By In Mixed Martial Arts

Fighting in the Age of Coronavirus

It all seems too strange to be real. Maybe it wasn’t real. Maybe Charles Oliveira didn’t put on his best all-around performance to date. Maybe Gilbert Burns didn’t become a legitimate welterweight threat. Maybe Renato Carneiro didn’t remind us why he was such a highly regarded prospect for so long. Maybe my social distance-addled brain just invented UFC Fight Night 170 in a fit of wishful delirium.

The Ultimate Fighting Championship no doubt wanted to make it feel normal. Upcoming events were plugged and previewed with the same built-in assumption of certainty. Fighters walked out the same as they always have, entrance music and all. Octagon announcer Joe Martinez still bellowed grand introductions for everyone, adding extra emphasis for the Brazilian hometown heroes, only for the sound of his voice to impotently ricochet around the empty arena. Commentator Michael Bisping reflexively ended a post-fight interview by telling someone, anyone to “make some noise!” A few times, you could clearly see a bug—a moth perhaps—flap across the cage in front of the cameras. Even a genuinely good and exciting UFC event was just another place with lights on…

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By In Mixed Martial Arts

A World Without MMA

The coronavirus and our subsequent response of shutting down as much as we reasonably can has, among other things, given us time to reflect and reason to question what is really essential in life.

Our animal needs have been met with the time-tested method of hoarding, though I would hope it’s not surprising to anyone that we still require the same basic elements of survival we always have. Instead, it has been more telling to see how we’re recalibrating one of our more evolved human needs: that of organized work, which may only be a need inasmuch as we’ve all tacitly permitted it to be. Still, how work is situated in a society reflects broadly shared values. Our gut impulse to buy industrial reams of toilet paper may also be a reflection—of our entitled and engorged nation or, more generously, how seriously we take our cleanliness—but how we reward and regard different lines of work says a lot more about who we are…

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By In Mixed Martial Arts

A Night of Returns

Part of the profound appreciation people feel for MMA is its openness to connection on multiple layers. A psychologist, physicist, philosopher, economist and poet could all watch the same night of fights and walk away either hooked or revolted in completely different and idiosyncratic ways. Not that we need to be experts at anything to enjoy the sport—though perhaps we would not enjoy it on as many levels as they do—but as fans, we can dip our hands as much as we’d like into as many of those categories as we’d like. Violence is large; it contains multitudes, and as such, there is something for everyone, from the Just Bleed Bros to the Political Poindexters.

In the same way, UFC 248 on Saturday was a night of returns. If the Ultimate Fighting Championship were still using ominous sounding titles for their events, UFC 248 “The Return” would have been apt before it took place. The way things unfolded during the fights and in their aftermath, however, only solidified that theme…

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By In Social Media

The Complexities of Grieving Someone You Didn’t Know

A push alert on my phone on Sunday notified me that Kobe Bryant died. It was morbidly appropriate: an impersonal message meant for countless people, sent directly to me on a personal device telling me that someone I had never met but felt like I knew was gone. I was in a glum funk for the rest of the day.

Basketball was my first athletic love, and it has been my longest. It shaped how I think about life and provided me with a perpetual sense of belonging. My earliest memories were of Michael Jordan, but by then, he was already established and nearing the end of his prime years. Kobe was the player of mygeneration. He wasn’t necessarily my favorite player, but he was one of them, and he defined the era that allowed me to feel like the game was also mine, not a loan or a hand-me-down.

I know that this is an MMA column and that Bryant was a basketball player. Though he was involved in some unique moments of the sport, his connection is larger and more essential…

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By In Social Media

On Fighters as Role Models

A bit from Dave Chappelle’s 2017 standup special “The Age of Spin” came to mind last week. A year before the standup special aired, Manny Pacquiao drew the ire of fans and sponsors alike by saying homosexuals were “worse than animals.” Chappelle called the comments outlandish, but then pointed out that a large part of the Filipino economy was composed of women working abroad and sending money back home. The men left behind, he said, were emasculated.

“And then, suddenly, a boxer rises from amongst them and reinstates their manhood with his motherf—–’ fists,” Chappelle said. “This is not the guy who you’re supposed to ask what he thinks about homosexuals. He’s not your champ.”

The punchline elides the fact that Pacquiao was running for a seat in the senate, so asking him about his stance on gay marriage was appropriate given the context; it’s not like someone randomly asked him in the gym what he thought about gay people after a few rounds of sparring. Yet there is still a resonant truth at the heart of the joke: Some people simply aren’t in a position to be a moral guide or clarifying voice on certain issues. Asking a religiously conservative professional fighter from a developing nation if he thinks gay people should be allowed to live a normal life is about as sensible as asking a mailman how to operate on a malignant tumor or asking a military contractor how to end a war. Nothing in their background allows them to find an answer worth hearing…

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