Perhaps it is nothing more than inevitability that a sport acquires some moments of infamy as it grows large, acquiring new fans and spreading to new countries.
But there may be more to it than simple growing pains when considering the sport of MMA. After all, it was born in infamy, the bastard child of professional boxing and WWF, and was considered a gimmick run wild until running straight into the open arms of legitimacy and respect.
It really seems only natural that coming out of the darkness of the cupboard under the stairs, MMA has stumbled at times and fallen at others. In fact, it’s a testimony to the sport that it has risen as high as it has (and threatens to go even higher) while still wearing the armor of older days, nicked and scratched and damaged as it is.
Still, it is good to remember those “bad” times, if for no other reason than it helps us appreciate when times are good.
So here is Part 1 of a look at 20 of the most infamous moments in MMA history.
Sometimes it’s hard to understand how Tito Ortiz was ever shocked that fans saw him as a villain.
This is the same man who, upon defeating an opponent, chose to rub the defeat in their faces by donning shirts that had some of the most childish and insulting taglines he could think of.
The shirt that started the trend also nearly started a melee after Ortiz had defeated Guy Mezger at UFC 19.
The shirt got the attention of everyone, which is exactly what Ortiz wanted. From there, the parade of shirts continued until the day he retired.
To many it seemed that Ortiz had made a conscious decision to become a villain simply because no matter how old he got, he couldn’t give up indulging in the childish joy that comes from gloating in such a juvenile manner.
Although I can’t decide which is worse: a shirt proclaiming that your defeated opponent is your “bitch,” or that you insist on being announced as “the people's champion.”
While the idea of a post-fight melee is not as horrifying as some imagine, when Mark Coleman went berserk after breaking the arm of Mauricio Shogun Rua via a takedown gone askew, the possibility of a bad situation turning worse was nearly tangible.
Coleman seemed out of his mind, as if it weren't the referee trying to restrain him but some hated enemy trying to take what was his.
Rua’s arm broke nearly backward, prompting the rest of the equally violent Chute Boxe team to rush into the ring, followed by members of Coleman’s Hammer House.
Thankfully, nothing really awful happened (save the breaking of Rua’s arm). But even now, when watching the melee, one wonders just how close to the line they got—the line where a small fire turns into an inferno.
Even though we, as fight fans, know just how badly a fight may go, there is still perhaps nothing as unsettling as having our memories refreshed that this is a fight sport, and people can get hurt.
While it doesn’t seem possible that we could have forgotten that in the early days of the UFC. If we had, Tank Abbott reminded us all over again, at the expense of John Matua.
Any of us watching the UFC in those early days expected unvarnished violence, but when Abbott knocked Matua stiff as a board, in the throes of a type of seizure, we got to see the point where violence ends and aftermath begins.
Watching Matua splayed out like that, legs out stiff, arms stiff and out-thrust at an angle, was as frightening as it was humbling.
Then, Abbott mocked Matua mid-seizure, further reminding us that not all men with such considerable power are advocates of the basic tenets of martial arts: respect and restraint.
Abbott proved that there are some bad men out there who really would enjoy doing harm to others for the sake of doing harm to others, while Matua showed us that we could be victims.
It can’t be easy fighting against a man who has infuriated you before the bout, and it must be even worse when he renders you nearly impotent in the cage, as Paul Daley found out when he was out-grappled and soundly defeated by Josh Koscheck.
To make matters worse, Koscheck continued his verbal assault on Daley in the cage, round by round.
After the bout, Daley walked up to Koscheck and slugged him in the face, instantly earning himself a pink slip from the UFC.
When Season 8 of The Ultimate Fighter aired, the star of the show turned out to be an unstable young man named Junie Browning.
During the season, Browning made Chris Leben look like Ghandi, drinking like prohibition was soon to be reinstated. From there, it wasn’t long before he was doing his bleary-eyed best to start fights with both teams.
It looked like he was about to be kicked off the show no less than three times. But in the end, Dana White put it in the hands of the fighters, who decided they wanted to eliminate Browning fairly, to spare themselves the kind of tough talk they expected would have come from Browning: talk along the lines of “They got lucky I got kicked off, because I would have beaten them all.”
