(What are you gonna do against the largest arms in the world, brother? / Photo via Getty)
By Matt Saccaro
MMA is the ultimate “nice guys finish last” sport. It’s called prize fighting for a reason, and “I respect him; he’s a great opponent” doesn’t sell.
This is no secret. Just look at how Chael Sonnen—a perennial mid-carder who nobody knew or cared about—resurrected his career with carefully executed, bombastic trash talk.
Why am I telling you this if it’s common sense? Because it’s only common sense to people who appreciate MMA for what it is—real-life pro wrestling. Unfortunately, most hardcore MMA fans (and some media members) refuse to see it this way. They either believe in a non-existent code of honor, or an even less corporeal competitive architecture. “It’s a sport,” they maintain. “It should be only about competition. Besides, who wouldn’t want to see the best fighters go at it, even if they have less charisma than a light bulb?” The answer to that question: Most of the country.
There’s a sport with no flash, no glitz, and none of the other maligned “entertainment” trappings of the UFC and the WWE. It’s called amateur wrestling, and nobody watches it. MMA turning into amateur wrestling hurts the fighters. If there’s no viewers, there’s no money. It’s crazy that people still need to be reminded of this, but selling the fight is equally as important as fighting the fight. To quote The Simpsons, “Every good scientist is half B.F. Skinner and half P.T. Barnum.”
Chael Sonnen understood this. And so does boxing superstar Floyd Mayweather Jr. Remember when Mayweather said he was interested in buying the L.A. Clippers after the Donald Sterling fiasco? That’s brilliant promotion; he injected himself into a highly volatile, nation-wide story and in doing so drew more eyeballs onto his upcoming fight. Then there’s the chicanery about cancelling the fight over gloves, which was another great way to build buzz.
A perfect, recent example from the MMA world is Cole Miller. After defeating Andy Ogle at UFC Fight Night 30 this past October, Miller trash talked hot prospect/rising star Conor McGregor, calling him “Colin McGoober.” He went on the attack again in an interview with Fighters Only, calling McGregor a show-pony. And it worked. Talking shit catapulted a guy who couldn’t find sponsors into the main event of a fight card.
Bethe Correia is another example. After defeating Jessamyn Duke at UFC 172, she mocked Ronda Rousey‘s “four horsewomen” (ugh) stable with a gesture, putting up four fingers and then knocking one down. Now it’s a legitimate plot in a division that typically serves as a promotional vehicle for Ronda Rousey. Bethe Correia stood out in a weight class of sacrificial lambs because she said something interesting when she opened her mouth.
Of course, trash talk doesn’t always work (see: Phil Davis), but the rewards far outweigh the risks. More fighters need to embrace their brazen sides, lest they fade into the abyss of generic, video game create-a-fighter lookalikes that is the UFC’s current roster.