Violence gets a bum rap.
Treated as a hideous, aberrant beast run amok, it is the scourge of humanity. Assuredly, on any piece of ground on this entire globe, you could never ask someone “Do you like violence?” and get a sincere, affirmative “Yes” without suspicion of that person being a sociopath. There are desk calendars and motivational posters littered with quotes by everyone from Gandhi to Chomsky, characterizing violence as the inhumane refuge of the thoughtless brute, championing a world where the politic of contemplation always triumphs in some cosmic sense over the politic of confrontation.
These people know nothing about true, beautiful violence, because they are not mixed martial arts fans.
MMA offers the best kind of violence possible. Principally, it’s mutually agreed upon; there are typically no innocent bystanders hurt in its fury. However, just as crucially, the sheer depth of techniques available in MMA -- a standard cross or a leaping roundhouse kick off the cage, a snappy guillotine or a flying scissor heel hook -- offers us a true sense of spellbound wonder. It gives us a glimpse of what is athletically possible for one to achieve in combat against another, as well as a stark look into what one’s body can withstand.
Unfortunately, MMA fans, for all their bluster, are a timid bunch. The controversial, politically charged history of MMA created a climate in which the sport’s violence needed to be deemphasized in discourse. In the face of political opposition, the MMA public likes to simply boast of how “skilled” its athletes are and of the sport’s respect and discipline. However, those skills are violent skills. Discipline and respect are necessary functions of its brutal core. People have convinced themselves that, because MMA is not the gladiatorial fight-to-the-death its decriers imagined, it is not violent at all. It is violent, passionately and brilliantly so.
I have watched MMA for going on 12 years, and I am still consistently blown away by the brilliant ways in which high-level fighters can ideate and actualize physical harm against one another. I know I am not unique in my feeling, only in my outspokenness. I know others feel this way, because it is the same fire that was stoked so extravagantly by Anthony Pettis’ mind-blowing kick on Benson Henderson a few weeks ago. That kick caused the MMA world to collectively embrace and celebrate the fundamental difference between this sport and any other.
Thus, I am inspired to reclaim violence for the better. We are entirely too bashful as fans. We applaud a vicious knockout or submission, but act as though the sheer physical risk and toll involved play no part in our thrill. It is all the more absurd in this current era of MMA, an era in which the level of offense has come so far from the sport’s earliest days.
And so, this is the first All-Violence Team, and this is its simple mandate.
What MMA fighters offer the kind of scintillating, highlight reel offense that we so crave? Who produces knockouts and submissions that catch our breath and captivate us, though we never dare say, “How [expletive] awesome was that?” too lustily, for fear of being labeled barbarians.
The All-Violence Team behaves in a similar way to other sports all-star teams. Every weight class, from flyweight to heavyweight, is represented, with each weight class having a first, second and third team. The fighter who demonstrated the most shining examples of violence in competition during the calendar year is considered All-Violence First Team.
Does this list glamorize the most lamentable part of the sport, by championing those who can hurt other athletes in shocking ways? Perhaps, but I would argue that it shows a reverence and appreciation for the scope of MMA’s techniques. Furthermore, recognizing their potentially harmful consequences only reaffirms how truly valiant MMA’s athletes can be.
One might also think this concept would disproportionately reward strikers, discredit the ground game and help cement the notion that people only want to see toe-to-toe action in the cage. However, the greatness in MMA violence comes from the fact that it happens everywhere. A fighter in hot pursuit of a flying submission or viciously elbowing his opponent into submission from full mount is just as valid of an exemplar of MMA’s extraordinary violence as the one-hitter quitter on the feet.
The All-Violence team does not necessarily reward great fighters, though there is crossover. Some of MMA’s pound-for-pound elite are brutal in their execution. Others simply are not potent offensive fighters. Structurally, it is most similar to the NBA’s All-Defensive Team or John Madden’s long-running All-Madden Team, which honored players who exhibited the kinds of idiosyncratic skill and toughness Madden beloved. This list rewards a specific kind of skillset that, regardless of a fighter’s overall accomplishment, signals his successful appeal to a specific truth about MMA that we all love, whether we admit it or not.
Ezra Pound wrote, “The modern artist must live by craft and violence. His gods are violent gods. Those artists, so called, whose work does not show this strife, are uninteresting.” Where others miss the point, Pound understood. It is no surprise he was a real fight fan.
Continue Reading » Page Two: First Team