Wednesday 28 September 2016

Daragh Keany: The naysayers have their day - but MMA fighters devote their lives to their sport

Daragh Keany

Published 16/04/2016 | 02:30

Reporter Daragh Keany tests his mettle against Conor McGregor. Photo: David Maher / Sportsfile
Reporter Daragh Keany tests his mettle against Conor McGregor. Photo: David Maher / Sportsfile

Long before this week's tragedy, I found myself defending the sport of MMA on a regular basis. I frequently found myself discussing the reason I am a UFC Fight Pass member, why I spent a small fortune travelling to Las Vegas last December to watch 13 seconds of combat, and why I regularly pull all-nighters glued to the telly watching a series of title fights from various packed-out arenas around the world.

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I have read countless opinion pieces this week about how the sport should be banned and how disgusting and violent it is. Every narrow-minded naysayer who doesn't have a grasp of what MMA really is has come out of the woodwork and had their say.

I've heard it all before. Genuinely I have.

Never has a sport created such divisive debate that has seen old-school 'sports' fans infuriatingly shut up shop and simply dismiss MMA as some sort of puppetry.

And UFC CEO Dana White is the puppeteer. It is all so very naïve.

Beating

MMA is so much more than beating the sh*t out of one another. To get into that octagon you have to cultivate more strength, determination, mental agility, heart and ultimate sacrifice than the vast majority of the professional sports stars from the so-called 'safer' sports.

And to think that one of our own is right there at the top of the game, changing the sport with every fight - we should all be embracing it.

It is hard to fathom what John Kavanagh and his Straight Blast Gym has achieved in such a short space of time. To pluck Conor McGregor from obscurity and cast him as the leading player in the world's fastest growing sport is phenomenal.

I could talk for hours without stopping for air on the merits of the combat sport, the intricacies of the grappling element, the main card permutations from one box-office event to the next and the many positives that the sport has.

But this week I found myself speechless. The defensible all of a sudden became hard to defend.

One of the automatic go-to arguments that us MMA fans pounce on every time we are posturing over a beer-stained pub table, engrossed in a debate about the sport, is the relative lack of fatalities. At 9.45pm on Monday night that argument became moot.

The Portuguese fighter tragically lost his life and the MMA world was in shock. The click-bait rent-a-reaction sports columnists had their fodder. The target was set.

They went head first at the sport and they didn't hold back. But anyone calling for this great sport to be banned needs to get a reality check.

There are deaths in every sport. There are far more concussions from rugby and boxing - and yet no one has even whispered the notion that those sports should be banned.

Yes, it is violent. Yes, the point is to hurt your opponent.

Yes, there is blood and yes, there are lots of injuries. But to compare the bouts to bar brawls and street fights is laughably inaccurate.

To tarnish the game as a blood-soaked cock fight with no rules is pure ignorance.

Every single fighter, whether it is a 115lb woman from Poland or a 265lb giant from Brazil, knows what they are getting themselves in to every single time they step into the octagon.

They have trained their entire lives for it. They know the dangers of the sport, they realise the risk.

But they yearn for the opportunity to prove themselves at the top level in front of millions of fans around the world.

It is their career. It is their life. And for some it is their vocation. Joao Carvalho's horrific death on Monday has made MMA fans take stock. No doubt about it.

But if you think that Carvalho's family would want the sport banned, then you are sorely mistaken.

In fact, his brother came out on Wednesday afternoon to throw his support behind last night's planned event at The Wright Venue in Dublin.

Truly, if last weekend's fight, and ultimate tragedy, had happened in any other city or country in the world, then only real MMA fans would have heard of it.

On any given weekend, you could have up to a dozen high profile MMA events in the US, Asia, South America, Europe or Australia.

Yet this tragedy happened in our capital city and we are now forced to defend the sport.

Hundreds of fighters have died in the boxing ring. Hundreds. One of our greatest ever boxers, Barry McGuigan, fought a man by the name of Young Ali in 1982.

Shortly after the fight, Ali fell into a coma. Five months later, he died.

Chris Eubank Senior's fight with Michael Watson in 1991 resulted in the defeated fighter spending a year in ICU, with a further six years in a wheelchair.

A frightening 51 drivers have died during an official Formula 1 qualifying session or race since the sport was created in 1952.

Does anyone consider ending their interest in that? Twenty-eight men have also lost their lives in the American NASCAR series through the years.

Just last summer, Sunshine Coast rugby league player James Ackerman died from a head trauma sustained on the pitch.

All of these sports are dangerous, yet they seem to be immune to the 'let's ban it now' PC brigade.

Violent

I cannot deny it - MMA is dangerous. I would be lying to you and kidding myself to say anything otherwise. Allowing a fighter to continue to punch his opponent when he is on the ground is extremely violent and, even for me at times, is hard to watch.

Just put 'Rory MacDonald v Robbie Lawler' into a Google image search and you will be disgusted about what you are looking at.

But in its purest form, it is a thing of beauty.

What Rory and Robbie went through to get to that point over the course of five exhilarating rounds last October is one of the most impressive sporting moments in recent memory.

When you scrape back the blood-splattered canvas and heart-stopping echoes of fist-to-face moments of brilliance, there are just fighters who have given up everything in their lives to be there.

RIP Joao Carvalho.

Irish Independent

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