October 14, 2010

MMA Fighters, What's With The Attitude?

By Yael Grauer

As I was watching The Ultimate Fighter last night, I was particularly intrigued by Nam Phan. The honesty behind his words stuck a chord with me. He was raw and honest and real. I liked the way that he trained and the way that viewers could see the bird's eye view of his personality reflected in his style--methodical, powerful and precise. I liked that he went running every morning although it certainly wasn't a requirement-- even though he had to run circles in the tiny yard. I liked the way he carried himself.

And at the same time I know that a lot of people were sitting on their couches making all sorts of judgements about him. He doesn't look like a fighter. He looks like a college kid. He's not decked out in tattoos. He wears emo glasses. He doesn't act like a fighter. When he got picked to fight, he looked down at the ground rather than staring down his opponent and talking smack.

Am I the only person who finds this refreshing? In a sea of posturing and pissing contests, to me it was a breath of fresh air. It wasn't just Phan's good sportsmanship (though I certainly appreciate that as well), it was that we were finally seeing something that didn't look like a show for the cameras.

I don't think it's necessary to be a classy fighter to claw your way to the top. There are a ton of fighters who are high on trash talking and drama, and yet have a great work ethic and are highly talented. And it's impossible to second guess what's going on inside their heads. Perhaps they think this makes them more marketable. Or maybe they have to create some animosity to be at their best when they step into the cage. Everyone is wired differently, and building hype doesn't necessarily mean they don't have the skills to back it up.

I just think it's boring.

Josh Koschek offering to leave MMA if Georges kisses him and saying "you know you love yellow"? Does anybody past third grade still find this infantile bullying amusing? Not to pick on Kos because he's certainly not the only one, but I just have to wonder why the powers that be think this is the way to go, and what the viewer response actually is.

What am I interested in as a viewer? I'm interested in a story. I want to know what makes a fighter get up in the morning. I want to know what keeps him going when that door clicks shut and he's in the center of the Octagon and wondering, as Phan elucidated, why he chose to fight instead of becoming a business man.

I want to know how fighters like Urijah Faber can keep going even after breaking their hands knowing that the odds are stacked against them--or why other equally skilled fighters don't answer the bell after similar injuries (and I'm not making judgements here.) I want to know how they regroup after a loss, when the whole world it seems has forgotten about them and is high on the person who beat them. I want to know what sustains them in the dark moments, and how they get past ending up on the losing end of someone's highlight reel.

There's another issue at play here, too, and that's that--like it or not--what we see on these shows and in the media has a trickle-down effect to our gyms. I've been discussing the differences between wrestling and jiu jitsu gyms with a friend lately, who points out that all of the drama so widespread in the world of BJJ is startlingly missing from the wrestling world.

Would you rather train--or have your children train--at a gym where people are respectful and humble and leave their egos at the door? Or would you rather support a gym run by a bunch of tough guys with bad attitudes? Which is the gym where people will learn and grow?


Yael Grauer is a regular contributor at MMA HQ. Check them out for more MMA news and updates, and get 15% off MMA gloves at Elite MMA (Simply enter the coupon code "mma_gloves_sale" at checkout.)

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