Predictability or Unpredictability in a Dynamical System

In 2010, I had hit my predictive stride in MMA. After a couple years of watching the sport, I felt like I could pretty accurately assess and foresee how fights would go. I was still very green, mind you, but I always considered myself a quick study when it came to matters of human predictability.

The Strikeforce women’s bantamweight division was my specialty. It was where I felt my most confident. So when seasoned vet Marloes Coenen came along and armbared a then top-of-her-game Sarah Kaufman to take the title, I was not totally thrown. It made sense to me. The next logical step was that top prospect Miesha Tate would defeat Marloes to claim the title, and that would secure a highly anticipated rematch between Tate and Kaufman. I wrote the following tweet sitting at the long makeshift tables along the barriers of Strikeforce’s media section in the HP Pavillion. I remember the moment fondly. There were no retweets or favorites. It was just a girl and her intuition.

I keep thinking Miesha will beat Marloes and then Sarah will fight Miesha to get her belt back and then drama will explode into colors!

The first part of that prediction came true. We had gathered in an Oakland MMA gym, that also doubled as housing for some friends, and we watched Miesha arm triangle Marloes on Showtime. There was shock and awe in that moment. We all excitedly agreed that Marloes didn’t quite look like herself in that fight, but Miesha had capitalized at the prefect time. This was it. Drama would explode into colors, as I put it, and we would get that rematch. It would be an opportunity for Miesha to avenge her loss to Kaufman, but it would be from the other side of the cage now holding the title belt.

But then this thing happened.

A featherweight newbie out of SoCal bent Julia Budd’s arm in half and then proceeded to call out Sarah Kaufman ahead of the new Strikeforce bantamweight champ. As soon as I finished clutching my pearls and gasping with thoughts of, “well, I never!” I immediately went into defensive mode of my prediction. There’s no way Strikeforce was going to buy into the hype of this blonde vixen and derail my perfectly laid plans. Even so, there was no way this new foil could even win.

And, then she did. Ronda Rousey steamrolled through champ Miesha Tate bending her arm at her elbow in ways I hope to never see again. It didn’t make any sense. She proceeded to quickly armbar former champ Sarah Kaufman. She secured a deal with UFC and opened up a women’s division. Then she went through all my faves: Liz Carmouche, Miesha Tate (again), Sara McMann, Alexis Davis and Cat Zingano. (The Bethe Correia thing never made sense. Let’s not pretend it did.)

What was happening? How could I be so wrong? I had never been a fan of MMA math, but I was a huge fan of my own subjective logic.

And, it wasn’t just her. This Conor McGregor character was taking the same, perhaps even more boisterous and ostentatious, path. Dancer and model, Paige VanZant showed up just under legal drinking age and took out 3 legit competitors in a row. Teenager Sage Northcutt burst onto the scene with flips and a life of Karate and child acting and was offered a lucrative contract.

Experience and fortitude were no longer factors. So I hung up my prediction hat. I clearly had no clue how this world worked. Courtesy of the internet, I was told very often how true that was. It was a special time. One where the sport was being propelled forward faster than my little brain could rationalize. But it was true to life in the most visceral way. We spend most of our time in the grind, but our progress is often made in leaps. The tortoise doesn’t always win the race. The hares impressive victories are what we hold up highest as inspiration.

Ronda Rousey was now a household name that had changed the face of the sport. Conor McGregor had incited a nation and was breaking PPV records for the company. But it wasn’t meant to last forever. The moment burned bright and hot. It had run its course. It had done it’s job. MMA had achieved the next level.

In November 2015, Holly Holm knocked out Ronda Rousey, MMA’s biggest star, in the largest UFC venue in front of a record setting crowd. It was a fall worthy of her meteoric rise. Then in December, Rose Namajunas reclaimed her place in the strawweight division by a methodical destruction of rising star Paige VanZant. In January 2016, Sage Northcutt fell victim to what a lot considered an embarrassingly quick tap. In March, we saw Miesha Tate put Holly Holm to sleep with a rear naked choke and Nate Diaz halt Conor McGregor’s dominating ascent in the same fashion.

For longtime fans, there’s a sense of payoff that’s hard to explain to those attracted to the sport during that special, bright time. We feel rewarded in our patience, just as much as these athlete’s feel like they’re finally getting their dues. But, this too, is not built to last forever. New foils will emerge, and we will gawk and spout diatribes at the “unfairness” of it all. We’ll lose the rightful order, but we’ll gain a great momentum with those rule breakers. And, perhaps in our old age, we’ll learn to develop an appreciation for both the tortoise and the hare.

But for the moment, I can return to my predictions with confidence. The universe has settled and I can redraft my tweet.

Women’s MMA Roundup

I keep thinking Miesha will beat Holly and then Ronda will fight Miesha to get her belt back and then drama will explode into colors!

9:27 PM – 14 Nov 2015

Note: I actually said the words above on Periscope the night Holly knocked out Ronda, but don’t have the documentation. The title of this article was lifted from a Greg Jackson speech about the rhythm of combat.