From MMA to MMB in a single fight

The Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Conor McGregor fight in UFC229 was on Saturday 6th October, just a few days ago, and I have been following the aftermath of videos, interviews and press conferences.

Unfortunately this fight will be not be famous because of the excellent performance of the two athletes, which was great.  This will be forever an infamous event because of the unjustifiable brawl which started immediately after Khabib won the fight by submission.

This event by itself should be enough to rename MMA into MMB: from Mixed Martial Arts to Mix Manly Brawls.

I have been supporting the UFC and MMA as a place where fights happen within the cage, in a well-regulated fashion.  When boxing press conferences broke into brawls I was pleased to be a martial artist, a distance apart from boxing, and I was hoping that the reputation built in many years meant something to the organisers.

It’s obvious that Dana White’s agenda is mostly regulated by money, pay-per-views, ticket sales and so on, he is running a multi-billion dollar company.  It’s also true that trash talk and personal agendas create the hype which sells more tickets.  In my opinion, and I know I am not alone on this, Dana should have been stricter when Conor was involved in the mini bus accident back in April this year.  White could have suspended McGregor just to make a point and send out a strong message; he didn’t so it’s ok to break rules if you are a champion and a money making machine.

This time Khabib decided to start his own brawl immediately after his victory, risking of losing his belt, his purse and perhaps his career as a professional fighter.  I believe that a person who cannot control himself should not be allowed to fight, in UFC or in any other organisation.  Khabib’s technique was amazing on Saturday and he truly deserved to win this fight.  He said he’d win and he did it.  That doesn’t put him about law, regulations or the code of honour to be a martial artist.  He should be banned or at least suspended.  If he gets away with it I can just see this happening more and more in the future.

UFC is a multi-billion dollar organisation and fights like this are worth many millions. While I hope Khabib will be punished for what he did, the entity or rigour of such a punishment will be negligible compared to the negative message he was allowed to send out.

The second defeat of Ronda Rousey

Ronda Rousey challenged Amanda Nunes’ world title on 30 December 2016 at UFC 207 and she lost, for the second and consecutive time in her career.  She is an undiscussed celebrity within MMA and UFC but, as I previously wrote about, everything changed dramatically for her when she lost her title to Holly Holm in November 2015.

There is no doubt that her first defeat had a strong effect on her image and confidence as she totally disappeared for months.  There was quite a bit of speculation about whether she would ever come back and when.   Finally she announced to be challenging Nunes at UFC 207, without releasing any official interviews or taking part in press conferences.  The fight itself did not look too good as it lasted merely 47 seconds; Nunes managed to connect one of her powerful punches on her opponent’s face and, noticing Rousey visibly shaken, she continued with several other punches until the referee called the TKO.

A lot of interviews were released by all people with an opinion; the one I found most significant was from Nunes herself.  She stated that Rousey’s strategy was completely wrong; instead of concentrating on her winning techniques like take downs and arm bars she tried a stand up strategy and could not cope with her opponent’s pressure.  Nunes also blamed very strongly Rousey’s boxing coach who gave her the false illusion that she could hold her position on a striking game plan when she is a great grappler and wrestler.

We’ll see whether she is ever going to come back to UFC or even moving on to acting as many have speculated.   Much of her notoriety and status as a champion opened for her possibilities of various roles in Hollywood movies but, now that is no longer the champion she used to be, perhaps many of them will dry out.

The first UFC defeat of Ronda Rousey

I was intrigued by the content of this video with testimonials from Dana White and lots of Hollywood celebrities which built a great hype about this event.  Personally I had no strong opinion about what could be the result of Rousey vs. Holm at the UFC 193 in Melbourne. Being a kickboxer and loving strikes I surely had a natural preference for Holly Holm who is a Kickboxer and Boxer. She has been winning most of her MMA fights with kicks in her opponents’ heads which is kind of exceptional.

As Sylvester Stallone said in short interview: “one of them will win and the other will lose”.  That’s what happens every time. Obviously expectations are very high when you have a challenge between two undefeated fighters: at the end of the fight one of them will be a former undefeated fighter.

