Last Word on Babalu

"No doubt you will hear from many so-called MMA fans who claim that being choked unconscious is 'peaceful,' although I frequently wonder how many…

By: Luke Thomas | 16 years ago
Last Word on Babalu
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

“No doubt you will hear from many so-called MMA fans who claim that being choked unconscious is ‘peaceful,’ although I frequently wonder how many of them would think peaceful thoughts if they were the ones gagging and gasping for air.”

Kevin Iole’s on a roll.

This is a quote from Kevin lifted from his recent column regarding Renato “Babalu” Sobral’s choking of David Heath past the point of tapping at UFC 74.  It’s also yet further indication that Iole needs some serious, serious help when it comes to understanding the world of mixed martial arts.

For starters, I’m neither a “so-called” MMA fan nor am I suggesting putting Heath to sleep is “peaceful.”  That much should be obvious.  Yet, I couldn’t disagree more with Iole.  I’ve been choked unconscious before.  My opponent put me to sleep before I could tap.  It wasn’t a lot of fun, but it wasn’t exactly a big deal either.  I woke up, took off one round of sparring (6 minutes), then went back to rolling.  I was fine.  I didn’t even get a headache the next day.

I will not defend the decision Babalu made to hold the choke, nor do I buy his excuse that he was holding onto it to make sure there wasn’t a mix up like the one we saw when Maurilo Bustamante fought Matt Lindland.  Babalu chose to break the rules and deserves to be punished.  Holding a choke past the point of tapping is a bully-move and it has no place in the UFC or any professional MMA organization.

But for crying out loud, let’s end this fantasy that he committed some egregious mortal sin, shall we?  Choking a man unconscious with a blood choke (even with the air flow restricted) only takes a few seconds.  There are videos all over the Internet of Joe Rogan and Randy Couture choking out radio DJ’s for amusement.  Yes, they consented to the choke, but do you think they’d consent to being punched or kicked after the bell rings to signal the round’s over?  Do you think they’d consent to being armbared or kimuraed past the point of tapping?  Hardly.  

I also doubt Heath was the first person Babalu’s ever choked out.  He probably won’t be the last either.  Anyone with significant BJJ or submission experience understands what’s required to do that to a person and has likely done so on more than one occasion.  You’ll even see choke outs in amateur wrestling if any opponent’s neck is being pressured the right way.  My wrestling coach has caused his opponents to lose bowel control from being choked out with underhooks and shoulder pressure.  That doesn’t make the practice anymore appealing, but it should also demonstrate there is a degree of regularity to its appearance.

And as I mentioned before, where Babalu comes from this type of behavior isn’t the least bit uncommon.  Lo and behold, Dana White confirms it:

“He comes from the jiu-jitsu world, and that is what you do there sometimes,” White said. “It’s a normal thing there. But this is a sport, and you can’t do that here. It’s completely unacceptable.

Sounds about right to me.  But to Iole?  Well, that’s not nearly enough condemnation.  Here’s what Iole would like to see happen to Babalu:

Given his actions, Babaloser deserves to be the lowest-paid fighter from Saturday’s card. That “honor” now belongs to Ryan Jensen, who made $4,000 for losing to Thales Leites.

Here’s a suggestion: The commission ought to fine him another $21,001 and suspend him for nine months. That fine would mean that Babaloser’s purse would work out to be $3,999 and make him the lowest-paid fighter on the card.

And the suspension would force him to miss at least one more payday.

I’m guessing he’ll choke on that. And I guarantee you that he won’t find it peaceful.

You’re right.  He wouldn’t find it peaceful.  He’d find it overly punitive and irrational, as would anyone else with a mammalian brain.

In defending Babalu from overly punitive measures (which is different than defending Babalu’s actions in total), we need to keep in mind that a huge portion of the MMA world comes from a jiu-jitsu background.  I do not pretend to speak for BJJ players or any submission fighters at large, but what I will say is that folks from this walk of life aren’t exactly up in arms about Babalu’s actions.  From what I can tell, they aren’t happy with them nor do they agree his actions were appropriate, but they also recognize getting choked unconscious is an occupational hazard.  Now, let me be clear – getting choked unconscious after tapping by a vindictive opponent is not.  That’s abuse.  But it happens, either by design or by accident.  And most importantly, the health effects are not that serious.  Had Babalu chosen to pull a Mike Kyle and endanger someone’s health, this discussion would be dramatically different.

Dr. Iole – who moonlights as a black belt with years of grappling experience under his belt – seems to think rendering someone unconscious is damn near manslaughter:

Long-time residents of Nevada – such as Sen. Reid – will remember the sad case of Charles Bush, the Las Vegas man who was choked to death in 1990 after he resisted when three police officers illegally entered his apartment.

His estate won a $1.1 million wrongful death judgment against the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police.

It may be a stretch to compare the Babaloser case to the Bush case, but how long would he have had to hold the choke before it became a truly dangerous situation?

To answer your question, Kevin, yes, it is a stretch.  A huge stretch.  Bush died when THREE police officers entered his apartment in the middle of the night without a warrant.  A struggle ensued and due to excessive force, he was killed.  It’s not clear by what method or how long he was choked.  Given how many times fighters have been choked unconscious in mixed martial arts or grappling bouts and yet have seemingly avoided dying as a consequence, I’m going to go ahead and assume the officers who killed Bush didn’t hold on until the moment he passed out from a blood choke.

So do everyone a favor Kevin “John the Baptist” Iole: enough with the alarmist, apocalyptic pronouncements of how the MMA sky is falling because one fighter pulled a dick move.  Stop trying to manufacture controversy where very little exists.  And please leave paternalistic, morality-obsessed expectations to baseball fans.  This is fighting.  Things happen.  We’ll take each incident one at a time.

Share this article
About the author

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Posts