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The Difference Between Violence and Competition

This past weekend saw what has since been referred to as the ‘greatest heavyweight fight of all time’ and one of the strongest contenders for fight of the year when Mark Hunt and Antonio Silva went toe to toe for five blistering rounds. Anyone and everyone with an appreciation of MMA and combat sports in general were united in their praise of two giant warriors. A dissenting voice could be heard though, the voice of Daily Telegraph writer Phil Rothfield who called for the sport to be banned in Australia following the spectacle.

Rothfield’s arguments were born of ignorance and a profound lack of understanding of combat sports and the nature of fighting. It was a fairly typical reaction from someone who has little or no knowledge of MMA and it rankled with many fans and with Dana White who tweeted Rothfield, telling him he had no idea what he had just watched. And that essentially is the problem.

Aside from basic factual errors (Hunt is not Australian and stomps are not allowed) Rothfield’s piece took a hysterical tone. What does it say about society when we pay to watch grown men fight, when we allow kids to watch fights but then tell them they shouldn’t do violence themselves (something I will come back to later)? In truth there were many points he made that I could take issue with but to address them all would take many hundreds of words and is unnecessary as he largely defeats his own arguments but I’ll look at a few. He mentions how MMA has the stats to prove it is safer than boxing but then dismisses this fact by stating we should Google worst MMA injuries to see the evidence for ourselves. My response to that would be Google worst soccer injuries and watch countless videos of ruptured knees and broken legs.

Then there is the insulting line about men ‘bashing each other into submission’ which displays an astounding lack of insight into what actually happens during an MMA bout. He mentions Hunt’s blonde hair being stained red by blood. A dramatic statement, sure, but again, how many contact sports do not result in blood. Does he watch Australian rules, one of the most aggressive, high intensity sports there is?

And of course, the old chestnut, women competing in MMA. To this I will say only, welcome to 2013, Phil.

The point about children watching can be countered by referring back to something I wrote about Conor McGregor before, a man who despite his brash talk, emphasises hard work and discipline above all else. A parent’s responsibility, as I’m sure all parents know, is to make a child understand the difference between wanton violence and competition. Rothfield would have us believe that all the children who witness the weekend’s events are going to be irreparably corrupted. Foolish in the extreme, I’m sure you will agree.

Now the point that stuck with this writer most firmly was the idea that society is crumbling because we cheered as two men did battle for our entertainment. Rothfield took the Australian crowd’s cheers as people baying for blood rather than in the spirit in which it was intended. That is, appreciation for the awesome display of courage and skill on display. Knowledge of both fighters of course added to the exhilaration. Silva, a genuine behemoth coming in off another lopsided loss to the incumbent heavyweight champion and Hunt, at one point completely unwanted by the UFC and now one of its most popular fighters. He writes of his disgust that this is considered entertainment and singularly fails to recognise that all sports except fighting are human contrivances, displays of athletic talent and skill borne of practice that are entirely without merit other than entertainment. Now, do not misunderstand me. I am a huge fan of soccer and rugby as well as taking more than a passing interest in various other sports. But without fans and followers these would not exist.

The same cannot be said of fighting which has always existed and now allows men and women to address the most primal competitive instinct within and MMA allows this to happen – despite what Rothfield says- in the most civilised environment possible. Sam Sheridan in his fantastic book A Fighter’s Heart (if you haven’t read it and you enjoy martial arts then you’re missing out) talks about combat sports being the most civilised thing two people can engage in. Why? Because they accept that each will be attempting to hurt and damage the other but there is a line than cannot be crossed, there are rules to be obeyed. Those who do cross these lines, Paul Daley for example when he struck Josh Koscheck after the bell or Rousimar Palharaes when he held onto submissions are absolutely vilified for it. Crossing the boundary is not just unacceptable but morally reprehensible. And at the bottom of it all, there is the idea that the UFC was founded on; who has the better technique? Fighters are attempting to execute fighting techniques more skilfully than their opponents in an attempt to win. I would posit that very few, if any, fighters legitimately enjoy hurting other human beings. Thus when two men are equally matched skill wise and also possess huge hearts and toughness like Hunt and Silva you get a fight like we witnessed the other night. Rothfield displays his own lack of understanding of the nature of competition in every word he writes.

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