In order to be a fan of Mixed Martial Arts, it’s necessary to limbo under the bar of what the majority of society would deem to be an acceptable moral base. After all, it’s an inescapable fact that at its core, MMA is the spectacle of two athletes bludgeoning and contorting one another with the aim of incapacitating their opponent. Whilst the sport has evolved greatly from its commercial inception in the 90’s, and taken huge leaps to safe guard fighters and prioritize fighter’s safety, it still very much resembles the sport that US senator John McCain labeled as ‘human cock-fighting’.
PED screening, rules limiting the implementation of strikes, concussion inspections and other advancements in safeguarding the competitors serves only to sanitize the inherent brutality of mixed martial arts. Whilst this aforementioned brutality may pose an ethical or moral problem for a prospective or more casual fan, there are a myriad of more complex and concerning issues that are apparent to some of the sports more dedicated followers.
Since its birth, MMA has been on the fringes of society in close proximity to a host of unscrupulous characters, many of whom have found refuge in and around the sport in a range of different capacities. If you’re an ardent follower some of the prior alluded to ‘characters’ will spring to the forefront of your mind, names such as Ramzan Kadyrov, Greg Hardy and Joe Son are likely to be amongst them.
You may know Kadyrov as the autocratic dictator of Russia’s Chechnya region who has used his status to persecute and torture homosexuals. In spite of these alleged human rights violations he has still been graciously hosted at UFC events including his cage side seats at UFC Fight Night 136 in Moscow. Another wholly unsavoury character who has felt the warm embrace of the sports most premier promotion is alleged domestic abuser and UFC heavyweight, Greg Hardy. Having fallen from grace in the NFL, Hardy joined the Ultimate Fighting Championship and debuted in a co-main event bout ahead of stalwarts of the promotion such as Paige VanZant, Joseph Benavidez and Glover Texeira who were featured lower down the card.
Speaking of UFC stars; Conor McGregor has been the promotions biggest and brightest star for several years now, overshadowing the sports contemporary attractions in the form of the light heavyweight and heavyweight division bringing significant mainstream relevancy to the smaller weight classes. On the back of his stunning K.O. highlight reel and terrific on-the-mic abilities, McGregor has been able to garner fanfare and acclaim from his fans, employers and rivals alike. Acclaim that has detracted from the repercussions he has felt for his litany of ‘extra-curricular’ activities away from the cage.
On the 5th April 2018, McGregor and a troop of his associates ran down a bus that was escorting his rival Khabib Nurmagomedov and proceeded to hurl a steel box cart through the window, sending shattered glass into the carriage and innocent bystander Michael Chiesa’s eye. The bus attack at the UFC 223 media day was by far the most gaudy of McGregor’s actions but it was not the first and nor was it to be the last example of his inability to contain his penchant for violence to sanctioned competition.
Just over a year after his astonishingly lenient sentencing hearing following the UFC 223 bus attack, McGregor assaulted an elderly man in a Dublin bar, ostensibly for refusing a glass of McGregor’s own ‘Proper Twelve Whiskey’. These two incidents would surely be enough to end the career of a lesser athlete but for MMA’s darling, it provided merely a bump in the road on the way to multi-million dollar endorsement deals. Had the public outcry and condemnation of McGregor’s actions been more fervent, it would be hard to imagine such endorsement deals would have been secured but as ever; it provided just another example of fans and promoters willingness to turn a blind eye to profane acts of violence and immorality in exchange for entertainment and monetary gain respectively.
These are but a few examples of the kinds of characters that are inextricably linked to the sport of Mixed Martial Arts and who directly profit from its sustained growth and success. There was a point in time where the MMA community was forced to reflect upon the brutal nature of its ‘unarmed gladiatorial combat’ configuration and re-assess the way in which not only the sport was presented but how it could reasonably protect the competitor’s health and wellbeing. A similar revelation regarding some of the unsavoury characters who exist within MMA, is far too long overdue. If this sport and its supporters are willing to overlook the alleged crimes of assault, domestic abuse, human rights violations but to name a few, just how heinous, how reprehensible an action needs to occur before MMA fans, as a community, will be willing to de-platform the offender or will any future transgressions continue to be juxtaposed against the offenders perceived ‘value’ to the sport?
MMA is in essence, a commercial endorsement of sanctioned barbarism, excused only by the guise of competition. It takes a certain level of willful moral ignorance to not only follow, but support such a sport, but to routinely excuse the deplorable behavior of some of the sports most principal figures with the knowledge that they profit from said support, requires an abject loss of morality. Every time an immoral act committed by a notorious MMA figure is forgiven or excused, it sets a dangerous precedent that has far reaching societal implications and the MMA community as a whole needs to come to the terms with not only this, but he peripheral effects their support of the sport plays in continuing to contribute to the prosperity of such transgressors.
Speaking out against such instances whenever they arise is a start, not buying PPV’s that platform transgressors is better but there is still more the MMA community can do to continue to ethically support the sport we love and that all begins with earnestly opening that dialogue.