA – where “damage” - whose definition is elusive - is the criteria?

Practitioners of various martial arts have been taught some version of what Bruce Lee exemplified and popularized in Jeet Kun Do about the distinction between speed and power. Speed equating to the ability to strike or deliver attacks and techniques so rapidly that their effect is seen in how fast they can successfully be employed. This of course means they are more likely to be too fast to defend and or too numerous to counter effectively so as to impact a scorecard.

With speed and quantity will also come cumulative damage if conventional wisdom holds true. You hear in fight commentary things like, “those shots add up,” or “those strikes will pay dividends later.”

On the other hand (is that a pun?) is the idea of power being the preferred tool. The one-punch knockout, or the devastating fight-ending leg-kick.

Where rather than trying to accumulate points or do damage on a progressive scale, there is the goal of a major consequence from a major effort. Macro vs. micro. Gross vs. fine. Instead of paying dividends, the idea is a big risk for a big reward. A one-time investment for the big payoff.

Any fight fan knows there are shades within these two ends of the spectrum.

A rare fighter like champ Alexander Volkanovski seems to have both tools, as was observed by the commentary booth in his recent title defense and third fight with Max Holloway. Also, there are the many times when a perfectly timed or placed strike from a normally volume-heavy striker lands and ends a fight. And there are the times when a known power-puncher has a match where he is more measured and meticulous as well.

Then of course there is the non-stop commentary from fans and media making sure we all know how that should or shouldn’t happen. The ubiquitous arm-chair expert is never going to let opinions be unheard. Speaking of volume!

The better coaches teach their athletes to figure out their own propensity and strengths. If someone has the natural hability to have high volume and output and the cardio to match, that will be a strength used to great effect. That thinking and style is why Michael Bisping is a champion. It might be argued that it was a knockout punch that won him the belt in his fight with Luke Rockhold, but it was years of high output that got him to that moment. On the other end of said spectrum are guys like Derrick Lewis who holds records for knockouts who thankfully has not given up that tool in favor of meticulous game planning and strategy. That is except for that one time with a current champion, in a fight that is not to be spoken of.

Fight psychology is fascinating. It is intriguing to hear fighters to speak of the worst strike received not being the one that hurts the most, but the one you did not see coming. It puts a seed of doubt in your mind. Jimmy Smith, former fighter and commentator used to speak of this when on the call for Bellator fights. There is a moment of hesitation in saying internally, “what just hit me.” It is very likely why the great talk so much about feints. To get that opponent to stutter. Speed is so valuable in that. Equally effective is the fear that a guy or girl standing across from you is known to turn the lights off. No matter how many times one might say, “Anything can happen. I am not afraid,” survival instinct kicks in.

Would you rather land a hundred strikes or a single one? Without question, most would say the fight-ending power-shot is preferred. But, go spend some time and watch highlights from fighters like Bisping or Nate Diaz. It is a wonder in some of those fights that the compustrike machine can even keep up. Yes, everyone loves a big homerun knockout shot. But not everyone is born with that power of a Dan Henderson or Francis Ngannou. There is a lot to be said for getting the conditioning good enough to make quantity a weapon. And we have not even talked about the same thesis in grappling! How about endless chaining together of submission attempts versus going hard and risking it all for one guillotine? Speed bags or heavy bags? Cardio or weightlifting? Quality or quantity? Lots to think about. It is not just striking where things can be done in bunches.

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