UFC’s Era of the Dominant Champion
When I began intensely watching the UFC several years ago, I started during what I like to think of as the Era of the Dominant Champion. The sport was loaded with individuals we thought of as borderline invincible. And we tuned in to see if there was anything that could ever stop them.
There were iconic figures like Anderson Silva, who would knockout fighters while toying with them in the ring like they were small children. And George St. Pierre, who many to this day think of as the greatest fighter to ever live.
And of course there was Ronda Rousey, who blasted her way through opponent after opponent in seconds. She was a trailblazer, and I’ll never forget the day her match was bumped up to the main event. I stood in the back of a sports bar and watched her maul some sorry Brazilian chick in 34 seconds. That day changed the face of Mixed Martial Arts and sports in general. People love basketball… but no one seems to care that women play basketball too… However, there was a three-hour wait to get seated at Buffalo Wild Wings that Saturday evening.
Air of Invincibility
There were others who didn’t necessarily deserve their air of invincibility, but it was there nonetheless. Who could forget when Cain Velasquez sent Brock Lesnar spinning out of control to the ground, humiliating that monster of a human being? And how do you not get excited when Mr. Wheaties himself, Anthony Pettis, runs up the side of the cage to deliver the most exciting kick in MMA history?
We tuned in to see these legends win in spectacular form, and we tuned in to see if there was anyone who could lay a finger on them.
UFC’s Trash Talk Era
But all the mighty fell. Some fell hard. Some decided to step away. Others couldn’t keep up with their own lifestyles, and their fall took place outside the ring.
While the unbeatables were getting defeated, other transitions were happening. The UFC was sold for billions of dollars. The way fighters presented themselves was quickly becoming as important as their talent in the ring. And a few key individuals discovered that if they can hop on a microphone and dazzle audiences with their voices, this had the potential of transforming their careers. And just as importantly, this could translate into massive financial gains for the fighters.
And thus the Era of Trash Talk began. Fighters would lay harsh verbal criticisms upon one another, and they’d get everyone’s attention. And we’d watch the fights more intrigued than ever before. It became like one gigantic testosterone-laden soap opera… and we couldn’t look away, not even for a second.
Problems with the Trash Talk Era
Now there were and are a few problems with this new era:
Some fans are purists. They don’t care for the theatrics. We choose to watch real athletes participate in true competition. If we wanted to watch pro-wrestling, then there is certainly plenty of that to watch as well.
Despite that many of us would like to believe otherwise, MMA is still up and coming. It is still worlds away from the popularity of sports like football and baseball. And it is arguably quite imperative that those running the show recognize that whereas all this drama is great for getting attention and quick, enormous paydays, for the long haul this might not be what’s best for the development of the sport.
Antithetical to Martial Arts
Others might inherently dislike the concept of trash talk. They might think it is antithetical to what martial arts is supposed to be. We all have that mental picture embedded in our minds of people bowing respectfully to one another before a match. Thus, watching two grown adults criticize one another on stage could be very uncomfortable for many of us. We thought we left all that garbage behind in high school.
Not to mention the fact that entertaining trash talk is a slippery slope. Before you know it, people are saying hurtful and offensive things absolutely no one wants to hear. It could stay playful and fun for only so long. Eventually the camel’s back will break, and after that, mayhem ensues.
Lousy Trash Talk
Finally, although some fighters truly dazzled audiences with their antics, others made and continue to make us squirm in our chairs. Their words are ridiculous or the fighter looks uncomfortable. Some feel like they’re reading a script or they’re just forcing a persona in order to get more attention and make more money.
And they might get attention. And they might generate ticket sales. But they are doing nothing positive for the image or longevity of the sport. Ultimately, they are just making the whole industry look silly. If you don’t have the microphone skills, don’t bother. Just do what you’re good at, and entertain us with your skills in the ring.
UFC’s Respect Era
A recent fight ushered in the current era: The Respect Era.
But it all happened on the coattails of one of the darkest moments in UFC history. A phenomenal fighter, Khabib Nurmagomedov, defended his title against the most famous and one of the most controversial fighters in the world, Conor McGregor. In the lead up to the fight, McGregor was relentless with his taunting, crossing lines repeatedly as he insulted everything from Khabib’s father to his religion.
And a stoic Khabib just looked on.
Until the dominant fight was over. An infuriated Khabib leaped out of the cage and got into an altercation with one of McGregor’s training partners. Members of Khabib’s team stormed the ring and attacked McGregor, and pandemonium broke loose. There was almost a terrible riot.
And everyone went home with an uneasy feeling in the pit of their stomach.
The Hug that Changed Everything
Fast forward to Khabib’s very next fight. After yet another dominant performance, Khabib once again launched himself into the crowd… and ran over to hug the president of the UFC.
His opponent, Dustin Poirier, is as nice as nice gets. After each of his fights, he sells his fight gear and donates the proceeds to charities. Shortly after the hug that changed everything, Khabib put on Poirier’s t-shirt and dedicated himself to selling the gear. Khabib ended up donating over a hundred thousand dollars to Poirier’s charity. And the UFC president decided to match the donation, as well.
And thus high-profile kindness and respect pushed years of venomous trash talking to the side. We enjoyed the theatrics for a little while. It brought needed attention to the sport. But we’re ready to return to watching athletes doing what they do best.
The Respect Era is when we know that everyone in the ring is just doing their jobs. Those who excessively try to draw attention to themselves are mocked and shunned. And we can’t wait to see how these two incredible performers react after one of their hands are raised. Their characters and well-being are as important to us how much they’ve entertained us that evening.
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