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The Trouble With Jorge Gurgel

(Round 1. Rounds 2 & 3 are after the jump.)

Maybe you missed it, but Sanchez/Guida and Lytle/Burns weren’t the only good fights on TV this weekend.  At Friday night’s Strikeforce Challengers event Jorge Gurgel and Connor Heun slugged it out for three rounds in a bout that seemed mediocre on paper but wound up being the highlight of the Showtime broadcast.  

If you pay attention early on, two things become very apparent: 1) Pat Miletich is the best fighter-turned-color man/technical analyst that there is, and 2) Gurgel is still committed to being the ground guy who chooses to stand and bang in an effort to entertain fans and “please promoters,” as Stephen Quadros puts it.  That’s at least in part of what got him bounced from the UFC (okay, really it was losing fights, but that was a symptom and not the disease) and yet here it results in him having the fight of the night.  It makes me wonder, is Gurgel, for better or worse, a fighter crafted by the sensibilities of fans and promoters?  And if so, is that necessarily a bad thing?

If you’ve ever attended a live MMA event you’ve probably noticed that the most vocal crowd members are rarely there because they’re hoping to see jiu-jitsu at its best.  Even in the modern age of MMA where casual fans tend to be fairly well-educated about the ground game, a good portion of the ticket-buying public is still there for the knockouts and the beer.  Not that there’s anything wrong with either.

(Round 2)

But Gurgel has become a fighter who basically plays away from his own strengths, often to his detriment.  Fans and promoters want stand-up action and he gives it to them, even when it would be a better idea not to.  He’s a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt who hasn’t submitted anyone in an MMA fight in over four years.  Some of that is due to the increased quality of competition that he’s faced.  But some of it, like the decision loss to Aaron Riley in his last UFC bout, is attributable to his single-minded focus on trying to be a kickboxer. 

(Round 3)

That seems problematic for those of us who don’t want to see MMA gradually become kickboxing with small gloves.  For years we’ve been telling detractors that the great thing about the sport is the variety of techniques and skill sets in play, though at the same time it’s the "Ultimate Knockouts" DVD’s on display at Best Buy.  It’s easy to see why and how it happens that a guy like Gurgel changes his style.  Over the years he’s become a pretty exciting striker.  The fight with Heun was almost validation for the losses he suffered against guys he should have beaten. 

Then again, Heun’s not known as a great stand-up fighter himself.  So has Gurgel turned himself into the kind of fighter who can put on an impressive striking display against the Connor Heun’s of the world, while also becoming the kind of guy who gameplans his way into a “Fight of the Night” defeat against the Aaron Riley’s?  

Maybe so.  But in sacrificing a few wins in order to produce more exciting fights, which is also what guys like Chris Lytle and, at least in recent years, Wanderlei Silva have done, he’s managed to keep himself somewhat relevant.  He’s given people what he thinks they want, and he’s been both rewarded and criticized for it.  But whatever he’s become, it’s hard not to think that we’re the ones who are partially responsible for it.  For better or worse.


Cagepotato Comments

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BallPtPenTheif- June 23, 2009 at 2:44 pm
Gurgel depresses me. American MMA is devolving into a closed inner circle of world class grapplers who put on shitty boxing matches in order to get paid.

If a real world class striker tries to take a piece of the pie they all smother and cover their ass until they leave so they can get back to their masochistic whoring.
Scott- June 23, 2009 at 10:18 am
Because Huen is also a bad ass on the ground. He's a brown belt but a really good wrestler.
ben- June 23, 2009 at 9:04 am
@ Nut Puncher: Sorry, been dealing with technical difficulties all day. The article is back up now.
Nut Puncher 9000- June 23, 2009 at 9:02 am
Where the fuck did that Arlovski Arti go? I went to read more and now its gone like the Joker's pencil.
cwr- June 23, 2009 at 7:45 am
You have to agree that Gurgel has a point CP. The majority of MMA fans love stand up wars. Not only that but they hate grappling wars. The Diaz/Stevenson bout was a grappling classic but a mere glance at the comments on this site after the fight will tell you that many people did not enjoy it. It baffles me but it is just the way things are I guess.
bobzemuda- June 23, 2009 at 5:29 am
You know, I always liked Gurgel, but I do wish he's used some of his BJJ to
A) get some easier wins and
B) entertain those of us who enjoy a technical ground game.

When the fight briefly went to the ground in I think the second round, and Heun had him in a slightly compromised position, he grabbed Heun's ankle, immediately swept to the dominant position and, instead of capitalizing on it, he stood up. I couldn't fucking believe it.

Also, the reason people are getting away from the technical ground game, I think, is because of all the strong wrestlers who win via door mat. Nobody wants to see that, and so any kind of ground game immediately gets called into question.

