Since the fallout of the so-called “Fight of the Century” between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather due to how the latter won, which drew minimal amount of excitement in the actual match compared to how much hype it created, I had to finish writing this post sooner than planned. I had planned to talk about cheese and unpredictable play first, but it seems that lame play is more in vogue at this moment, so here’s a look into it from different angles.
Playing “lame” means taking a safety-first approach to the extent of not letting your opponent have a significant chance of fighting back. The use of the adjectives “lame” and “boring” stems from the lack of action due to one-sided exchanges, usually with the aggressor not being able to mount a successful offense against the “lame” player.
This could be either due to a near-perfect static defense, a hyper-mobile evasive defense, an offense from a distance that prevents the opponent from closing in, or a combination of any or all of the three. These different styles of lame play can be seen in various forms of competition; the examples I will illustrate are from those I’m most familiar with.
NOTE: The use of the word “lame” is used not necessarily to denigrate those being associated with it, but merely to describe their style of play as understood in gaming parlance.
I’m not a true expert in either combat sports, competitive gaming, or ancient history. The following are merely observations and second-hand knowledge gathered over the years.
If I got something wrong, please notify me in the comment section below. Thank you.
Lame is Good
Before illustrating the different examples of lame play, may it be known to all who may have come across this article that the author condones lame play if the goal is to win, unblemished by other sentimentalities. If you want to win and you have to play lame to do it, then do it by all means (but without breaking the rules of the game).
If it boils down to laming it out, it’s like a bitter pill to swallow if it’s not your preferred way of winning, but it must be done. Playing lame is not equal to disrespecting the game; not playing to win is (as well as outright cheating).
“A common call of the scrub is to cry that the kind of play in which one tries to win at all costs is “boring” or “not fun.” Who knows what objective the scrub has, but we know his objective is not truly to win. Yours is. Your objective is good and right and true, and let no one tell you otherwise. You have the power to dispatch those who would tell you otherwise, anyway. Simply beat them.” — excerpt from Playing to Win by David Sirlin
Of course, this is the most relevant as of this posting. Bear with me as there’s a lot here to go through; I have been a boxing fan since I was a kid, and I got fairly serious in the mid-2000s. Thanks to the Internet, I got to watch hundreds, if not thousands, of boxing matches. Same goes for kickboxing, MMA, submission grappling, and even sumo wrestling. I may not be that good of a martial arts student, but at least I can say that I know a bit about stuff like this (although I had to stop being too much of a keyboard warrior in online threads).
In a sport where the objective is to punch the opponent until he goes down or the final bell is rung, you’d think that everyone who steps in the ring should always go forth and duke it out. Unfortunately, reality bites as not all problems in the world, much less in boxing, can be Rocky Balboa’d to a hard-fought solution. For some competitors, this means laming it out.
NOTE: There is plenty of talk about how such super-defensive boxing is killing the sport, and I do agree with that assessment. But for now, let’s look deeper into the topic at hand.
Floyd Mayweather is the very definition of “lame,” and it suits him quite well. He is both evasive and tactical, which is mostly due to his Philly Shell — a guard that lets him defend most of his face and body when used right and lets him counterpunch off a shoulder roll, which can then be coupled with rope-a-dope and head movement to lure opponents into throwing combinations that he can block and dodge while loading up a straight right or left hook to counter.
His near-perfect defense gave him his former monicker of “Pretty Boy” due to being able to keep his face spotless after most of his fights. He accumulates a lot less damage compared to his contemporaries, thus potentially letting him sustain a longer career. Despite being 38 years old (and being a bit slower), he was able to avoid significant damage against Manny Pacquiao and get the decision win (much to the chagrin of many many people).
With Pacquiao in particular, he also utilized clinching and distance to break up the Filipino fighter’s rhythm, which was certainly the right strategy for keeping a known swarmer at bay. Since the usual bane for counterpunchers are swarmers, he had to use extra caution as to not get caught in the middle of a trademark Pacquiao barrage.
Since he was fresh off two rough fights against Marcos Maidana, he was more comfortable being up against yet another aggressive fighter with a relatively similar game plan. As boring as “The Fight of the Century” turned out, it wasn’t close at all. Unfortunately, he had to lame it out to maintain the undefeated record that was built up by being lame in the first place.
Other known users of the Philly Shell are Adrien Broner and James Toney. One of the fights that first made me a fan of boxing back in the day was James Toney’s heavyweight debut against an over-the-hill Evander Holyfield, who he practically toyed with before Holyfield’s trainer threw in the towel at the 9th round.
However, not all defensive boxers use the Philly Shell, and not all of them are “lame” by strict definition. In fact, some of the greatest defensive boxers were quite exciting to watch. Muhammad Ali himself was certainly a big draw. He pioneered the rope-a-dope strategy that he used to defeat the favored George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle, which could then be argued as “lame.” However, he was more of an evasive counterpuncher in his prime who dazzled the crowd and confused his opponents with his quick reflexes and sharp counters.
