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Mixed signals of sportsmanship in Mixed Martial Arts

By Zach Arnold | November 5, 2011

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By Julien Solomita ( | @streetmadeteam)

The fire in the eyes of two opponents standing toe-to-toe and flipping through their arsenal of attacks to win a fight is the last place for amiability. Of course, it’s only just a sport and once the fight ends… the hostility usually does, too. For every fighter touching gloves for a ‘touch of respect’, there are fighters with smiles on their faces while trying to rip limbs off in submission holds. It can be confusing sometimes. Has MMA reached the crossroads when it comes to the age-old value of sportsmanship?

The fight business is also an entertainment business and the animosity between fighters is an unfailing approach in fight promotion. In the UFC, there have been many wild personalities that have clashed to produce some incredibly famous rivalries. Some of these feuds have been genuine to the core (Tito Ortiz and Frank Shamrock), and others resolve themselves once someone’s hand is raised. While UFC president Dana White knows that such drama can draw large crowds, sportsmanship is becoming increasingly pivotal in people’s perception of the sport.

Fight fans love watching the competition and rooting on their favorite athletes. They crave the energy inside the arena on fight night and invest all kinds of emotion into supporting their favorite fighters. Although there is pride in seeing two fighters show respect after a match, the fans understand when the two participants want nothing more to do with each other. On occasion, it feels like the line gets blurred when two fighters are hugging at the start of rounds and grinning between blows.

Welterweight Nick Diaz was unhappy with the entire situation that transpired at UFC 137 despite putting a historic beating on B.J. Penn. While venting at the post fight press conference Diaz touches on the subject of his connection with Penn and generally the nature of intra-fighter relationships.

 “If were going to be fighting we aren’t friends. Next thing you know Dana’s going to make us fight. That’s not what I want. That’s not good for the fans, I don’t want to see that either.”

These instances seem to upset many people and certain fighters are uncomfortable with premature endearment. Nick Diaz vocalizes on the topic as though he was thinking of these fights in particular.

“You make two guys that are friends fight and they go out there and give each other a hug and then go into the third round. What the hell is that? Nobody wants to see that.”

Diaz is an extremely emotional fighter who is often misunderstood, but he has a valid point here. He feels like respect only goes so far and that when the fight becomes too friendly, it impedes his mindset and gives a mixed message. It isn’t that Nick Diaz doesn’t want to be friends with these athletes similar in status or tolerate a wide array of graphic personas his rivals bring to the table… He just feels that the cage is not the place for this type of curious camaraderie and the fact that fighters “hug and then go into the third round” sends a rather peculiar message to spectators.

At Ultimate Fight Night Live 24, there was a hot bantamweight battle between Michael “Mayday” McDonald and Edwin Figueroa which showcased both guys at battle for the full distance. The non-stop action progressively drained both fighters until their gas tanks were both empty. As the third and final round started, they met at the center of the cage and hugged, then starting fighting again. At UFC 115 a similar situation arose when Mirko Cro Cop and Pat Barry lovingly embraced each other after a wild exchange. This quick moment of awkward embrace forces the audience to react to the blatant interruption. “What is he doing? Where did that come from?” Without the disruption of a hug, such great fights look a lot more like the TUF 1 finale where both Griffin and Bonnar held back their affection until after the final bell had resonated through the electric arena.

A pressing contributor to this growing issue of confusion in MMA sportsmanship are the fabricated feuds. With so many reasons for two fighters to dislike each other, the level of realism in rivalries varies. You would never expect Brock Lesnar to hug Frank Mir in the octagon nor would you Jon Jones and Rashad Evan and, yet, somehow one of these rivalries is largely more competitive than the other. When Rashad Evans hurt his hand and pulled out of his title fight, he vowed to never fight his teammate Jon Jones. Yet “Bones”, on a separate mission, earned the title shot. Disregarding Evans’ plan to not fight friends lit the fire between the Greg Jackson students. Jones did what all fight promoters advocate competing teammates do in this situation. First, he claimed he would [in a Sherdog Interview] “never fight Rashad Evans”, then quickly changed his mind by implementing the new mantra of just wanting to be the best. With such foggy distinction of real versus fake, what can we really make of the bickering between the two men?

Friendship is important for even the unlikeliest of fighters. For Nick Diaz, apparently fighting B.J. Penn tarnished the prospect of a companionship with the man. He released all of his pent-up emotions at the UFC 137 post-fight press conference.

“I had to fight somebody I know. I had to fight somebody who I might have been friends with some point in time. We could have trained together.”

The UFC has been home to some of the most memorable characters in sports. The electric, animated, and animalistic BJ Penn had just choked out Joe Stevenson in one of the goriest brawls in UFC history. Running around the cage on pure adrenaline, Penn began to slobber his foe’s blood clean off his leather war tools at the end of his fists, staking his claim as alpha male of the lightweight division.

