(“Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here, this is the War Room!” Screenshot via Deadspin/ Tim Burke)
By Elias Cepeda
If you’re anything like me, there were a couple times during Saturday’s UFC on Fox telecast where you angrily shouted at the television. I wasn’t upset at a favorite fighter getting beaten or even vainly yelling out instructions per the common ridiculous spectator custom.
No, I, and perhaps you as well, got upset when Fox repeatedly cut away from the action to show a long overhead shot of an empty UFC Octagon. As Maggie Hendricks at Yahoo! Sports confirmed, those cut-aways were not technical goof ups. ”[Nate] Diaz threw up the middle finger at his opponent, and the network cut away instead of risking a fine from the Federal Communications Commission,” Hendricks wrote on her CageWriter blog.
One of the gestures came while Diaz was working for a heel-hook on Benson Henderson, who was sitting in a near full-split position on the canvas. The champion was unfazed by Diaz’s gestures as he had prepared for the Stockton native’s tactics, both physical and psychological.
“It’s something I actually had a little bit of a hard time with, but once my training partners got together, they all started talking crap to me in the middle of sparring and I’d get angry,” Henderson revealed on Fuel TV’s post fight show. “They helped control it and I did a pretty good job of being very focused and not letting that affect my emotional state in the middle of the fight.”
So, what’s all the fuss been about on the net since then? On Yahoo’s front page, Hendricks’s story was linked to with the headline, “Fighter’s tasteless moves rattle television broadcast.” Yes, the network that has brought us Cops, Temptation Island and The Simple Life was “rattled” and nearly brought to its sweet, innocent knees by Nate Diaz‘s tactical posturing during his fight.
Look, Fox had the right and good sense to use their seven-second delay and cut away from Diaz giving Henderson the finger to try and avoid FCC fines. Nothing wrong with that. But there’s also nothing particularly wrong with Nate Diaz doing what he did. I’ll go out on a limb and say that Diaz would not have flipped the bird if he had been beating up on Henderson at the time, instead of losing the bout. He and his brother Nick routinely use taunts to try and unnerve and goad opponents into getting reckless, making mistakes, creating openings and thereby allowing the Diaz bros a chance to turn the tide.
Is the move “classy” or in “good taste?” No, of course not. Neither is trying to knock another human being out senseless or tear their limbs apart. But this is where we find ourselves on fight nights, ‘nation. Grown, trained and skilled fighters go to battle and there’s nothing particularly offensive about them doing whatever they can, short of cheating, to beat their opponent. If they can use psychological tricks to mess with their opponents’ heads, more power to them.
Ben Henderson could not be disrupted by Diaz’s little middle finger trick on fight night, and he dominated en route to defending his lightweight title. His superior mental fortitude is just one of the many reasons he’s the champ.
Now all this doesn’t mean that mainstream media critics won’t use isolated incidents like this one to try and paint the sport of MMA in a negative light. But that doesn’t mean that we should care that they do.
We won’t go into exhaustive detail about the merits of fight sports in comparison to more culturally accepted sports where, for example, people drive veritable missiles around a track at two hundred miles per hour and all too often kill one another, or where behemoths line up opposite one another and smash each other’s heads play after play for sixty minutes. I will say, however, that the sport of MMA needn’t fear a comparative analysis of the character of its athletes to those in other sports.
We’ve all seen the horrible headlines over the past two weeks involving professional athletes. If MMA’s worst recent offering is Nate Diaz extending out one of his fingers, I’d say that’s not too bad.