I love MMA fans. Heck, I’m a fan of MMA fans. Despite the sport’s stratospheric growth over the past decade, the fanbase has somehow retained its almost-cultish solidarity.
That’s something you don’t tend to get within the fanbases of mainstream sports like soccer, football, basketball, etc.
I shan’t lie. I’ve been known to get a touch giddy when I run into someone else who appreciates my sport, eager to swap views and test the depth of my new friend’s knowledge.
Still, we’re far from a perfect lot. There are a few bad apples in every bunch, as the cliché-inclined like to say.
The list that follows laments five characteristics that define the worst of our kind. As always, feel free to add to/improve on my list in the comments section.
Generally speaking, MMA fans do not resemble the ignorant caricature dreamed up by Bob Arum, when he argued that “MMA fans are a bunch of skinhead white guys” who apparently enjoy watching men “roll around like homosexuals.”
While Arum’s philosophically-confused take on MMA fandom is akin to arguing that most members of the KKK are black, it would be disingenuous of me to suggest that the sport is free from bigotry.
Anyone who has engaged with members of the online MMA community is doubtless aware that we have our share of knuckle-dragging bigots, many of whom engage in the kind of social commentary that would have been on the margins even in the 1950s.
One need only look at the comments on my Fallon Fox articles to realise that there is a vocal minority who are in desperate need of a time machine to recalibrate their views.
Then again, homophobic and transphobic views seem almost inevitable in a sport that, perhaps unconsciously, reinforces an inflexible vision of masculinity.
We’ve all known or at least experienced that guy. He’s the guy on YouTube who tells everyone that he “trains UFC.”
He’s the guy who tells everyone that his favourite sport is “UFC.”
He’s the guy who asks, “What’s a Bellator?”
He’s the guy who thinks Bjorn Rebney was a member of ABBA.
And this isn’t me taking a swipe at the casual fans. I can understand the casuals being unfamiliar with MMA outside of its leading organisation.
No, I’m talking about people who clearly watch a lot of UFC. They buy the PPVs and tune into the Fuel and FX events. They should really know better.
I’m not saying they are bad people, but you have to admit that they’re just a little bit annoying. They’re not quite as bad as the homosexual Nazi skinheads, of course.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have the fans who seemingly hate the UFC.
Given that the sport’s growth is tied to the success of the UFC, it’s strange to see so many fans voicing opinions that run contrary to their own self-interest.
These people want the UFC to fail and, what’s more, they make sure everyone within earshot knows it.
They are counting the days until Bellator topples the UFC, usurping them as MMA’s leading organisation. Of course, if and when this happens, those same people will almost immediately turn on Bellator.
Why might this be, I hear you ask?
These fans seemingly view the UFC as an evil monolithic entity that must be defeated so that other organisations might have a chance to thrive.
This doesn’t stop them from buying the pay-per-views and digesting as much UFC content as possible, of course.
There are few things in this sport that irritate me more than hearing a chorus of boos during a good fight.
Certainly, sometimes the fans’ frustration is justified. Indeed, booing should have probably been mandatory during Shawn Jordan vs. Cheick Kongo and Clay Guida vs. Gray Maynard.
But I particularly loathe the booing that occasionally occurs when a fight hits the ground, as though the offending audience members are oblivious to the possibility that there might be grappling at an MMA event.
One wonders why these people don’t buy tickets to Glory shows instead, rather than polluting the atmosphere of mixed martial arts events.
Thankfully, this seems to be occurring less and less as time goes on and people become more educated about the sport.
It seems there are a number of people who don’t understand the distinction between criticising fighters and straight-up verbally abusing them.
Some fighters even feed into this confusion when they take offense at legitimate, reasoned criticism.
Twitter has made the practice of insulting fighters almost trivially easy, with each disgruntled fan now enjoying access to the UFC’s entire roster.
Sure, the athletes don’t have to respond to the haters, but it must be difficult to avoid the bile being spewed whenever they check their mentions.
Even some journalists have been guilty of crossing this particular line.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with criticising a fighter’s technique—or even his personality, if warranted. But you go from being a critic to being a troll when this kind of thing happens.
When someone calls a professional fighter a coward, you have to wonder if something is wrong with that person’s head.
Fighting itself is an incredibly stressful situation, but fighting in front of millions of viewers is enough to transform even the most cocksure fighter into a self-conscious wreck.
The last thing they need is a mob of noxious malcontents radiating hatred in their direction.
It reflects poorly on the sport as a whole and makes the rest of us feel unworthy of the effort put forth by the athletes.