There exist two competing schools of thought in defining mixed martial arts: there are those who feel that it is about honour and respect, while others think that it is about punching people in the head until they fall over.
This dichotomous perspective perhaps oversimplifies matters, but it represents two well subscribed extremes—though some fighters undoubtedly inhabit the middle.
With that said, do words like “honour” and “respect” belong in the current climate of mixed martial arts or are these concepts almost entirely without content?
We frequently hear our athletes wax lyrical about the respect they have for their opponent, yet their actions inside the cage so often contradict the image they are attempting to cultivate.
Jon Jones has something of an obsession with the martial spirit and its emphasis on honour. He discusses it ad nauseam in his interviews and presents the image of a man who is profoundly spiritual.
Unfortunately, his actions are often at odds with the perception he would like to project to the media. Let’s take his fight with Lyoto Machida as an example.
In the second round, Jones secured a modified guillotine choke and sent his opponent to sleep. Rather than release the hold gently, the 205-pound king turned his back and allowed Machida to crash face first into the canvas.
Shortly thereafter, Jones checked to make sure that his fallen foe had recovered. However, we later discovered that this only happened at the urging of Greg Jackson, who wanted his charge to “make some fans”.
Is this an example of honour and respect for one’s opponent? I’ll let you folks decide.
In the build-up to UFC 152, Jones and Belfort acted like perfect gentleman, describing each other as honourable and bonding over their shared religious beliefs.
What was the first thing that happened when they met inside the cage? Belfort attempted to kick Jones’ head clean off his shoulders, despite the fact that the champ had started the fight on all-fours.
Honour and respect? Not by any definition I am familiar with.
Any discussion of the martial spirit would feel incomplete without mentioning Anderson Silva. The long-reigning middleweight champion has long been perceived as one of the sport’s classiest ambassadors.
Silva tends to refrain from trash-talking in the build-up to his fights. Indeed, he can often be heard complimenting the skill of his upcoming opponent. However, occasionally his mask slips and he reveals a more primal nature.
I’m sure most of you remember the disastrous UFC 112 that took place in Abu Dhabi. Who could forget “The Spider’s” bizarre performance against Demian Maia, with long bouts of inactivity punctuated by the champ verbally brutalizing his less illustrious foe?
For some reason, Anderson had decided that Demian Maia—by all accounts one of the nicest people you could ever meet—had offended him deeply. He then proceeded to mock him and berate him for 25 minutes.
It was a baffling display by the pound-for-pound king, that only served to confuse those in attendance and enrage Dana White.
These high profile incidents merely scratch the surface of this conflict between perception and reality. Fighters too often pay lip service to noble martial concepts, despite the contradictory nature of their actions.
Perhaps it’s time to admit that words like “honour” and “respect” are barren of any real content in a climate dominated by cage fighters rather than mixed martial artists.