Mixed Martial Arts
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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 Mixed Martial Arts

An Ode to the Undercard

Ever since the first Ultimate Fighting Championship event in 1993, part of the inherent allure of mixed martial arts has been rooting for the underdog. This is not endemic to MMA—it goes back at least a few thousand years to David flinging pebbles at Goliath—but it is built into it in ways that are prevalent. Thanks to Royce Gracie’s scrawny feats of badassery, no other sport is as organically defined by smaller competitors defeating bigger ones.

However, cheering for the underdog is not solely a matter of betting odds, though that is its most obvious manifestation. To my mind, cheering for the underdog means cheering for the fighters of whom less is expected, the fighters who elicit less fanfare and attention in the run-up to the fight. The underdog-house, so to speak, is more commonly known as the undercard. The further down on the card you go, the bigger the underdog.

This expanded definition is not just a result of my affinity for the term “underdog-house,” fun as it is. There is also a demonstrable justification for it. Not only do the low-rung fighters typically make a literal fraction of what the headliners make, but they also get a lot less performance bonus love. For the Average Joes on the rise, that extra $50,000 is both a substantial multiplication of their fight purse and a perpetually unreachable achievement…

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By In Mixed Martial Arts

Low Hopes for McGregor’s Redemption

It wasn’t long ago when the MMA world seemingly hung onto every word flung out of Conor McGregor’s mouth. Witty retorts at press conferences became viral memes, Twitter jabs became top news stories and his wildest ambitions were trash-talked into reality. No one fought like him, no one was paid like him and he made sure everyone knew both of those facts every time he had a mic in his face. The only thing more insatiable than his propensity to talk about himself was the general public’s desire to hear him talk about himself.

McGregor was not the first to drop good one-liners—at pressers or online—and he certainly wasn’t the first to pursue a cross-combat superfight, though admittedly the Randy Couture-James Toney fight is about as comparable as Proper Twelve is to Yamazaki. What made McGregor different, however, was how he transcended the sport. His rise to stardom was a perfect storm of merit and fortune. His run from 2013-16 was sensational, no doubt, but it also occurred while the rest of the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s biggest stars faded rapidly from sight. Ronda Rousey retired ignominiously; Brock Lesnar’s brief return was a forgettable win that became a forgettable no-contest after his post-fight urine melted the test cup; and Jon Jones oscillated between legal trouble, USADA trouble and off-and-on performances in the cage. McGregor was arguably the biggest star in the sport even with those three in the mix, and in their absence, he was undoubtedly the face of MMA to the wider sports-viewing audience.

Yet things started to change after the “Money Fight” with Floyd Mayweather Jr. in August 2017…

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