Riots, Racists and More: The Worst of MMA Fandom
Don't get me wrong—MMA is the greatest sport in the history of the world. It was great when the Greeks created it for the ancient Olympics, was great when the Gracies brought it to Brazil and is still great today all over the world. Fighting, for good or ill, has international appeal. It's primal, instinctual, a natural inclination that has allowed mankind to survive over the centuries.
But MMA is not a perfect sport. Although it's a long way from the hooliganism that plagued the European soccer scene not so many years ago, danger is brewing just below the surface at many MMA events. And, sometimes, when the elements align in just the wrong way, the kettle boils over.
These are five of those times, examples of MMA fans at their worst.
1. The Bad Boy Bikers
A lot of smaller MMA promotions ask the fighters on the card to sell tickets to the event. It's a pay-for-play deal—if you don't sell enough tickets, you aren't welcome to fight. In theory it makes sense. It guarantees a packed house and enough money to keep the show going.
But, for Ulitimate Athlete, an up-and-coming promotion in 2002, this policy ended up being a complete and epic disaster.
Fighter Rick Slaton, it turns out, was associated with the Mongols Motorcycle Club, allegedly the real life basis for the Mayans' gang in the fictional Sons of Anarchy series on FX. Dozens of bikers came to the show at Slaton's invitation, and things, predictably, turned ugly during his bout. ESPN explains:
After Slaton's opponent, Leo Pavlushkin, claimed he ate an illegal knee to the groin, impatient Mongols members began throwing refuse at the ring. This angered nearby civilians, who retaliated with airborne soda of their own. If you cannot imagine how a marauding biker gang would respond to that, you have not seen enough movies.
The night ended early, with blood covering the floor, not in the cage, but in the stands around it. At least one person was stabbed in a full-fledged brawl, all going down about 10 feet from press row. The night ended, not with a spectacular submission or brutal knockout, but with police in riot gear and M-16s storming the arena.
Matchmaker Clyde Gentry, the author of the ground-breaking first book on the history of MMA, No Holds Barred, put it all into perspective after the bout. "I was thinking, 'This show is going to be something that everyone is going to remember.' But, unfortunately, I got my wish but for all the wrong reasons. It's unfortunate what happened.''
2. The Nazi Element
Guida in Silver Star.
For years, racism has lurked beneath the surface in MMA, whitewashed and hidden from view, but no less insidious despite how deeply we all bury our heads in the sand. From Matt Hughes casually referring to African-American fighter Din Thomas's "big lips" to his grip and grins displaying racist gear, racism is present and accounted for wherever MMA fans gather.
But don't take my word for it. Look no further than the explosion of Nazi themes and imagery in MMA apparel. One of the worst offenders was Silver Star, a popular MMA clothing brand that has used Nazi imagery in its clothing for much of the last decade. When caught red-handed, it claims ignorance. But that only works once.
Unfortunately, fighters with no hateful beliefs get caught up in the chaos. Clay Guida's manager, John Fosco, the owner of VFElite Sports Agency, explained how its fighter came to be wearing a shirt with Nazi iconography in 2010:
Clay had no clue what the imagery meant of what it represents....When he heard about it, Clay was appalled. He's as open-minded as they come and he completely denounces any Nazi imagery or anything related to Nazis. Clay wants to make it clear he had no idea what the imagery was about. Typically, sponsors send you clothing to wear for specific shoots and that's exactly what happened. Silver Star sent him a box of clothing and he wore the shirt, didn't think twice about it, and now we're in this situation. But he wants to make clear he had nothing to do with the imagery and did not even know it was there.
3. The Boo Birds
Anne-Marie Sorvin-US PRESSWIRE
The crowd at UFC 149, screaming "bullsh*t at UFC star Urijah Faber in the main event of what had been a lackluster card in Calgary, will have to stand in for this entire subset of fans. But they tend show up all over the world, yelling and screaming at fighters who are giving it their all to entertain.
The moment the action slips anywhere below frenetic, the second a fighter attempts to avoid a blow rather than walk right through it, when the fight goes to the ground where checkers becomes chess, they will be there.
Their vocabulary? Limited, it seems, to obscenity and a very guttural boo.
Don't get me wrong—I fully support a fan's right to boo until the end of days. This is "Murica'' (even in a foreign locale, the UFC is as American as it gets) after all. And if a man wants to boo, a man should be able to boo.
That doesn't make you any less an idiot, though
The Keyboard Warriors
This brand of numbskull is the absolute worst. From a safely anonymous Internet perch, these "fans" trash talk fighters in the worst way possible, questioning their toughness, heart and desire. These tough guys know all the tricks, know exactly why a fighter lost a particular bout and aren't afraid to tell the fighter what an idiot and a pansy he is.
Sometimes, though, these fans have to pay the piper. In the video above, Joe Rogan runs into a fan from MySpace who had been giving him the business. Leaving the issue of Rogan's clear weight and experience advantage to the side, it had to be pretty sweet to get a chance to put a heckler in his place.
Partisans of Any Particular Art
In the early days of the MMA revolution in Brazil, a fierce battle raged between Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioners and luta livre artists, a contest of wills that touched on racial and class divides just as much as it did martial arts philosophies.
Jiu jitsu was the art of the elite, luta livre the art of the streets. Kids who couldn't afford a gi or expensive lessons gravitated to luta livre, a wrestling-based art that was essentially free.
It was a battle that lasted for decades, peaking, in a sense, at Pentagon Combat in 1997. This was to be debut of big-time MMA in Brazil. Sheik Tahnoon Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the man behind the Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling events, provided the funding. Top fighters like Jerry Bohlander and Oleg Taktorov came from all over the world.
But it was the main event that was set to steal the show. Eugenio Tadeu repped luta livre. Renzo Gracie stood tall for his family's art of Brazilian jiu jitsu. Neither man would give in a furious fight that inflamed an already intense crowd.
As the show went on, luta livre proponents got closer and closer to the cage. Their BJJ counterparts soon joined them. Eventually, the crowd was pushed up against the cage, poking and yelling at the fighters. Half of Brazil, seemingly, was on the cage apron as the main event hit the 10-minute mark.
The crowd was at a fever pitch, violence in the air. Fights broke out in the stands and then the lights went out. Literally.
Chairs flew. Some say they heard a gunshot. Needless to say, the fight ended in a draw, overshadowed by the horror that surrounded it.