If knockouts and submissions are the climax of an MMA fight, then judge’s decisions are the blue balls of mixed martial arts. The excitement persists, but there is no release. Decisions turn concrete evidence of superiority into subjective observation, left in the hands of often under-qualified judges. And while certain fighters, legends like Georges St-Pierre and Jose Aldo, have turned point fighting into an art unto itself, middleweights Brad Tavares and Tim Boetsch, who square off at UFC Fight Night 47, do not fall into that esteemed club. And they need to start finishing fights. Pronto.
Tavares, a Hawaii native who made his way into the Octagon as a member of the The Ultimate Fighter season 11, is a likeable athlete, a fresh-faced kick boxer who charges forward with the whole stand-and-bang mentality. He seems to always be down to slug it out on his feet, but why then has Tavares not finished a fight in three-and-a-half years?
To his credit, Tavares did rattle off five straight wins inside the Octagon between 2012 and 2014, but that succession of decisions did very little establish his prowess as a feared 185-pounder. Adding to his woes, Tavares suffered a brutal beating in his last outing, dropping a violent affair to Olympic silver medalist Yoel Romero, a man ten years his senior, via, you got it, decision.
The senior’s circuit has actually proven to be the only place Tavares can elicit the stoppage. His lone Octagon finish came over an aging Phil Baroni back in 2011, and while Tavares has never been knocked out or submitted in professional competition, it’s tough to see any killer instinct in his game.
Boetsch, the lone Maine native on the upcoming Bangor card, suffers from a similar case of finishing dysfunction.
A wrestler and a brute who relies on takedowns and ground and pound, Boetsch never seems to be able to posture up in the guard to unleash enough punches and elbows to stop his opponents. Sure, he finished Yushin Okami (another decision-prone fighter) with strikes, but that was in 2012. What have you done for us lately, Boetsch?
The answer to that question is not pretty. Since his victory over Okami, Boetsch has gone 2-3 inside the Octagon, losing to Costas Philippou via ground and pound, and to Luke Rockhold via a picturesque inverted triangle kimura, making his contest against Tavares all the more compelling. But even if he wins on Saturday, will a grinding decision do much to bolster his reputation as a lay-and-pray humper?
Both Tavares and Boetsch have the skill sets to crack the divisional top 10 at some point soon; however, there is something missing from their games, and without those killer, finishing instincts, they may be relegated to the also ran category, or worse. They could find themselves designated for reassignment.
With the UFC regularly adding top talent to its roster, more and more, fighters need to prove their worth inside the Octagon. And sometimes, winning just isn’t enough.
Look at the aforementioned Okami, or Jon Fitch, or Jake Shields. All three mixed martial artists were quite successful with the promotion, all three fought for UFC gold at one point in their careers. But all three were point fighters and averse to finishes, and were cut from the roster at the first opportunity.
Sure, a penchant for decisions and boring styles were not the only reasons behind the Okami, Fitch, and Shields, firings. All three commanded relatively high purses to compete, which clearly was a part of the criteria. And while Tavares and Boetsch earn significantly less than these three former title challengers, they have still yet to find a fan-friendly fighting style that will ensure job security.
Perhaps Tavares and Boetsch are afraid to lose, afraid to jump in the fire and get close, fearing that they might suffer a knockout or get caught in a submission. But think of the types of fighters that the MMA world continually praises and gravitates toward. Fighters like Nick Diaz, Donald Cerrone, Robbie Lawler, Matt Brown, Vitor Belfort, and Cub Swanson all have more than a handful of losses on their professional records; however, no one cares because they bring flash and grit and unrelenting pressure into the Octagon, determined to finish their opponents at all costs.
There’s never anything wrong with a win in MMA, it’s the ultimate goal. But sometimes, without a stoppage or a decisive finish, victory is lukewarm, and Tavares and Boetsch need to come to this realization, stop being so milquetoast, and end each other.
Check out these related stories:
The Mixed Martial Arts of Victorian London
Before BJJ, there was Bartitsu.
Jonathan Maicelo: The Last Inca
Peru's up-and-coming boxing star.
Kron Gracie on Jiu-Jitsu, Skateboarding, Older Brothers, and Famous Fathers
The ties that bind are strong.
Joel Tudor on the Art of Surfing, Fighting, and Style
A surf icon helps MMA keep its sense of tradition.
Japan's Karate Kid: Kyoji Horiguchi
Japan's brightest MMA prospect.