Examining UFC Fans' Right to Expression

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Examining UFC Fans' Right to Expression

There is a great deal of discussion today regarding people's reaction to the flyweights. People are criticizing those who boo during fights. This polarizing topic has been concentrated on the flyweight division and the impetus was the inaugural championship bout between Demetrious Johnson and Joseph Benavidez.

Dana White recently ripped fans who expressed their discontent during that match.

At the UFC 152 post-fight press conference in Toronto, he said (from MMA Weekly): 

I was reading Twitter tonight and these people were ripping on the flyweights.  If you didn’t like that flyweight fight, please, and I’m begging you, don’t buy another UFC pay-per-view again.  Don’t ever buy another one again; I don’t want your money.  You’re a moron, you don’t like fighting and you don’t appreciate great talent or heart if you didn’t like that flyweight fight.

The disgruntled were expressive again at UFC on FX 5 on Friday night, concerning flyweight John Dodson's No. 1 contender bout with Jussier da Silva.

They cheered, however, when Dodson knocked him out. In the past, Joe Rogan has referred to the jeers as the "meathead factor" and many others have labeled these people as "not true fans" or people "ignorant" of the technical aspect of the sport.

Dodson himself, according to The Toronto Sun's Neil Springer, reacted to the booing at UFC 152 harshly by stating:

I think it was just drunken idiots being drunken idiots. It’s not going to hurt us at all. As flyweights, we understand — if they’re going to be idiots, fine. We’re just going to let them be idiots — because why? We’re awesome. We’re going to make sure the sport keeps on prospering and making us look even better than before.

Is it OK to boo a "boring" fight?

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While the focus is currently on the flyweight division, the truth is that fans have consistently booed bouts across all divisions when there is what they deem to be a lack of action or a lackluster performance. 

Are the fans entitled to let the performers know of their displeasure?

Living in Toronto, I am witness to one of the most anemic professional sport towns on the planet. Fans here have limited their expectations considerably and still are left disappointed. It is not unusual to hear the Maple Leafs being booed loudly when they under-perform.

This is not unique to Toronto.

In the old WWF days, fans at Maple Leaf Gardens would chant "Boring, boring, boring!" In the NFL, if the home team has not done well in the first half, it is not uncommon for the team to hear catcalls on their way to the dressing room.

When fans do not agree with a punt decision or if the offense is not producing points, the fans express their displeasure. This is ubiquitous across all mainstream professional sports. Are they not entitled to their negative expression?

Back to the flyweights, John Dodson is a very exciting fighter. The TUF 14 season that featured the flyweights was very exciting and I am a fan of the lighter divisions. However, I did not enjoy his fight with da Silva. I am also a massive Benavidez and Team Alpha Male fan, but did not enjoy the Johnson-Benavidez fight either.

Michael Nagle/Getty Images

Despite Mighty Mouse's impressive fight stats, many people did not enjoy the match.

The level of intensity and the passion to win exuded did not resonate with the audience. Does that qualify the disgruntled viewer to be a "meathead," "moron" or a "drunken idiot?" I would disagree.

The paying fans are there because they respect the sport and the athletes. Most fans idolize these athletes. They buy their clothing, beg for a photo and copy their tattoos. They arrive gleefully and do not capriciously transform into malcontents. What gives anyone the right to define what a true fan is and declare what the criteria for an exciting match is?

Fighters often lose their jobs with a pair of losses. Therefore, many competitors develop a game plan to simply score enough points in order to win rounds to get a decision. Those are the fights that usually bring out the boo-birds: fighters that excessively circle or clinch with no intent on aggression.

I appreciate the technical aspect of the sport; however, I am not convinced that fighters do not simply rest or "play safe" in certain situations.

I understand the fighters' reasoning. They need a win for the sake of their careers. I can appreciate that; however, that does not mean that I need to enjoy watching it. Football fans understand why a team kneels going into halftime instead of aggressively seeking an unlikely score but they might still boo because they prefer to see action.

That does not make them morons.

Alexandra Wyman/Getty Images

Booing does not mean they hate the fighter or the sport, just that particular performance at that moment. Some fighters game-plan to conservatively win a decision and fight for their career, not for their fans, so why should the fans be obligated to support them?

At UFC 129 in Toronto, the fans raucously came to see GSP. He is adored and massively supported. Due to his massive fanbase, he has been given numerous lucrative endorsements. He was loudly cheered and welcomed with one of the greatest levels of emotional support the city ever saw. By the fourth round, he was being vociferously denounced. They still love him and will support him again at UFC 154.

There are fighters who fight for the fans (Chris Leben, the Diaz brothers, Rich Franklin, Wanderlei Silva) and others (Dominick Cruz) who fight for their personal record. The fans have the right to express their appreciation for those who seek to entertain them. 

Furthermore, a fan has the right to express their opinion that the performance that they have paid to see does not meet their expectation without being an idiot. It is not amateur sport, if one charges admission, the performers should be held to a higher standard and the paying public has a right to be satisfied.

If the fan does not believe that the fighter is trying their level best to win the fight, why can’t they protest? That is what they were sold. The marketing and pre-fight hype told them to expect more than what they are seeing.

The pay-per-view icon, Oscar De La Hoya, was booed in the final rounds against Tito Trinidad for what fans perceived as running. It did not mean that they did not support him nor that they were not "real" boxing fans. They were just demonstrating that they did not pay to watch him box like that.

Jose Jimenez/Primera Hora/Getty Images
Oscar covering up vs Tito

Fans who like to see action are not necessarily bloodthirsty savages who have no understanding of the sport. Dana White himself has been critical of fights that lacked aggression: Silva-Maia, Guida-Maynard etc.

Most fans recognize that at the UFC level, these are the best athletes on the planet and obtaining a submission or knockout is extremely challenging. A stoppage is not expected in every fight, but fans should expect that the fighters are performing to the best of their ability and that includes advancing their position and engaging their opponent.   

 

The flyweights are exciting and fans will come around.

When the UFC heavyweight division began, the fights were terrible. They have improved and now the division is popular. I expect the same trend to occur with the flyweights. There are already great fighters in the division producing great shows.

The UFC does not have too many events. Almost always, they produce great cards that deliver excitement and drama for their fans but the audience is not obligated to love every moment of every fight.

There are fighters who will excessively stall, circle and clinch and it is not always done with such technical expertise that is above the fans’ heads and beyond their comprehension. Fighters on the fence who are not pummeling or fighting for head position, fighters from closed guard who are not trying to sweep nor attempt a sub, fighters circling to be out of range without ever engaging are transparent.

Fighters have reached the UFC by being determined, motivated, intelligent and athletic. They put so much on the line and they deserve respect and appreciation. Fans are paying to watch them fight and to exercise effective aggression and as long as they do that, people will continue to love and support the greatest sport on Earth.

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