The same can be said about the likes of Nicolino Locche and Pernell Whitaker, as well as Roy Jones Jr. during his prime. They would just bob and weave in and out of punches to make their opponents look silly, which doesn’t look lame or boring in most cases.
A defensive boxer whose career was shaped by his “lame” style of boxing was former undisputed light-middleweight champion Ronald “Winky” Wright. He was a defensive tactician who was good at frustrating his opponents, letting him beat the likes of Shane Mosley, Felix Trinidad, Jermain Taylor, and Fernando Vargas. He was not spectacular, but he would take control of fights against anyone who couldn’t figure him out and slowly chop them down. His win against Felix Trinidad was a good example of this.
Then there’s Bernard Hopkins, who had been a world champion as late as 2014 at 49 years old until he was felled by Sergey Kovalev. In a world that values youth and athleticism, “The Alien” puts technique and strategy above all else. As a master of ringmanship, he would use just about every trick in the book to keep opponents from finding their rhythm and range, which is more or less considered “lame” in boxing terms. Bad Left Hook has an extensive article on his fighting style.
Things get a bit more complicated when kicks are involved. I don’t know many of defensive kickboxers who are said to be lame due to the dynamic nature of the sport. Only one name stands out in particular here.
Giorgio Petrosyan is said to be lame, so much that executives in K-1 (when it was still owned by Fighting and Entertainment Group) had an aversion to watching his matches because they usually don’t end in a knockout. But if you are a hardcore fight fan, it’s hard to not appreciate his mastery of the game that gave him the monicker of “The Doctor.”
There was also the Muay Thai legend Samart Payakaroon, but he did have some remarkable displays of brilliance. I don’t know if he could be counted as “lame” per se, but he certainly didn’t fight like most other nak muay. Despite that, he was really good, having become a 4-time Lumpinee champion and a 3-time Thai Fighter of the Year. He then brought that style to boxing, where he became WBC Super Bantamweight Champion in 1986.
Mixed Martial Arts
The epitome of “lame” in MMA is what’s known as “lay-and-pray,” which is a fairly derogatory term for a fighting style that consists of taking the opponent down and assuming top control for the rest of the round, then rinsing and repeating in the subsequent rounds. Naturally, high-level wrestlers employ this if their ground-and-pound or submission game isn’t good enough against their opponent. Basically, if you’re a lay-and-pray fighter, you dry-hump them until next Tuesday to the boos of the crowd (because it’s pretty fucking boring).
Tito Ortiz is a well-known example of this archetype. He fought during a time when there weren’t that many high-level wrestlers in MMA, so he would take his opponents down and press them up against the cage to better control them and keep them from getting back up while he rained down blows whenever he could. Of course, he couldn’t take down Chuck Liddell — a sprawl-and-brawl counterpuncher who started out in wrestling and then trained in Hawaiian Kenpo under John Hackleman.
Georges St. Pierre is said to have adopted lay-and-pray once he realized that he had a natural talent for wrestling. He a gifted athlete who was trained in Kyokushin Karate by his father since childhood. He already had great striking capabilities and was one of the most well-rounded fighters in the sport. He then had to defeat the likes of Matt Hughes and BJ Penn, both well known for their grappling acumen.
Having tasted defeat as a champion thanks to Matt Serra, he opted for a safer style by utilizing takedowns and top control to win most of his subsequent fights. Unfortunately, he then met Johny Hendricks — an accomplished NCAA Division I wrestler with serious knockout power. He won that fight by decision, but was worse for wear and had to stop fighting for at least a long while.
“Funky” Ben Askren is perhaps the best modern example of lay-and-pray. He’s a contemporary of Johny Hendricks, having competed against him in their college days. His move to MMA was hyped up by Sherdog, which was how I got to follow him right from his debut. He is by far one of the most talented fighters I’ve seen when it comes to holding another guy down to the ground.
Unfortunately, his fight against Luis “Sapo” Santos — a 70-fight veteran with a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt and potent striking — showed a chink in his wrestling armor. He couldn’t take him down and the fight ended in a no-contest after an unfortunate (and allegedly deliberate) eye poke. That fight also happened here in Manila, which is why I’m kind of thankful that I didn’t go to see it.
As you can see, the weakness of the lay-and-pray strategy is any opponent who has good enough defensive grappling ability to defend takedowns and/or escape from inferior positions. If that opponent just happens to have good striking, he can then take you out standing and you have to either take it from there or find some other option if you actually have anything else left.