When I saw Rousey’s defeat by Holm’s flag strike, a kick in the head, I was pleased of such a spectacular win but also surprised of what that defeat has generated.  My surprise to the results has a number of different angles which I will explain in a few points:

  • Nearly superfluous to say Rousey is a great grappler and managed to finish most of her latest fights by using what she knows best: judo throws followed by very fast punching to the opponent just grounded or armbars.
  • It was pretty obvious that Holm would not want to go there, hence her very mobile footwork, succeeding to maintain a stand up fight where she is strongest. By using this strategy Holm managed to keep Rousey at bay and hit her in the face a number of times with strong cross punches as well as with a round elbow strike.
  • I was very surprised to see Rousey losing her usual control to the point that in the second round she charged Holm so aggressively and uncontrollably that she fell against the net.
  • Perhaps not having the level of control she is used to have and feeling the pressure of an opponent who would not be as controllable as others she lost her concentration. Definitely her guard was not where it was supposed to be and one by one each of the strikes chipped her down to the point that Holm’s kick had a clear path to Rousey lower jaw and neck putting her KO.
  • Rousey doesn’t really behave like shy as a person; she is full of herself and proud of being a tough fighter which was undefeated until last Saturday. Dana White himself, having discounted for years women being part of UFC, has been promoting her as the best fighters he has worked with. Regardless of this result hopefully he will not change his point of view about her.
  • Fame doesn’t come without repercussions and her bravado has definitely irritated lots of people. Her behaviour just before the fight, including her refusing to touch Holm’s gloves in my opinion should have not been accepted by the organisers.  If we accept substandard sportsmanship behaviours what are we teaching to all beginners and children that look at us to learn how to behave?
  • Despite Rousey’s arrogance I was surprised, to say the little, about the amount of poison spewed toward her. Starting from her main contender Meisha Tate, which is kind of understandable, to Donald Trump and many others all were very happy she lost and filling up social media feeds with their negative comments.
  • This fight reminded me a bit the famous rumble in the jungle when Muhammed Ali challenged and defeated George Foreman in Zaire. Foreman was so sure of winning this fight that entered a three years of depression due to his defeat.  Mind coaching and mental rehearsal have become standard practice for most professional fighters so I assume Rousey’s will be no different.  I trust Ronda will be surrounded by enough councillors, sport psychologists and mind coaches which will help her to analyse what went wrong, cope with the defeat and get ready for her next fight.

I am pleased that after some time in hospital and a few long days of silence Rousey has released an official statement explaining she will take some time off and come back stronger than before.  Martial arts, taught in the traditional way, promote humility and being humble: unfortunately these qualities don’t fit too well with the show business which fighting sports, and UFC in particular, have become.  Perhaps this loss will teach Ronda Rousey how to be a real champion, someone that after falling this hard goes back to the drawing board and understands what went wrong, learn from her mistakes and becomes even better.

Banning MMA on the base of violence?

The state of New York is banning the practice of MMA within the state territory and therefore any related sports shows.  The video here below collects statements and interviews to make a point against it. The stronger message is by Chael Sonnen, MMA fighter for UFC, who in several parts of the video states how unions and politicians are in fact banning MMA in New York for political reasons and to put pressure on some Las Vegas businesses. However the reason this decision is not affecting me much: I am Italian, living in Cambridge – UK, never been in NY. However I am against this banning when they mask it behind the excuse of violence. 

Martial arts practice techniques that can hurt people, true; so is for boxing, football, rugby, hockey and many other sports.  Good thing about martial arts is that when you enter the ring or the octagon you know your opponent will be there to fight you, with referee and judges who are there to enforce rules and for your safety.  On the contrart when you are playing other sports, e.g. like some heavy contact ball sports, your aim should be to deliver a ball to a particular destination but a lot of violence, often unaccounted for, can happen in between.  As Dana White correctly points out in the video many people died and die during boxing matches but nobody died so far in the relatively short 12 years of UFC.

Learning martial arts is not about becoming violent it’s about understanding violence and when to use it, in the right way.  It’s about discipline, it’s about ethics and many other important values.

I am not a MMA practitioner and I’ll probably never will. However MMA has allowed martial arts to become popular on mainstream TV and create a new generation of professional sport men and women so I will promote it and support it because it will help the popularity of all martial arts.