Whatever works

So Portland lost in the second round. It was an anxiety-ridden affair. Washington did what they had to do to advance. It’s fine when I don’t think about it, but real misery when I do. The Pilots haven’t reached the Final Four since 2005. There were some amazing seniors on the team. Losing on PKs at home is bunk. It feels cruel, awful, and strangely so familiar.

Keelin Winters, Sophie Schmidt, Jessica Tsao

I’ve been watching a lot more boxing and MMA lately. I grew up watching boxing with my stepfather and practicing martial arts as a hobby. For combat sports, they are very different. This is something very obvious to anyone who’s followed either, but allow me to explain a little bit about the differences to those of you who might not be familiar.

Boxing might be considered the more pure of the two. There are basically two ways to win a fight: knockout or decision. (Yes, this is oversimplification. Indulge me.) Knockout is pretty self-explanitory: clean the other guy’s clock. He can’t stand up or defend himself? Fight over.

Decision is a little harder. You have to go the distance and you have to win enough rounds. To win a round, you have to punch clean, move around the ring well, be aggressive and still keep up your defense.

Plenty of title fights go the distance without a fighter attempting to really earn the belt away from the holder. Anyone who saw Manny Pacquiao’s fights against Joshua Clottey and Antonio Margartio knows what this looks like. You can’t luck your way into winning a fight by decision. You have to work, and if the guy you’re fighting has the belt you want, you have to take it from him. (The issue of taking a title is one we will have to revisit with the USWNT, but another time.)

Diaz vs Noons II

MMA fights can be won and lost like this. Nick Diaz is the current welterweight champion for Srikeforce. He recently defended his title against KJ Noons (who is WAY too pretty for a white boxer, but that’s neither here nor there). Diaz took what Noons could dish out. Noons managed to land punches, stay out of Diaz’ grasp and go the distance, but the question was: did he take the title from Diaz? It was obvious he did not.

While a mixed martial arts fight can be won in the same way as a boxing match, but it also introduced a new element: submission. Getting a fighter to submit involves putting them in a position (usually through grappling) where they cannot see an out; staying in the position would be costly. This is entirely unique to fighting: it means that one fighter can dominate for potentially a majority of rounds, but if they are caught in a split second, in any round, by a skilled grappler… game over. The fight can be lost in a single moment.

On the same night as the Diaz/Noons fight, one of my favorite upcoming MMA fighers, Sarah Kaufman, recently lost her title in a fight where she had to submit. She’s an amazing striker, and is usually crafty (or lucky) enough to work her way out of whatever trouble her opponents can get her in. However, in her last fight, against Marloes Coenen, she ignored the instruction of her trainers and found herself in an armbar. Moments before, she had Coenen on the ground, receiving her fists at a furious pace. Kaufman seemed primed for yet another knockout, but within a few seconds, she had to submit.

Kaufman in the armbar

As a fan of Kaufman, it momentarily felt unfair. As a fan of MMA, that it took so few seconds between Coenen receiving hard punches to the face and dishing out swift punishment of her own was stunning.

Soccer feels like it should be pure, that outcomes should be clear, but it is far more like MMA than perhaps any other sport. The game is not necessarily won by the best team, just as an MMA bout may not be won by the best fighter.  Soccer is described as the beautiful game, not necessarily the fair one. Great teams can be consistently dominant over a season. Smart teams do whatever works for them on the day. Washington did it. Teams will do it against North Carolina year after year.

A game can be stolen away so easily in the sport of soccer. It is incredibly hard to accept as a fan, but without defeat feeling this cruel, I wonder if victory can ever feel sublime.

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One Response to Whatever works

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Whatever works « The Cross-Conference Collector -- Topsy.com

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