Ben Fowlkes addresses the “racial controversy” element of the pre-fight hype for Rampage vs Rashad:
…the “Rampage” Jackson-Rashad Evans fight is a delicate matter for the UFC and its fans, and the clip of Jackson promising “black-on-black crime” after Evans confronted him in the UFC-sanctioned face-off a year ago is a prime example of it.
On one hand, it’s an indelible moment that provides valuable marketing material for the UFC. On the other, it probably appeals primarily to a certain segment of the white UFC audience that the rest of us should be embarrassed by.
If you don’t believe me, just ask Evans. On last week’s UFC 114 media call he called Jackson out for perpetuating negative stereotypes with his public persona. Jackson’s response? He accused Evans of being gay.
Not exactly the highest level of discourse at work.
But it’s not just Evans, who has every reason to be ungenerous to Jackson after all the animosity that’s brewed between them. In a recent conversation with “King” Mo Lawal he repeatedly singled Jackson out for playing to the prejudices of white MMA fans, saying, “All that ‘black-on-black crime’ stuff, acting like a dog, who do you think that’s for? It’s not for [African-American fans], and you know it.”
I think Rampage is probably being unfairly criticized by Evans and Lawal.
But more importantly, as Fowlkes points out, UFC 114 marks the first time in the event’s history that two African-American fighters have headlined a card.
This is a big step in the evolution of the sport in the U.S. and hopefully bodes well for the continued growth of the sport into the African-American demographic.
As Brent Brookhouse wrote on this site almost 18 months ago when this match first began to be talked about:
There is a significant portion of the American audience that has not fully been tapped into by the UFC and MMA in general and it can’t be minimized that having more successful African-American fighters in the world’s biggest organization will help increase the appeal of the sport for that audience.
Boxing thrives in the African-American community when there are dominant African-American fighters on top, same with the Latino community. It isn’t a matter of creating forced opportunities to exploit such a situation but rather of coming by them through more legitimate means. There is no denying that Jackson is deserving of a shot to win his title back nor is there any denying that Evans is the true champion, so this is a very legitimate fight should it be made and that it creates an appeal through legitimacy much more so than if they were just to throw two black guys in a cage and said “Come watch our main event! It’s significant!”
I’m not saying either of these guys are Jack Johnson and it will obviously take more than a single high profile match-up to help the sport fully catch fire with any single segment of the population but there is no understating the significance of a possible fight between Rashad Evans and Quinton Jackson for the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship as a historic moment in this great sport.
UPDATE (by Kid Nate): I changed the headline to more accurately reflect the point I wanted to make with this article. African-Americans have been a bedrock combat sports demographic for the last 100 years, but so far their enthusiasm for boxing hasn’t been reflected in an equal interest in MMA. Rashad vs Rampage represents the culmination of a concerted effort by the UFC to reach that demographic, which despite its small size has an enormous influence on American popular culture. That is, if something is cool in the black community, the larger white community will pick up on it.
There’s a great discussion going on at MMA for Real following this Robert Downey, Sr. post:
The headlining fight between two former light heavyweight champions, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Rashad Evans, offers more than enough enticement for the average MMA fan. The average MMA fan, however, is far removed from the modern black community. That isn’t to say there are no fans within that demographic, but instead that MMA has yet to truly make a dent in the area. It simply hasn’t been feasible. Before Rampage defeated Chuck Liddell for the UFC light heavyweight championship in 2007 the only previous black UFC champions were Maurice Smith, Kevin Randleman, Carlos Newton, all of whom were brief titlists before the North American MMA boom. The year after Rampage won the title, Evans took it from the man who defeated Jackson-Forrest Griffin. In the span of two years, an African-American championed the glamour division of America’s hottest sport twice.
What was so special about these two fighters was the potential they carried for inroads with the black community. They were two sides of the same coin: Rampage was rap and Evans was R&B; one came from the streets of Memphis and wore a chain around his neck, the other from Detroit with smooth style (I know he’s really from Niagara Falls, but he reps MSU and perception is everything). And they are still perhaps the only currency the UFC has to cash in with the black community.
Anderson Silva is an outsider and not African-American. Jon Jones is too clean-cut. Anthony Johnson has potential, but George St. Pierre and a litany of elite welterweight fighters stand atop the mountain he must climb. So for now, Rampage and Rashad hold a monopoly on “Urban-sense” in the UFC. Coupled with their talent and charisma, they might just be the two most valuable assets on the UFC roster. And their collision this weekend represents the high-water mark for African-Americans in Mixed Martial Arts’ brief history. No matter the victor, both men should be proud of how far they’ve come.
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