Take for example the Diaz/Joe Daddy fight. Several people think it didn't deserve fight of the night, but the reason it got it, I'd think, was because of the technicality of the ground game. But nobody seems to care, and I call those nobodies bastards.
Clyde- June 23, 2009 at 5:20 am
I'm all about jiu jitsu but i can appreciate it's not always going to be a thrilling fight when both guys now how to counter (or more appropriately, stifle) submissions. Still, while I did enjoy things like the Lytle/Davis fight, I can't help but wish that when someone got a knock down, they followed them to the ground and tried to finish it one way or another.

What percentage fights ruled as KO/TKO end in a clear, one punch, out before they hit the canvas knockouts? Maybe 5-10% of those (sub 1% of total fights I'm sure).

I can appreciate that you want to win. People didn't like Joe Stephenson out wrestling Diaz, but what were his options? Stand and trade with a guy with a 6 inch reach advantage, loose and get a new job? There's a wise tactic for you.

It is MMA. I like knockout too but "casual fans" can fuck right off and watch kickboxing if that's what they like.
Walrus- June 23, 2009 at 2:14 am
Hats off to Gurgel for sticking to his priniciples -- for better or for worse.

deadflag- June 22, 2009 at 11:11 pm
dan quinn spotted. stevia forever! jorge, join the pound a month club and watch your game increase six hundred percent. its pure math, brother!
willum- June 22, 2009 at 11:08 pm
I would waaay rather see a 3 round stand-up brawl then a first round submission anyday!!!

gurgel is the man
NECROPHYTE- June 22, 2009 at 10:22 pm
Gurgel just showed the reason why he was bounced from the UFC. He's not a closer.
Maitreyan disciple- June 22, 2009 at 10:05 pm
Gurgel, should step up and go to the Vagos clubhouse to engage in a standup war with Maitreya. The attention he will bring stevia will result in him being retired a millionaire. If Jorge wants to bang all he has to do is call 916 475 7856 and ask for Dan. If someone knows Jorge or he reads this please have him check out Poetwarior41 on youtube. PEACE!
One Two- June 22, 2009 at 8:12 pm
I think gurgel just uses that "trying to be exciting" as an excuse he either aint good enough on the ground, cant get it there, or knows the other guy will beat him on the ground, which i think heun would've. good jiu jitsus just as exciting, more exciting in my opinion than stand up.
KidDinomite- June 22, 2009 at 7:29 pm
I see where the article is coming from. There are definitely entertaining ground battles but the thing is, more often than not, it's just a guy sitting on another guy, or a guy taking down the other guy for three rounds. Now the problem here is, the UFC and from what I've seen, all the American promotions give points for takedowns. So with that mentality, you get fighters that are content to lay on the other guy, ala Brock Lesnar and Clay Guida.

I've said this before but they should do away with points for takedowns and give points for using the takedown to get to a better position like in Dream. They should also slap fighters with a yellow card and a 5-10% pay cut if they don't capitalize and try to end the fight. That would make for more entertaining fights and less sitting there doing nothing if their pay is on the line.

Also, people who want to see knockouts aren't gonna be swayed by a technical ground fighting match. Those people want to see gladiatorial combat and not two guys rolling around on each other. It's really hard to change their minds either
SSTT- June 22, 2009 at 6:28 pm
Nice Analysis. All you have to do is come out swinging and try to get Fight of the Night Bonuses, 'til you get dropped.
Wanderlei has one more payday. Stephenson should still get dropped.
C-Bus Allstar- June 22, 2009 at 6:12 pm
Another well-written, well-supported, EXTREMELY relevant article. Damnit Ben, keep this shit up and this'll be the only site I read for MMA.
Perma- June 22, 2009 at 6:01 pm
I was there live and we were chanting take him down the entire fight....

Dante- June 22, 2009 at 5:57 pm
Gurgel is the man. he's dumb for not taking it to the ground though.
831 Son- June 22, 2009 at 5:44 pm
Wow whats up with the nut-hugging of Pat Miletich? Not that sick of a commentator...
agentsmith- June 22, 2009 at 5:41 pm
Let's get down to brass tacks here and ask the hard questions...

Is it correctly pronounced "Jorj" or "Whore-Hay"?
Wade- June 22, 2009 at 5:23 pm
I think he needs to get submitted to get his mind back where it needs to be....Oops that already happened....Don't know what to say then.
Emopinata- June 22, 2009 at 5:21 pm
SO WHO WON!?!? doesnt say. anywhere. lol
Young Vagabond87- June 22, 2009 at 5:19 pm
gurgel is an idiot though. what would make a guy want to stand when he has a stellar ground game. he obviously wants to get brain damage from the amount of punishment he's taking.
Cookie Monster- June 22, 2009 at 5:04 pm
the eyebrow shaving has got to go
Eddi- June 22, 2009 at 4:52 pm