There is another fighting style in MMA that audiences may see as lame and boring, which is the clinch-heavy grinding style employed by the likes of Jon Fitch. The aim is to take the fight to the opponent, which is usually a good thing, but this is more on staying close in the clinch and slowly wearing him down. You can attack whenever you can, but the point is to maintain dominant position as much as possible. It’s fairly static and usually leads to decisions, which aren’t very entertaining.
Other examples of fighters who employed this style are Matt Lindland and Yushin Okami (during his UFC tenure). The good thing about this style is that as long as you’re well-conditioned and a good wrestler, you can become a very consistent performer with it. Unfortunately, most audiences want fireworks, and this style is the opposite of exciting.
The word “lame” as the colloquial term for so-called “cheap” and “boring” style of play comes from competitive gaming, mainly in fighting games. However, you may apply it to other types of games as well to describe how they work and look like.
For fans of tabletop games, it’s a lot like playing full control Blue in Magic: The Gathering — just about everyone else hates Blue other than the Blue player himself.
The usual character archetype seen as “lame” is the keep-away, which is what it says — maintaining distance from the opponent in order to whittle him down with ranged attacks. Many of the so-called lame characters in fighting games follow this mold, but it’s not exactly the same as zoning, which is also about maintaining distance with ranged attacks but more for controlling space rather than primarily dealing damage from far away.
Since it’s hard to get close to a keep-away character, it can be said that it’s lame since it seems unfair, especially to unexperienced players. In Street Fighter, Dhalsim is the classic keep-away character who uses Yoga Fires and his elongating arms and legs to poke away at opponents. The character has been known as Kryptonite to Ryu, especially in Street Fighter IV.
Daigo “The Beast” Umehara himself has fallen victim many times to good Dhalsim players such as Arturo “Sabin” Sanchez and Ryan “Filipino Champ” Ramirez in recent years. For those who don’t know who Daigo is, just search “EVO Moment 37” or just “Street Fighter Full Parry” to see what was perhaps one of the greatest moments in gaming history.
Filipino Champ is known as a villain in the Fighting Game Community (FGC) for his welcome attitude to the audiences’ boos and jeers, as well as his scientific approach to fighting games. He’s a Dhalsim player in Street Fighter IV, despite not really playing the game that much. He’s most well known for his success in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, being a one-time EVO champion back in 2012 with his Magneto/Doom/Phoenix team, with Phoenix switchable for Dormammu in crucial moments.
Here he is at his best, keeping his opponent at a distance in the Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 Finals at EVO 2014 in the first video and beating Daigo in the second video.
Chris G is said to be the most hated man in the FGC because of his infamous Morrigan/Doom team in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. His Morrigan is the stuff of nightmares, throwing Soul Fists everywhere to keep opponents at a defensive. In UMVC3, one hit confirm is all that’s needed to put a character away with a combo, so his Morrigan/Doom combo is incredibly frustrating to both watch and play against.
Suffice to say, there are many ways that a character can be boring in fighting games. While characters with quick ranged attacks are usually the culprit, there are many other kinds of characters that can be lame in their own way.
Here are Chris G and Dieminion in a panel called “The Art of Lame,” explaining the origins and developments of the lame style of play in fighting games and how they use it to full effect in their own way.
Camping in multiplayer first-person shooters is quite lame, especially in free-for-all. But if it’s in team-based shooters like Counter-Strike, having a sniper in your team who can sit there and pick off opponents from a distance is pretty much a necessity. Of course, if a map just happens to have a really good camping spot, it’s not that fun to play in unless if you’re the camper.
There are certain items and weapons that tend to be lame due to how they can sap the fun out of their respective games. For instance, the grenade launcher in the Call of Duty games (a.k.a. the Noob Tube) potentially takes out whoever gets hit both directly and by the splash damage in one shot, making it a lame weapon.
There is actually an instance of lame play being used to save an entire civilization, although it was to the chagrin of the people of that civilization at first. During the Second Punic War, Hannibal Barca and the Carthaginians were almost there at the gates of Rome after having won battle after battle against the Roman army, who had tried to fight with sheer military might and not much else since Rome was hungry for swift retribution.
Enter Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus, the elected dictator of the Roman Republic who was charged with driving Hannibal out. After much thought and study, he realized that facing the Carthaginians head on at this point was tantamount to suicide; Hannibal had inflicted devastating losses on the Romans due to his skill as a general. He then devised a novel plan to fight them, one that the infamously blood-thirsty Romans absolutely hated.
He realized that the Carthaginians had two distinct weaknesses. They were on soil foreign to them, so their supply lines were extended. As long as Rome’s allies in Italy remained loyal, then Hannibal’s chances of winning were actually slim. Second was that most of the Carthaginian army was composed of mercenaries from Gaul and Spain who were only in it for the money and for their hatred of Rome, but that also meant they weren’t that loyal to Hannibal. Being mercenaries, they wanted to win battles quick and brutal so they could pillage, which meant they were not equipped for a long campaign.
