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Why “Going Out on Your Shield” Is the Most Toxic Part of MMA Culture

(Photo via WSOF)

By Matt Saccaro

Rousimar Palhares and Yushin Okami were the stars at last night’s World Series of Fighting 9. Both fighters crushed their respective cans, and got write-ups on MMA sites across the web because their “UFC veteran” status makes them more page view friendly.

While fans and pundits are lost in circular debates about Palhares’ leg lock ethics, the sport is missing out on something more serious that happened at WSOF 9: Marlon Moraes vs. Josh Rettinghouse.

This fight was a horrifically one-sided mismatch. Rettinghouse couldn’t compete with Moraes in any area of MMA. As the bout dragged on, Moraes’ leg kicks started to take their toll. Rettinghouse was reduced to hobbling and then Nick Serra-level buttscooting. Rettinghouse had little to no chance of victory by the time the “championship rounds” started. The media knew it. The referee knew it. Rettinghouse’s corner likely knew it as well. Nevertheless, the fight went the full five rounds. It shouldn’t have made it that far. It should’ve been stopped.

Unfortunately for Rettinghouse’s legs, such behavior is an anathema to MMA culture. MMA, the ultimate dude-bro sport, values a glamorized Spartan ethos that never considers the consequences of its “come back with your shield—or on it,” mantra. Fans, fighters, coaches, and everyone in between agree almost unanimously that getting knocked out is better than quitting on your stool between rounds, and that (s)napping is better than tapping. It’s better to let a fighter “go out on their shield” than stop a fight too early, robbing the winner of undisputed victory and the loser of honor in defeat. Josh Barnett once admitted that he’d rather die than let a fight end prematurely.

One could argue that such behavior is admirable, necessary, and worthwhile on the sport’s grandest stages. At the highest level of any physically taxing sport, sacrifices must be made.  However, this attitude trickles down to the lower-levels, which is exceedingly dangerous for younger and less experienced fighters.

During the Moraes-Rettinghouse match, Bloody Elbow staff writer Zane Simon joked that there was “nothing like potentially destroying your career for a regional MMA title.” He was right, and CagePotato’s own George Shunick echoed this sentiment. The fight was no such thing; it was a beat down that the referee or Rettinghouse’s own corner should have ended. Rettinghouse gained nothing by continuing, and risked everything. We like to tout MMA’s safety, conveniently forgetting this sport can be lethal. Fortunately, Rettinghouse wasn’t in severe danger as it was only his legs that were being tenderized. But seeing a fighter continue despite being concussed (“rocked”) multiple times is common. We praise these fighters as modern-day warriors and worship their toughness. We deride those who realize fleeting glory isn’t worth forgetting your child’s name a few decades from now as cowards who don’t belong in the cage. We beg corners, referees, and doctors not to stop fights.  Let them go out on their shield.

There is no honor in being knocked senseless or in not tapping. Bold displays of bravado demonstrate the innate foolishness of MMA’s culture, not mental and physical fortitude; we believe it’s better to prove toughness and risk permanent injury rather than concede defeat and convey weakness. Renzo Gracie ascended into legend when he let Kazushi Sakuraba snap his arm, but Chris Leben received no such praise for electing to avoid further head trauma and physical abuse against Uriah Hall at UFC 168.

MMA needs more behavior like Leben’s. The sport needs to dispel its culture of prizing punishment above precaution. Fighters have more courage than sense, and if we’re going to discourage cornermen, officials, and doctors from doing their jobs, we might as well take MMA back into the 1990′s.

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