Depending on how tuned in to the MMA Twittersphere you are, you may or may not have seen a conversation between Ariel Helwani and CBS College Hoops broadcaster Seth Davis yesterday morning. Davis let loose some inflammatory and somewhat degrading tweets yesterday concerning the sport of Mixed Martial Arts. Here are the tweets, that have since been deleted, credit to Black Sports Online for capturing them…
It was alarming to me how someone of such prominence in the world of sports could have such an uninformed opinion on the sport that I love. If you know me, you know that UConn Men’s hoops comes before damn near anything in my life, as well as my father’s (Case in point, we were up until 1 AM the last two nights watching the Huskies play in a tournament in the Virgin Islands, and unlike myself, the old man is the furthest thing from a night owl…)
We have watched Davis cover the sport for years and both agree that Seth’s opinion holds higher regard than many of the other talking heads that cover NCAA hoops. For him to possess the willingness to publish these tweets meant that he truly thought they were fit for public consumption and that his opinion may be akin to that of his 100,000+ followers. Regardless of his opinion on MMA, the use of the word ‘homoerotic’ should land the guy in hot water. We have seen guys like Kobe Bryant and Brandon Spikes catch heat for similar remarks and Davis should not be excused simply because he deleted his tweets. I implore him to show up to any Jiu-Jitsu, Wrestling, or MMA gym and refer to basic grappling as homoerotic and see what the results are. (I am not advocating violence, but I am sure there are a few guys that would educate Seth on the finer points of a few submission ‘techniques‘.) Kidding aside, even after he apologized to Helwani for the incendiary tweets, I won’t be able to look at Davis in the same light when I sit down to watch a college hoops game on a Saturday afternoon. He may have recanted his thoughts, but it still bothers me as a fan and supporter of MMA that some people are so uneducated about Mixed Martial Arts that they believe that it is still a form of, for the lack of a better term, ‘human cockfighting’. I could use this space to tear apart Davis’ argument about letting his sons watch boxing instead of MMA, but I will let the facts out there about brain trauma do that… Instead I will look at how we can change the minds of people like Davis, who think this sport is nothing short of a live action version of ‘Bloodsport’.
Two fighters, locked in a cage, fighting until one guy submits or gets knocked out. I get it, that premise sounds like a crappy movie from the ‘80s that Van Damme or Dolph Lundgren should have starred in (and by crappy I really mean awesome…).
The general public is not privy to the intense and devoted lifestyle that these athletes “locked in the cage” need to follow in order to reach the upper echelon of the sport. These fighters aren’t pulled straight from jails or dive bars and tossed into a cage and told to battle to the death. For some reason, it seems like half of the world still thinks they are. Many pundits, especially of the older variety, still describe boxing as the ‘sweet science’ and support prizefighting alongside cultural mainstays of football, baseball, and basketball. They then cast off Mixed Martial Arts as barbaric and overly pugilistic. These talking heads must not be aware of the calculation and intelligence that is required for someone to succeed in MMA. When the UFC signed a deal with FOX, I thought it would turn the tide and begin to expose the sport that I, and many others, enjoy to the masses. Sadly, the obstacle of people with opinions like Davis’ seriously impede the growth of the sport among the mythical ‘casual’ fan.
If you take a look at the two guys that were in the Main Event this weekend, Georges St. Pierre and Carlos Condit (and the two guys Davis’ was referring to) you couldn’t find better role models in MMA. GSP and Condit have both been martial artists since a young age. GSP got into Karate in order to defend himself against school-yard bullies, while Condit found an escape from the cruelties of low-income areas of New Mexico at a local MMA gym. Both men have trained their entire lifetimes for the bout that occurred on Saturday night. The two put on a performance for the ages as they attempted to gain the undisputed Welterweight Title. They pushed each other to their limits in order to achieve a goal of which only those two fighters, locked in a cage, could truly understand the importance of. For someone like Davis to discount the moment the two had as they left blood, sweat, and tears in the cage, as ‘two muscular bloody men in a homoerotic fighting pose’ is seriously disheartening to a fan of MMA.
How do we change the opinions of guys like Davis? The answer isn’t clear, but it begins with publicizing the stories behind the fighters in the cage. Sure, promising blood, knockouts, and broken limbs can draw a certain fan base, but that fan base is mostly made up of dudes that look like the ‘Let Me Bang, Bro’ guy and not of the educated martial artist or fight fan.
The UFC’s Primetime specials are wonderfully crafted and give the audience an ‘All-Access’ pass to the life of an athlete leading up to a fight. It really allows us to understand what these guys are like outside of the cage, when they aren’t fueled by adrenaline and fighting for their livelihoods. Some of Primetime’s high points have come when we have seen Frank Mir’s family in his gym as he trains, or when Junior Dos Santos’ showed his exuberant affection for the kids of his neighborhood in Brazil. If I were Dana White, I would be relentlessly campaigning for these specials to take up a time slot immediately following major sporting events on the FOX network. I would want to get as many eyes (especially those of fan’s of other sports) as possible onto a Primetime special that displayed the technique, skill, and intelligence of the best athletes the UFC has to offer.
As fans of MMA, we will never be able to turn every single sports fan out there into a UGer, but we should be able to work to gain respect for the sport we love. Davis’ tweets showed the ugly perception that MMA still has in the public eye. If I am out somewhere and there is a fight on TV and someone throws out a comment about MMA fighters being ‘Roided out D-bags’ or ‘Human Cockfighters’, I make a point to explain to them the legitimacy and skill of the guys in the ring. As exhibited on Saturday night, the sport can tell amazing stories when two guys go toe to toe in the cage. Sure, there could be a little blood spilled and a bruise here and there, but that all heals in time, but the fighter’s stories last forever in the minds of the fans. Tank Abbott and Art Jimmerson aren’t here anymore, we are left in the hands of guys like Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre, and I am sure as hell thankful for it.