May, 2020
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By In Mixed Martial Arts

The Trouble of Selling Tragedy

It’s hard to not be moved by the documentary feature used to promote the UFC on ESPN 8 main event between Harris and Alistair Overeem. It depicts the bond between father and daughter blooming throughout each other’s lives over the last 15 years. She was a pillar of support for him when he struggled early on in the UFC and, cruelly enough, was violently taken from him in the middle of a career high. “According to court records, Aniah fought back and reached for the gun before she was shot in her car,” the documentary narration says. Harris, with tears in his eyes and trembling in his voice, echoes and embodies her struggle at the end of the video: “It’s not about fighting for me anymore. It’s about fighting for her.”

Yet something about the whole package felt uneasy. It was stirring and hopeful and powerfully told, all of which made it especially strange as fight promotion. It definitely did not put me in the mood to watch a sport where the most celebrated conclusion is an abrupt facsimile of death, and it did not make it easy to watch “The Big Ticket” get helplessly stretched out and mounted, flailing limply with nothing but a single hand covering the side of his head while he took punch after punch. They clearly weren’t going to knock him out but were nonetheless landing at will. Setting up Harris’ triumphant return and then watching him lose the way he did just felt bad. The real victory—that he returned to the cage at all—ended up lost in the noiselessness…

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By In Mixed Martial Arts

Risk and Consequence

After the initial adrenaline and utter delight of UFC 249 subsided, the first thing I felt about the fight between Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje was a kind of sadness. Here was Ferguson, possibly the most talented lightweight in history, on an unprecedented 12-fight winning streak and suddenly on the receiving end of a brutal and flawless Gaethje beatdown. More than any injury or any of the seemingly countless bout cancellations with Khabib Nurmagomedov, this loss obliterated the hopes of a super showdown between “El Cucuy” and the reigning champion. Even if they do eventually fight, it will never carry the same gravity as it did when they were both on record-setting runs through the sport’s toughest division.

In hindsight, perhaps Ferguson should never have taken the fight with Gaethje and instead waited for Nurmagomedov. Two things, though: (1) That doesn’t seem to be who Ferguson is as a man or as a fighter, and (2) hindsight is only ever useful when a risk doesn’t pay off. Had he won, he’d be lauded for his gutsy willingness to fight whoever, whenever, even in the middle of a pandemic. That’s how the gambit works: Win and get extra glory, or lose and bear the extra weight of regret…

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