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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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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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Climate Change Is Sabotaging the World’s Most Dangerous Canoe Race

Only three canoes dared to put in for the first Molokaʻi Hoe in 1952. The race was not yet the spectacle it would become more than 50 years later. It’s the Super Bowl of canoe paddling and a staple of the Hawaiian sports scene in which over 1,000 participants from across the planet compete in the more than 40-mile race from Molokai to Oahu. But the Molokaʻi Hoe — pronounced ho-eh, so that it almost rhymes with “boy” — has always been extremely dangerous. The treacherous Kaʻiwi Channel has been locally infamous for a lot longer than the Hoe has been internationally famous. Kaʻiwi translates to “the bone,” a reference to the collection of human remains strewn across its depths. Just a few miles down the coast from the Molokaʻi Hoe’s finish line, corpses of fishermen and sailors regularly washed ashore from Kaʻiwi’s torrents.

Completing the Molokaʻi Hoe is a man-versus-nature feat that has inspired risk-taking athletes for centuries; it also imbues the race with special local heroism, the bravery that inspired ancient Polynesians to explore their vast oceanic horizons thousands of years ago. The Hoe is no less daunting in 2019, but it has also become something else in recent seasons — a crucial example of how climate change is affecting our world…

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When Risks Pay Off

It’s no secret what the Ultimate Fighting Championship wants out of its fighters. If the BMF title didn’t illuminate it enough at UFC 244 on Saturday, just watch a few episodes of Dana White’s Contender Series and see who nets a UFC contract. Hint: It’s not the fighters who employ careful, strategic game plans and walk away with lopsided unanimous decisions. The promotion wants action, which is to say, it wants fighters to take risks.

This is not just an in-cage thing, either. The fighters for which UFC President Dana White and Company are looking are not the ones who take strategic bouts against hand-selected opponents, but those who will fight anyone at any time. For all the UFC’s efforts to sanitize mixed martial arts into something palatable to general sports fans, what it really wants it to be is action-packed violence, not strategic athletic competition. This isn’t subtext or insinuation, either; White is pretty explicit about it. Still, a lot of fighters opt not to take big-risk fights for that very reason: They’re risky. In a sport as inherently risky as MMA, it makes sense to control the risks you take as much as possible. However, the fighters who took the largest risks at UFC 244 in New York ended up as the biggest winners…

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Lightweight’s Best-Case Scenario

I don’t recommend paying any sort of attention to my fight predictions. I don’t gamble, so my picks are always low-stakes. As such, I tend to make them using one of two criteria. Either I have a strong analytical reason for thinking one fighter will win, or I would simply prefer one fighter to win, even if I don’t think he or she will.

I picked Justin Gaethje to beat Donald Cerrone at UFC Fight Night 158 on Saturday in Vancouver, British Columbia. He fulfilled both criteria. His penchant for working the body and Cerrone’s history of wilting via body shots made me think he’d finish the fight, and frankly, it was the best-case scenario for the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s lightweight division. That’s not a dig on “Cowboy.” He’s one of the most widely beloved and uniquely intriguing fighters in the sport’s history. He’s not only entertaining but also incredibly skilled. No doubt, he’ll go down as one of the best fighters to never win a championship — emphasis on that last part.

Had Cerrone won, it would have added a new dimension to his already remarkable career. The old dog would have proved that he still had bite, or something. Yet there’s no denying that he’s past the point of being able to compete with the top of the division. He already lost decisively to Tony Ferguson, and it’s not hard to guess what Khabib Nurmagomedov would do to him. Throw in Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor, and it’s clear he’s a notch below the best of the best. At 36 years of age, Cerrone’s window for winning a title is almost certainly closed. Beating Gaethje wouldn’t have meant he was ready for the lightweight elite; it just would have meant that Gaethje wasn’t, either. That may be a sad reality to accept, but there’s a bright side: Gaethje won…

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