author: ruben deason | contributor
But, it still might be surprising to see optimism and good-hearted people take charge in the sport.
Due in no small part to the roles played by dynamic, loud-mouthed, and often showboating champions the likes of Connor McGregor, mixed martial arts has taken the stage. The past few decades have largely seen mixed martial arts supplant, and even surpass boxing as the world’s premier combative sport. At the very least, we have seen it rise to its role as the most exciting, as boxing pay-per-views continue to remind buyers that spending hundreds of dollars to see a so-called “Fight of the Century” guarantees nothing but the emptying of the buyer’s wallet.
The world of mixed martial arts is able to capture a perfect blend of the stakes of boxing (two souls pitted against each other in a duel of destiny), the flair of professional wrestling (larger-than-life personalities injecting character and emotion into every bout), and, certainly, the techniques of countless martial arts systems honed and perfected over the years and across the world. from Brazilian jiu-jitsu to Southeast Asia’s Muay Thai – the art of eight limbs.
Through all of this, it’s perfectly reasonable to assume that mixed martial artists, the practitioners of this sport cheered on by tens of thousands like gladiators, might all be the type to shit-talk their opponents. It’s certainly still an undeniably valid strategy toward attracting attention, and audiences today love to watch the stereotypical bad guy be taken down after their cockiness gets the better of them.
But, it still might be surprising to see optimism and good-hearted people take charge in the sport. Yesterday’s UFC 217, which saw a record-breaking three title changes in one night, featured a few wholesome, feel-good moments, as new champions Rose Namajunas and Georges St-Pierre used their global platforms to spread positivity, rippling across social media, and throughout the world of mixed martial arts.
Rose Namajunas, the new UFC Women’s Strawweight Champion, was looked at as an underdog throughout her pursuit of the title. Champion Joanna Jendrzejczyk took a number of pot shots at her mental health issues in the past. Upon defeating her opponent in decisive fashion, Rose immediately took to the microphone given to her, stating her goal to use her gift of martial arts to make a positive influence in the world. In the post-fight interview, Rose again highlighted the underpinnings of martial arts – honour and respect – and spoke of her desire to be a positive light to those who look up to her.
Along a similar vein, Georges St-Pierre, Canada’s own who returned to the sport as dominant as he was when he left in 2013, promoted how, in his view, martial arts are not about who has the “biggest balls,” but instead about technique and intelligence. He also praised his opponent and apologized for swearing, twice, in true Canadian fashion.
GSP and Namajunas certainly aren’t alone. Another fighter making strides with his positive virtues is Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson. Most popularly recognized now for his stellar performance in his most recent fight, the first-ever instance of a fighter throwing his opponent into the air and applying an armbar midair, made a point of refusing to bash his opponent’s or his company, do drugs, beat his wife, or crash his car. His only expressed interests were playing video games and changing diapers.
All of this is not to suggest that these like-minded fighters make up the majority, nor do the wholesome actions of the few do much to erase the actions of other MMA superstars, like the now-reviled Jon Jones or War Machine.
Another fighter of note here is Colby Covington, who called the crowd in São Paolo “filthy animals” and their home country, Brazil, “a dump.” But, the resurgence of decency and decorum presented by some of the most skilled combat artists on the planet is, I believe, an overwhelming net positive.
The importance of positive role models in sports – all levels of sports – cannot be understated. Martial arts, in particular, represent so much to so many people, with respect to self-defence, confidence boosting, and codes of ethics and honour that are embedded within so many martial arts systems. Having champions like Georges St-Pierre, Rose Namajunas, and Demetrious Johnson, who are truly champions whether they are holding prestigious titles or not, is paramount for the sport of MMA to legitimize itself and for all the impressionable eyes that are upon them, looking to them for examples.
And with all that being said, sometimes, it’s just too undeniably fun to watch someone like McGregor saunter into the octagon. I fully intend to watch both calibres of fighters, but I know who I’m rooting for.