UFC has been cited as the fastest growing sport in the business, and it shows, both in its ugliness and its gracefulness. At times I glory at the skill displayed by the now growing roster of excellent champions like Jon “Bones” Jones’ flawless win over Rampage last night. I welcome the diverse yet effective styles that UFC champions like Cain Velasquez, Jose Aldo, and Anderson Silva utilize to win. When I watch MMA fighters of this caliber, it’s like watching a concert pianist or electric guitar soloist go H.A.M. with their instruments of choice. I can’t comprehend the mastery they have over their motions; the timing of their blows seem to require a whole other brain to understand the options and anticipations a mixed martial artist would have to consider when striking/defending. There’s just so much to consider, and I admire our current champions for making it look so easy to shoot for the legs, slip for a submission, or to simply have a good jab.
Unfortunately, I came here to also write about UFC’s ugliness in particular. Tell me how can one allow tired but respected fighters like Matt Hughes to continue to take fights? Did they expect that their fighters, with knockout bonus incentives, a multitude of sponsorships, gym alliances, and the need to promote themselves more than any other sport, would themselves say, “Hey, that’s enough for me.” I really don’t think you can expect fighters to act any other way when a sport is being transformed to a brand. After the Jon Jones win, Rashard Evans came into the octagon to “say a couple words.” What? Is this WWE? Do you guys really need to instigate beef before the fight is even announced?
In short, fighting as a sport is fundamentally individual. It’s unnatural to view the fighter as anything but a character. However, it’s one thing to build a character, but it’s another thing completely to force that character to play a role. I believe there is no place at for role-playing in fighting, and even Money Mayweather tires of playing the bad guy, and wants to be recognized as truly skilled. Arguably, it’s more evident in MMA where the fighters are under heavy discipline to maintain their bodies and their craft, and barely have words to say if any. Why force them into playing a role other than a fighter focused on his or her next match? Even Rocky Balboa knows that. Please UFC, leave the instigating out of the octagon.
No doubt about that, pre-hype press conferences and trash talking goes too far at times. I can see how fighters, in utilizing their strategy, can use pre-hype venues to execute physiological tactics to get under the skin of their opponent and their team. Mayweather proved the he will do what it takes, outside of the ring, to get to his opponent (i.e. having Victor Ortiz’s old trainer and old boxing friend Robert Garcia and Brandon Rios). But when fighters begin to act strictly as entertainers, we as a boxing/mma community need to revisit the sport and call out these imbalances.