Chael Sonnen continues his diarrhea of the mouth, a mouth which has no filter or shame in attacking anyone in the name of ‘entertainment.’ Claiming to be the people’s champion, declaring all Brazilians are incompetent human beings, or disparagingly snubbing anyone he pleases. Sonnen prides himself in using his wicked vocalization to (try to) get a fight.

“I want an easy fight. Anderson Silva, Wanderlei Silva. Either of the Silvas. Bigfoot Silva. They all suck.”

The mammoth heavyweight striker Junior Dos Santos is one of the most physically imposing men to be standing across the cage from. Outside the ring, Dos Santos’ true character manifests as a warm and lighthearted individual with a contagious, euphoric demeanor emanating that of a joyous 12-year-old boy. Which is, naturally, why the media doesn’t talk about him as much as they drool over Sonnen’s routine.

These emotionally entertaining humans that put on the gloves and fight for our enjoyment possess an ability that most of us don’t have. It is important for these crazy warriors to remain combative and not let their guards down for kind regards towards their opponent. Sure, the Nam Phan versus Leonard Garcia fights were exciting… but also a slippery slope. It starts as a high five and a smile, but soon enough becomes an awkward and unprofessional fight that many people feel shouldn’t take place on such a big stage. Leave the salutations out of fights and let it flow naturally. This is an introspective sport that delves into the raw emotions of the core of the participants. The cage is simply an eight-sided inferno. No time for games or stunts.

Topics: Media, MMA, UFC, Zach Arnold | 16 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

16 Responses to “Mixed signals of sportsmanship in Mixed Martial Arts”

  1. Andreas says:

    This is possibly the worst article I have ever read on any topic.

    “The fire in the eyes of two opponents standing toe-to-toe and flipping through their arsenal of attacks to win a fight is the last place for amiability.”

    Does no one proofread this stuff? It’s not just bad, it frequently makes no sense. This is awful.

  2. Steve4192 says:

    This reads like something you would find on The Bleacher Report.

    I am disappoint.

  3. Kyle says:

    That’s a lot of words to say “I don’t like it when fighters hug at the beginning of the round.”

    Also, Frank Shamrock is not Ken Shamrock.

  4. Jonathan says:

    Horribly written article Zach.I know you did not write it, but I felt that you should know.

  5. Stel says:

    That’s pure garbage.
    I thought I was reading about a pokeman card battle in that first sentence, I stopped reading when “writer” mistook Frank for Ken.

  6. Mr. Roadblock says:

    Unreadable article.

    On a different topic. I don’t hold fighters to a very high standard and don’t get too bent out of shape about the homophobic and other iditiotic statements they make.

    However, I know a bunch of you on this site like to keep up on that sort of thing. That’s why I’m surprised no one has mentioned this sexist, homophobic and moronic rant by Floyd Mayeather.

    Really trashy stuff from Floyd. Just embarassingly awful things he’s saying. And he’s getting schooled in the argument too by a disc jockey. The coup de grace is that he accuses the disc jockey of being a racist then calls him a slur that starts with F and rhymes with maggot.

    • Jason Harris says:

      When Floyd goes off, it’s just Floyd being an asshole. When someone in the UFC makes an off color remark, it’s ruining the entire sport. So sayeth most of the internet boards.

  7. Stel says:

    Gotta lol at rogans hype job… “overeem is the best striker ever in the ufc”

  8. Chuck says:

    I thought this article blew. Poorly written, and even a smidgen pretentious.

    “The fire in the eyes of two opponents standing toe-to-toe and flipping through their arsenal of attacks to win a fight is the last place for amiability.”

    “The cage is simply an eight-sided inferno. No time for games or stunts.”

    Ugh! Poorly written trash. If you want to try to sound clever and/or poetic, at least get a thesaurus ready. And what is wrong with fighters hugging? If allied soldiers and central powers soldiers can celebrate Christmas together during WWI, then who is to say that fighters can’t embrace before the beginning of a round? And don’t say “but they are two different things!!”, because I know they are, and war is a bit more serious than a prize fight. Oh, and you meant Ken Shamrock, not Frank (small tidbit, but still).

    And so what if some fighters like to clown around? Kazushi Sakuraba is the man (or was at least).

    “Leave the salutations out of fights”

    I find it very interesting that you are celebrating the more “animalistic” tendencies of some fighters (like mentioning Penn’s antics) while trashing fighters embracing each other, which is also animalistic if you really think about it.

    In all, this article just plain old sucked. Better luck next time man.

  9. Chuck says:

    All right, I will mention some caveats to my last points, that do favor Mr. Solomita’s points. If fighters come out and embrace, hug, etc. each other then that could lead to the two fighters respecting each other too much and the fight may look like a laid-back sparring session. That much is true. It has happened many times. But otherwise, what’s the big deal? Many fights the guys embraced each other like crazy and still beat the snot out of each other.

  10. Dave says:

    This is really a complete destruction in the comments unlike we’ve seen in quite a while.

  11. Jason Harris says:

    I wish these shitty “guest” articles would go away =\


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