MMA fans are a fickle bunch by nature.
All-time greats become worthless overnight should they get clipped or caught in a submission. Elite champions are discounted for the tiniest flaw in their game. Hot prospects go ice cold with their first loss to a more experienced fighter.
It’s a hard sport to get ahead in when those are the prevailing attitudes in the fan community.
In the midst of this environment sits Team Black House, perhaps the most lethal collection of human beings on the planet, home to two current UFC champions, a current Strikeforce champion, three men who have held MMA championships in the past, and a few others who are a fight or two away from being in contention themselves.
And yet despite the success this group has attained, there has long been a major hurdle for its stars that has kept them out of the mainstream—not their performances, or any other criteria the average fan uses to dismiss a fighter.
The issue has been language.
The vast majority of Black House members are native Brazilians, most of whom have been insistent in using their native Portuguese to converse stateside. The result has been a great amount of respect for the physical tools of the fighters who call Black House home, but a lack of interest in them as people.
However recently, there has been a notable change of pace.
Seemingly out of nowhere these men have begun to use their English skills, and have been doing so in a manner that leaves one all but certain that the choice to stick to Portuguese was exactly that—a choice.
Where men like Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida were never seen without manager/translator Ed Soares far behind, recently he’s been left with nothing to say as those two—and others he represents—literally wave him off and answer questions in English.
Pretty good English, in fact.
It isn’t easy to know what has caused the change. One might suggest a motivation to become more mainstream—to make a little extra coin by better connecting with the audience—could be at the top of the list. The fact that Black House has brought in Steven Seagal in a laughable (yet wildly effective) publicity stunt to suggest he’s teaching the greatest martial artists in the world things they’ve never seen or heard of before, definitely adds fuel to that fire.
Perhaps it’s the boost in popularity that Black House member Junior Dos Santos has enjoyed during his tenure as a coach on The Ultimate Fighter.
The season itself has been largely forgettable, but the likeable Dos Santos and his light-hearted nature are much easier to portray as he attempts to work-in English. In fact, his rudimentary English and obvious enjoyment of trying to communicate in the language (despite it being troublesome for him at times) is one of the main things that buoys his likability on the show.
Maybe it’s a deteriorating influence of Soares—a slippery character that many in the MMA community have long had a distaste for.
As manager and translator, he has the final say. If Jose Aldo says he hates his opponent in Portuguese and Soares feels it’s not the perfect thing to say at the time, his ability to manage the image while translating the words allows him to skew the message or outright misrepresent it.
Could it be that some of his fighters have decided they’d rather take their chances being misunderstood than being mistranslated?
Stranger things have happened, and the recent string of interviews and discussions that have seen Soares appear surprised when one of his fighters waves him off and begins speaking in English does little to put out the fire of such an argument.
Whatever the reason for more English coming out of Black House, there’s no question it’s a good thing for the team and for the sport.
Men like Silva and Machida are actually quite likable as people, but catch a lot of heat because their words and personalities are often lost in translation. Seeing that Silva is actually like a big, happy kid and Machida is one of the most genuinely respectful pro athletes in the world today is excellent, but it needs to happen in English for the North American audience to notice. Probably not fair, but definitely reality.
So the next time you catch a night of fights and a Black House guy kicks someone’s head off then credits Steven Seagal with teaching it to him, don’t dismiss him for the publicity stunt. Appreciate that he said it in English, and that the real connection is coming from that instead of from the guy who was in Under Siege.
That was probably the real plan all along.