This meant that the best thing to do was to buy as much sand for the hourglass to eventually turn the tide to their favor. So instead of attacking head-on in pitched battles, he had the Roman army shadow the Carthaginian army, taking superior positions wherever they are but without directly engaging them. Meanwhile, small detachments would be sent to attack Hannibal’s foraging parties and convoys to disrupt their supply lines. It was effectively an early example of guerrilla warfare, which most of Rome found to be cowardly (or lame).
Fabius’ authority would be challenged due to not winning any battles on a large scale, so he would be replaced by Gaius Terentius Varro, who led a huge army to what’s now known as the Battle of Cannae — one of the most legendary battles in history. Suffice to say, Hannibal won that in brilliant fashion and Varro’s larger army was effectively crushed. After this and many other defeats before it, the Romans learned their lesson and proceeded to utilize the strategy Fabius was using.
This has come to be known as Fabian strategy, which had been subsequently used by the likes of George Washington and other generals to help the few win against the many. Eventually, with the help of Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus (who I tend to call “Skippy”) and his victory at the Battle of Zama, Hannibal was recalled back to Carthage that effectively brought an end to the great threat upon Rome. For his great contributions to the defense of Rome, Fabius was given the apt cognomen of “Cunctator” (The Delayer).
Mind you, the biggest blunder there was Hannibal’s lack of intent to actually conquer Rome, but that’s a whole different topic of speculation altogether. To this day, Fabian strategy is taught in military schools all around the world. It may not be glorious, but this lame strategy has been proven time and time again to be effective whenever it was needed the most. It even shaped the world we live in today; it would have been way different if Carthage had its way.
For a more fleshed-out and entertaining breakdown of this epic part of world history, please watch this video series by Extra Credits.
When Lame isn’t Lame
Aside from actual war, there are fields of competition wherein the supposed “lame” style of play is tolerated, and sometimes even encouraged. It’s mostly due to the nature of that particular game, most of which tend to be attrition-based where putting defense on the wayside in favor of a quick win looks foolish and feeble.
StarCraft is a great example of a game that advocates a safety-first approach. While the more dynamic and aggressive players do get favorable coverage, the StarCraft community in general encourage games that are based on macro — an approach that is more about accumulating assets for a late-game offensive rather than attacking early and having little to no assets to work with if it fails. As often quoted by StarCraft commentator Dan “Artosis” Stemkoski, “When ahead, get more ahead.”
In StarCraft: Brood War, players like Nal_rA are known for being defensive. As for StarCraft II, the one that really comes to mind is Rain (the Protoss player, not the retired Terran player). They typically defend against their opponents’ attack first, then counterattack while piling on the advantage.
In chess, yet another game of attrition, there are so-called boring styles of play that many people aren’t that interested in. Away from the dynamic aggression from the likes of Garry Kasparov and Mikhail Tal are the more defensive styles of Tigran Petrosian and Anatoly Karpov. Even the current world chess champion Magnus Carlsen is accused of being boring for “playing like a computer” — making little to no mistakes as a priority.
Karpov himself is one of the most famous proponents of prophylaxis (not the dental procedure), a style of play that seeks to severely punish the opponent’s mistakes. A well-known description of his playstyle is likening it to a boa constrictor that tightens around the opponent and squeezes him until he makes a mistake, then strikes back with extreme prejudice.
There must be others out there where lame isn’t really lame, but most of them tend to seem dry for casual viewers due to its emphasis for safe and steady play over haphazard offense. That’s why the likes of chess and other such games aren’t exactly games that you’ll see on mainstream live television, but at least they have a place online for those who are interested.
As you can see, this article got pretty long. I could have put in a lot more, including examples from professional chess and many other forms of competition, but I wanted to keep it within the confines of the two things I know most about — combat sports and martial arts.
The desire to win is straightforward and consistent behavior, while the loser’s claim of some moral victory is neither trustworthy nor sporting. The best thing from a loss is the lesson, and claiming some lesser form of victory not only cheapens it, but can make it void and null through the unrepentant nursing of one’s wounded ego. When you lose, let your ego lick its own wounds. It does need you, but you don’t need it.
The lame style of play is a deep expression of that “win at all cost” mentality, born from the desire to achieve nothing less than victory right from the start. It’s not to say that doing what’s fun is secondary to winning, but a lot of people do find winning fun in the first place. To discount this point of view is to disrespect the spirit of competition and the game as a whole.
- Playing to Win – Introducing… The Scrub (Sirlin.net)
- Playing “Lame” (Shoryuken Forums)
- What’s the difference between zoning and keepaway? – Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 Forums (GameFAQs)
- Fabian strategy (Wikipedia)