Fight Hype: Good, Bad, and Ugly

February 25, 2010

What do fighters like BJ Penn, Dan Hardy, Chael Sonnen, and Frank Mir have in common? A critical understanding of just how important fight hype is to the drawing ability of a fight event. Each man in the past year has stepped up his smack talk game, but with each radio clip or vlog the comments seemingly become more outlandish by the day.

It all begs the question: where should the line be drawn between healthy smack talk versus fight hype that becomes a detriment to the event for one reason or another?¬†Unfortunately, the answer to this question isn’t an obvious one.

There are, of course, ethical issues to consider here; is MMA truly about hurting someone? Yet, the MMA community also needs to determine what impact this smack talk might have on MMA’s chances for further regulation. Likewise, where the future growth and success of the sport is concerned, what might be the impact of hyping a fight so much that it then becomes impossible to deliver upon that new set of expectations?

Death is taboo

The place to start is probably with the extreme and work backwards from there. Thus, it needs to be said: any talk of death or killing someone in the ring/cage is simply unacceptable.

But to be fair, it’s not just the fighters that bear this responsibility – so should the promoters. Frank Mir should not have talked about Lesnar being the first death in the UFC, but nor should Dana White have referred to Herschel Walker’s potential participation in the same light. Why? There’s simply too much on the line to risk the potential regulatory or legal implications of what might happen if someone takes a comment the wrong way or someone actually dies in a fight.

Who cares if they did or didn’t literally mean what they said – that’s not the point. Everyone in the MMA community understands that Frank Mir doesn’t actually want to kill Brock Lesnar, but the MMA community isn’t the concern here.

Yes, MMA is far from politically correct. I’d even argue there’s considerable risk in MMA trying to become too PC and appeal to everyone; MMA must stay narrow and go deeper with its audience (which is different than saying it should not expand internationally). But MMA still needs to survive and operate within the current legal, cultural, and environmental business norms that any other legitimate business has to endure.

MMA is already skirting around a large societal comfort zone because of the physical nature of the sport; taunting the greater public with threats of death is a fool’s gamble.

This isn’t MMA

More importantly, all this talk of death and hurting people isn’t MMA – it’s not what the sport is about.

MMA is about demonstrating athleticism, skill, technique, discipline, and determination in a competitive setting against both one’s self and an opponent.¬†There is physical contact and people do get beat up – no one is hiding this fact – but I’d argue there’s a clear difference between beating someone up and trying to hurt them; one that has nothing to do with semantics.

If a fighter intends to outclass his opponent by a fair margin, there are hundreds of ways to say so without talking about murdering the guy or breaking his neck.

Drawing the line

So, where does MMA draw the line?

In addition to eliminating talk of death, there are really two other concerns:

1.) Respect. The sport and its participants deserve to be treated professionally. Nobody minds good trash talk – it helps to motivate the fighters and interest the fans – but the personal, non-MMA stuff is something the sport would be better off without. It makes the sport look cheap and petty, which isn’t going to help its push for mainstream acceptance.¬†Moreover, any man that has the guts to step into the cage and have that steel door slam behind him deserves respect for his courage.

2.) Believability. The mantra in business is never over-promise and under-deliver, but that’s precisely what a lot of hyped fights manage to do; Koscheck-Sanchez and Hughes-Serra are just two of many examples. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, but the danger in guys like Chael Sonnen making these outlandish claims is that not only will they likely not be able to back them up, but it will also encourage more of the same from other fighters that have seen what it can get them (i.e., a title shot). MMA can do without the pro wrestling-like circus drama: if you don’t mean it or can’t back it up, don’t say it.

Just because MMA should emphasize respect and believability in promoting its fights doesn’t mean that it must lose that raw, edgy appeal that is at the very core of what attracts many fans. There are ways to hype fights that retain the essence of the sport without crossing the line into a place that MMA need not go.

3 Responses to “Fight Hype: Good, Bad, and Ugly”

  1. Iron Mike on February 25th, 2010 9:46 AM

    It doesn’t count unless he leaves in a body bag.

  2. Jason Harris on February 25th, 2010 11:48 AM

    To be fair re: Sonnen, dominating Marquardt is what got him a title shot….and he probably has a better shot than anyone at beating Silva

  3. Brain Smasher on February 25th, 2010 1:34 PM

    I have never liked fighters talking trash who are not good at it and you can tell its not in their nature. That means they are faking it. That waters it down when the real talkers do it or when there really is bad blood. Guys like Baroni, Tito, Penn, etc are good at it. Sonnen is not. Matt Lindland can write a good script to trash talk but its not real. What this leads to when the fakes are doing it is it gets old for everyone. Then the real bad blood doesnt draw and the guys who are good promoters are forced to take the next step. The next step is why boxing lost a lot of respect in my eyes. It got to where trash talk wasnt enough. Then they added in the fake pre fight press conference fight. Tyson swing at Lewis. Lewis and Rahman wrestling each other on ESPN.

    Which begs to question. Why is it when boxers get is fights outside the ring they resort to MMA moves they refer to as unskilled dirty fighting? They always start wrestling around and you even had Larry Holmes jumping off a limo to kick someone. LOL

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