August 31, 2009 by David Gillaspie
Most of us like sports that don’t change faces.
Tom Brady takes his helmet off after a season ending knee-bender and still looks great. We like our LeBron to towel the sweat off his face and look into the camera.
Look, it’s LeBron.
We don’t get that from mixed martial artists.
MMA guy wipes the blood and sweat off and looks into the camera with his ears poking out sideways, his nose bent, his eyes bruised. Even the winners take a good beating. MMA fighter at the top level doesn’t look anything like he used to look. His sport changes his body and face.
It frightens us.
We don’t like mangled faces in a sport where the winner looks like he got the beat-down. It’s confusing. We don’t like a sport where some sneaky Pete takes a beating until he finds a way to clamp onto an elbow and bend it until the other guy taps out.
A man named Chael Sonnen had a big fight, a career changing fight. He was ahead and kept attacking. His opponent caught him and reefed on his arm. Chael beat the mat in pain but didn’t tap out.
The ref saw it differently. Chael was giving up his arm for the win. He’s an articulate young man with clear eyes and a sturdy frame, but he’d cripple himself to win.
That scares us. That scares everyone. Would we go that far for our job?
We like our sports. We like food. We like drinks. But we like it our way.
Portland, Oregon has a tradition of great beer. You’d find the best you’ve ever tasted without looking too hard, but would it be as good if it was served by a desperate drunk coming off a three week bender?
There’s something equally off-putting about a five hundred pound chef cooking an organic meal of fresh food and wishing a hearty bon-appetite. Too much good food and good drink can and does turn bad.
Is it the same in athletics?
We like sports that don’t transform participants into grotesque caricatures. We get frightened. We can watch a game then throw the football in the yard, shoot a basket in the driveway. Can we watch UFC then hustle to the backyard octagon?
Catch a football and you become Larry Fitzgerald for a moment. Hit a long shot and you feel like Kobe floating one in. There’s nothing that imitates an MMA moment, nothing we can get a grip on, but we still think we’re tough.
We talk the talk but there’s no way we’re getting into that octagon. No one you know is getting in either. That doesn’t mean you can’t respect the guys the same as you respect other athletes. You don’t have to like fighting, and you might wonder if the guys doing it even like it. You do have to acknowledge the way they choke down the fear.
Those uncomfortable with UFC have a hard time choking down their own fear. The stark reality is we are afraid of a sport without the mask of protections in football and basketball. We run away, but in life, like the octagon, there’s no place to hide. So we tap ourselves out and hope no one notices.
In our state of self-defeat we see a UFC pay-per-view. During the winner’s interview a guy looks into the camera; everyone watching at home adds another name to the list of people who can kick their tail. They don’t need more names on that list, but at least with MMA you get a fair shot.
MMA guy is someone to fear. He is a human being trained to inflict maximum pain. It’s not your wife playing on your tender emotions. It’s not your boss dangling a promotion or a pink slip. It’s not your mom reminding you how wonderful your brother is. All of those can make you feel like you’ve been beat; MMA guy delivers the real deal.
It’s not asking too much to give MMA guy your thanks. He raises the bar so every difficulty becomes easier. Be thankful you’re not their next fight. I know I am.