MMA will always have its naysayers. | Photo: Sherdog.com
As a whole, MMA fans can be a restless, nitpicky lot.
Even in times of great prosperity, we are constantly analyzing and dissecting our wonderful sport from every possible angle. Injuries decimate yet another a promising event? Fighters should shorten their training camps to promote good health, we say. A highly anticipated headliner turns out to be a disappointing dud? Well, maybe those same fighters need to up the intensity of their camps. After all, you can never underestimate the importance of staying sharp.
Pick an aspect of MMA today, and odds are somebody somewhere is unsatisfied with how it is being handled. One day, a super fight between Georges St. Pierre and Anderson Silva is all the rage. The next, we could not care less; GSP is too small to stand a chance, anyway. From our recliner, we fancy ourselves a promoter, trainer, manager and matchmaker all rolled into one compact, angst-laden package.
And you know what? That is a good thing. We critique because we care. If you are reading this, you probably have more than just a passing interest in MMA. Maybe you have a monthly budget solely devoted to pay-per-view purchases. Maybe you insist that a UFC event begins not at 10 p.m. ET but some four hours earlier, when the first preliminary bout hits Facebook. Or maybe you have a social life severely inhibited by live streaming of the Super Fight League, Cage Warriors Fighting Championship, Road Fighting Championship and everything else in between.
At any rate, you are invested in the sport, and with that investment comes passion. When Chael Sonnen attempts to besmirch the good name of jiu-jitsu -- “I don’t work submissions. Even if I thought I could get a submission, I’m not laying underneath a grown man with my legs spread on worldwide TV,” he once said -- it is taken with a grain of salt because he is one of the most outspoken members of MMA’s extended dysfunctional family, a group that includes fighters, fans and media alike. To us, the self-proclaimed “Gangster from West Linn” has a right to speak his mind because, no matter how infuriating his opinion might be, he cares as much as the rest of us, if not more.
However, when an outsider attempts to get his jollies at the expense of something he knows little or nothing about, that dysfunctional family unites.
Seth Davis is one of the most recognizable personalities covering college basketball today. That fact is indisputable. The man can debate the merits of an NCAA bubble team like nobody’s business, but when it comes to MMA, Davis has all the insight of a babbling teen-age girl at a Justin Bieber concert.
“Looking on news sites showing picture of two muscular bloody men in homoerotic fighting pose...Sorry, I’ll never get this MMA thing,” Davis wrote on his Twitter account early last week.
Why exactly was Davis perusing an MMA photo gallery in the first place? The answer is probably pretty straightforward. Thanks to the presence of St. Pierre, one of the promotion’s biggest draws, UFC 154 was the type of event that tends to bring the casuals out of the woodwork. GSP equals mainstream exposure, and perhaps Davis felt compelled to emerge from his hardwood bubble to see what all the fuss was about. And perhaps it was the very images from a memorable battle between St. Pierre and Carlos Condit that made Davis uncomfortable.
“Maybe I’m a prude on this but I’m also a dad. I don’t mind my sons watching boxing, but I wouldn’t want them watching an MMA bout,” Davis continued.
Forget for a moment that Davis’ remarks were insensitive and homophobic. That is bad enough by itself. Our culture does not encourage openly gay athletes, but they are just as likely to exist in basketball -- the sport Davis covers for a living -- as in MMA. Davis says he does not want his sons watching MMA. Of course, that means participation is entirely out of the question. Davis is right. It is probably better not to expose his offspring to the type of discipline and fitness encouraged by a mixed martial arts lifestyle. For Davis, who has been known to dabble in stand-up comedy, last week’s tweets were probably nothing more than flippant remarks designed to get a laugh and some attention. Most of his 100,000-plus followers on Twitter are not there for his UFC musings, but it would not be surprising if more than a few feel exactly as he does when it comes to MMA.
So Davis took his cheap shot and paid for it, as everyone from Ariel Helwani to Tim Kennedy called out the basketball analyst for his thoughtless comments. Family can insult family, but Davis is nowhere near family. Davis apologized profusely and later deleted his tweets, but do not expect him to add the Best of the Pride Fighting Championships box set to his Christmas list.
People vested in MMA often say that is the fastest-growing sport in the world, but that statement is inaccurate and trite. The sport is still growing -- if it were not, there would be no Fox deal for the UFC -- but it is not exploding past the NFL, MLB or NBA, either. More people accept the sport than did 10 years ago, but others remain firmly entrenched in the Davis camp, even if they do not share his exact sentiments.
I know this because I worked in a newsroom for six years. In print media, MMA is only grudgingly accepted, and many in that environment still believe “ultimate fighting” is something kids do at bars on weekends. When someone is killed or injured and a UFC event just happened to be on in the background, you can bet a copy editor is going to make sure “MMA” makes it into the headline, relevant or not. Every sport has its detractors. They say that football causes brain trauma; NBA players are disinterested; baseball takes too long; and the list goes on.
MMA still has its naysayers, as well. We just have to appreciate the passionate, still-growing group that makes it a point to correct them whenever ignorance rears its ugly head.