“When you have a relatively cheap horse and a huge prize, the risk and reward gets out of balance”
That was New York Times reporter Walt Bogdanich on the state of horse racing. A sport that many have argued lost its once broad appeal due to its inherent vulgarity. This, they say, is what happens when 20+ horses die a week on the racetracks, and trainers don’t get punished for injecting horses with painkillers just so they can ride for one last hurrah to appease the casino gambling.
The comparison is very dramatic, but it’s not like boxing never suffered a reprieve from cultural relevance in the same way horse racing once did.
And so now it’s MMA’s turn. While it hasn’t garnered a real cultural presence, it’s not quite fringe enough to be irrelevant. And everyone who is a part of this circus wants it to move forward because we still appreciate the craft on display from its participants.
But what about the class? For every moment of potential progress, the sport never feels like it’s ready for takeoff. Part of this comes from the nature of the sport itself, but I’d argue that it’s also about the culture.
In the wake of Rousimar Palhares’ release due to fight ethics (having failed to release his submission in a prompt manner against Mike Pierce), I feel like the UFC has finally got it, even if it ends up being temporary, and not reflective of a general pendulum swing.
Thus far I’ve heard various defenses against Palhares, and none of them add up. Caught in the moment? The comically great majority of fighters don’t have a history of this kind of conduct. Palhares does. If you’re gonna set an example, Palhares is your man.
Making sure opponents don’t “fake tap” ala Matt Lindland vs. Murilo Bustamante? All you have to do is the thing every other fighter does. If the ref comes in, you stop. End of story. Even Murphy’s Law can barely contest the likelihood of a referee stepping in just to give the other guy a second chance.
It’s unfortunate that we’ve seen the last of Rousimar from a fight perspective. The guy is an animal. But unfortunately for him, that comparison is probably more literal than figurative if his inability to compete like a civilized human being is any indication.
There’s a legitimate argument somewhere about the nature of submissions. They’re all designed with an intent to injure. Why is a whole, or half a second the difference between employment and unemployment?
Because you’ve got to draw the line. You have to foster a culture of fighter safety: if fighters aren’t punished for unsportsmanlike conduct, and that conduct can threaten a fighter’s ability to support their families, then what kind of culture do we want?
No different than the issue of eye gouging. Intentional or not, if an opponent is damaged in some way, either learn to keep your hands closed when throwing punches, or suffer the consequences. Injured or not, there are rules, and it’s up to officials to implement them for the sake of the fighters. They have a hard enough job already.
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