Eventually, Browning lost. But even then, it seemed as if the punishment didn’t fight the crime, especially since the fight wasn’t nearly as long as the season.
In what was perhaps one of the most surprising dominations in his time as welterweight champion, Georges St-Pierre had the validity of his performance against B.J. Penn tainted when a member of his team rubbed Vaseline all over his body midway through the bout.
It was noticed by one of the officials, who quickly got a towel and wiped it off. But it gave a great deal of ammunition to GSP’s detractors, who note that wiping off the Vaseline with a towel does little good.
There was an investigation. But in the end, the Penn camp found no relief and the victory remained intact for GSP, although the commission now watches the fighters very closely for grease.
Renato “Babalu” Sobral fought Dave Heath at UFC 74. It was a bloody affair that, according to Babalu, culminated in a choke held far too long to teach Heath “some respect.”
It wasn’t enough that Heath was bleeding like a stuck pig, or that Babalu used him like a brush in painting the Octagon floor with two coats of red.
So much blood was absorbed into the canvas that it could hold no more, resulting in standing pools of scarlet. One would think Babalu would have found appeasement in this, at least to some degree.
One would have been wrong as well.
When Babalu finally locked up a choke, he held it until the ref was trying to break it off, and then held it some more.
For his “commitment” to finish the fight, Babalu got the victory and a pink slip to go along with it.
After then-Sherdog.com journalist Loretta Hunt wrote a piece about some fighter managers being stripped of backstage credentials, Dana White decided to avail himself of the First Amendment, via his video blog, and let it all hang out (exerpts of the video blog can be seen here, h/t John Pollock).
Hunt received the full monty—the entire arsenal of colorful metaphors that White has in his considerable repertoire.
Along the way, White offended the gay/lesbian community by throwing out the word “faggot” and ended up giving them an apology.
"I hurt people that I didn't intend to hurt and when you do something like that, yes, I believe that you should say you're sorry," White told ESPN.com Page 2 columnist Mary Buckheit in a telephone interview. "I never intended to hurt anybody in the gay community, or be malicious, or look like a hateful guy. I never meant to hurt anyone in the gay or lesbian community at all, in any way, shape or form. I would never do that. I was speaking to [Sherdog.com reporter] Loretta Hunt. I didn't mean to bring those people into this, it had nothing to do with them and for that, I'm sorry."
To this day, White has continued to be supportive of said sexual orientations.
But did he apologize to Hunt? No, no apology, no remorse.
Just recently, White began issuing Sherdog.com media credentials, given that Josh Gross and Loretta Hunt have moved on to greener pastures.
But Hunt and Gross will not be getting media credentials—as in ever—if you ask White.
One of the most celebrated aspects of MMA is the ability of a fighter to surrender when put in a position of such disadvantage that he or she is on the verge of being seriously injured.
When Shinya Aoki broke the arm of Mizuto Hirota, it was not simply a matter of one man refusing to admit defeat. If that were so, it would be easy enough to use this bout as a cautionary tale: “Don’t let hubris do this to you.”
Aoki broke the arm, and then went about a post-fight celebration of his own that showcased poor sportsmanship and lent the action an air of nefarious intent.
So much so that it makes one wonder if Aoki would have released the arm had Hirota tapped, or would he have continued to torque the limb?
It's those kind of questions that need not be associated with the sport. Were it not for Aoki's post-fight antics, the result would have probably been placed squarely on Hirota's shoulders for not admitting defeat.
Perhaps it was nothing more than misplaced adrenaline combined with poor timing. But the brawl that followed the fight between Jake Shields and Dan Henderson was, to use a generous term, a black eye for the sport.
That it happened on national television made it all the worse.
It had all the necessary ingredients of a street fight, with many attacking one, and no matter how many apologies were offered afterward, it was still a visual image that lingers today.
A picture is worth a thousand words, and in this case, that whole scene was akin to all the wrongs that could be found in a sport fighting for legitimacy.