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Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Sorry, Shamrock: No quick fix for lay and pray

By Chuck Mindenhall

There have been special rules in MMA bouts plenty in the past -- some eccentric, some prudish, some with allowances to do everything short of dipping knuckles in broken glass -- but the implementation of Ken Shamrock’s “30-second shot clock” to stand fighters when the fight “stalls” on the ground is unique. That’s one of the specialized rules that's been added in 47-year-old Shamrock’s fight with James Toney, set to take place in Texas come September. The object, says Shamrock, is to do away with lay and pray and make MMA -- which he says is already pretty darn good -- a better, more exciting sport.

“I didn’t come up with these rules because I'm fighting James Toney, I came up with these rules because I tried to figure out how to make MMA better,” he said in an interview with FightHype.com before his son Sean Shamrock’s fight in Reno, Nev. “I came up with the 30-second shot clock where, it makes guys, when they hit the ground, instead of laying and praying and waiting for something to happen, it forces them to initiate a submission move to try and end the fight sooner rather than tap, tap, tap and punch.”

Shamrock went on to assert that this new stipulation would solve bouts with problematic lay and pray specialists who whittle away rounds in dominant, inactive top position. This of course is intriguing -- many people hate the lay and pray aspect of the game, and wrestlers are often accused of being boring for making that a neutralizing centerpiece of their game plan. But modifying the rules for competitive aesthetics begins to make it less mixed martial arts and more specific martial arts (SMA).

Sometimes submissions take time to set up; same thing with ground-and-pound. Protective barriers sometimes take more than half-a-minute to get through, regardless if you’re standing or on the ground or levitating in the air. And while Shamrock’s idea might be onto something, ultimately it’s a shortsighted philosophy. Another way of dealing with the problem of lay and pray is the obvious one: evolve as an MMA fighter to find ways of getting up, or avoid getting taken down to begin with. Catering to what is essentially a fighter weakness -- no matter how rampant that weakness is -- becomes a dangerous trend.

In Shamrock’s potboiler fight with Toney, it’s an act of philanthropy to institute a 30-second shot clock rule. But in general, fighting is literally will against will, so why change things to favor the will that bends easiest?