For a sport that is, at its heart, about using one’s body to do as much harm as possible to the body of another, there sure can be a lot of drama.
Whining, crying, Twitter wars, he-said she-said foolishness.
When MMA isn’t about smashing someone’s face, there are plenty of times it’s about smashing someone’s spirit with mean words.
Some folks love it that way, though. They love that the sport takes them back to the days of high school backstabbing and grown men playing real-life Mean Girls.
Whatever puts butts in the seats, I guess.
Here are some classic MMA soap operas.
Realistically, this list could probably just be “8 Great Nick Diaz Dramas” and it would be more interesting.
The guy is one of the greatest mixes of talent and out-of-cage entertainment that the sport has or will ever have. He never disappoints.
His most infamous drama likely came during his impressive Strikeforce run, where he grew to hate Jason “Mayhem” Miller for actions directed toward the Cesar Gracie Fight Team. Diaz, as the charter member, wanted to teach the colourful Miller some manners after he’d crashed a Jake Shields victory party live on CBS.
Despite an in-cage dust-up that night, and several reported incidents backstage around MMA circles, the two could never agree on a weight and never formally fought.
Probably better for Miller, who was eventually exposed as style over substance when he returned to the UFC anyway.
Dana White is no stranger to controversy, but he’s also no stranger to praising the sport of boxing.
He openly states he wouldn’t be in the fight game if it wasn’t for his time in boxing, and often says he’d like nothing more than a return to grace for the sweet science.
But there’s one thing the Baldfather hates, and that’s greasy promoters. Or at least promoters he deems greasy. Such as Bob Arum.
While the two haven’t had any sort of public, face-to-face spat, the day it happens will be one for the record books.
There was a time when Tito Ortiz actually used to back up the things he’d say.
No, really. It happened.
He was the baddest man on the planet at 205 pounds, and he blazed a trail through the UFC in the early 2000s as its first true star.
Part of that stardom came during his lengthy feud with The Lion’s Den, Ken Shamrock’s fight team. Ortiz smashed Shamrock disciple Guy Mezger in 1999, and in doing so really lit a fire under Shamrock with some choice gestures and words.
The two would meet at UFC 40, a fight Ortiz would win relatively easily. He went on to dominate Shamrock two more times in 2006 after a run coaching The Ultimate Fighter together.
The hate in this one was real, but it played like a soap opera watching the grizzled vet repeatedly fail to teach the young gun a little respect.
The Ultimate Fighter is always good for drama.
In fact, one of the main issues FX identified after going live for its first season as the show’s broadcast partner was that there wasn’t enough drama and they needed to return to a taped format for the second go-around.
Perhaps never before (or since) has drama been produced between coaches in the way it was between Rashad Evans and Rampage Jackson, two top light heavies at the time who absolutely hated each other.
With the fight booked for the end of that season, though, Rampage had a change of heart on fighting his nemesis and chose to bail on the UFC to go do a dreadful remake of The A-Team. Needless to say, Dana White and the UFC were none too impressed by that.
All parties—Evans, Jackson, and White—spent months sniping at one another in different ways before the fight took place in May, 2010.
Evans won an unspectacular decision, but over a million pay-per-views were sold, so the interest in their soap opera obviously maintained itself at the time.
Ronda Rousey may be dangerously close to being overexposed at the moment, but only a year ago she was still a 145-pound undefeated judoka about whom most people didn’t know so much.
That is, until she decided to talk some trash about then-bantamweight champion Miesha Tate and claim she was coming to take that belt.
Much of the argument centered around “I can beat you, and we’re both pretty so people will watch,” and that was actually the case.
Rousey/Tate headlined a Strikeforce card and did big numbers, blasting Rousey into superstardom once she won the title and began talking even more.
It was probably a better world when there weren’t so many outlets interested in hearing her opinions on the Kardashians, but Rousey garnered publicity for her sport by creating a soap opera with Tate, and there’s a lot to be said for that.
The wounds are still relatively fresh on this one, even if everyone involved is claiming the hatchet to be buried.
It’s the first time that Zuffa cancelled an event as an MMA promoter (oddly enough, the second time would come only a few weeks later for Strikeforce), and it made a reviled champion even more of a target for scrutiny in Jon Jones.
Everyone got in on this one: Dana White (obviously the most comically overblown), Jones, his trainer Greg Jackson, other fighters, fans, sports media.
You name them, they had an opinion on the UFC 151 cancellation.
Realistically, the blame was probably to be spread evenly across the board, but with so many egos and so many opinions out there, a drawn-out drama was far more likely than a reasonable acceptance of mutual blame.
That’s what we got, too.
It’s funny that Anderson Silva is largely seen as the best mixed martial artist ever now, and not as a talent-rich malcontent.
Because from late 2008 until 2010, that was the perception.
In fights with Patrick Cote and Thales Leites, he looked bored to tears.
He fought Forrest Griffin and demolished him, but did it with a reckless ease that would have been frustrating to see had he not been so ruthlessly lethal in disposing of the former champion.
He danced with Demian Maia for five rounds at UFC 112 in some sort of bizarre, reverse psychology disrespect/humiliation ritual.
But then Chael Sonnen happened, and he was the best ever.
He beat Sonnen with a Hail Mary triangle choke at UFC 117 and then went on a path of destruction that includes the likes of Vitor Belfort, Yushin Okami, and Sonnen again—all finishes, all of the highlight-reel variety.
Still, in that run from 2008 to 2010, he was so disinterested and frustrating that Dana White threatened to cut him.
Actually think of the gravity of that statement. There’s nothing else to say.
And what list could be complete without the long-running, often over-the-top, ego-driven super drama that was the Dana White/Tito Ortiz feud?
Friends turned foes, the two were at each other’s throats for most of the time that Tito was at the top of his game. He was the biggest (only?) star the UFC had, he knew it, and he pushed it in every way he could conceive.
The notoriously hard-headed White didn’t like it, and probably liked it even less that he couldn’t run his business without Ortiz, so there was no workaround.
Verbal assaults, a forced state of semi-retirement for Ortiz, accusations of ducking opponents, and even a televised documentary of White training for an actual boxing match with Ortiz all came from the feud (the fight never happened when, of all things, Tito ducked).
The two eventually reconciled to a degree, with Ortiz now retired and in the Hall of Fame and White regularly stating that he and Tito are “cool.”
Still, this one was probably the greatest soap opera in the history of the sport.