Tuesday 21 January 2020

Fergus Ryan: MMA is going nowhere and the way forward is rational thinking, not emotional rhetoric

MMA fighter Joao Carvalho. Facebook/Nobrega Team
MMA fighter Joao Carvalho. Facebook/Nobrega Team

Fergus Ryan

In the aftermath of the tragic death of Joao Carvalho what we really needed was a period of calm.

This would allow the authorities carry on their much needed investigations without distraction. But more importantly, it would allow all those affected by Joao’s death, especially his family and loved ones to deal and grieve with the devastating loss.

What happened in the National Stadium is above and beyond the normal subject line of a sports media review. It wasn’t the equivalent of a disallowed try or an offside goal. A young man died.

Instead of calm, rational reaction we’ve been subjected to a number of emotional opinion pieces. I’m pretty sure they’re being driven by emotion over reason because for all the bluster and eloquently put opinions, there is very little evidence of fact or research.

So bizarre have been some of the opinions that it reminds me of the Donald Trump quote at a campaign rally in South Carolina in December. Despite Donald making wild and entertaining statements he reckoned he’s worth listening to because “I went to an Ivy League school. I’m very highly educated. I know words, I have the best words.”

Well you may have the best words, but that doesn’t mean they all make sense or add anything meaningful to the conversation.

Portuguese MMA fighter Joao Carvalho (right) during the fight against Charlie Ward. Photo: Dave Fogarty

Sure, it’s your opinion, which you’re entitled to. But if you have no basis for the claims you make well then, like Donald, you may have the best words but you are adding nothing meaningful to the conversation.

I have no issue with people that don’t like MMA. I get why some people wouldn’t like it. I know lots of people that don’t like MMA. But the select few that put it upon themselves to represent the anti-MMA side of the argument are doing such a poor job it’s embarrassing.

All it displays is their ignorance on the topic. They either don’t know how to Google something or they opted not to. Maybe using the banner of ‘opinion piece’ means they can abdicate the responsibility of actually finding out anything about the subject they are writing about.

Instead we’re treated to variations of words like barbaric, extreme violence, brutal, human cock fighting all of which are the same recycled descriptions that John McCain used in the late 1990’s.

Like McCain back in 1996, sometimes these esteemed opinions decide the best course of action is to have MMA banned… Ye know, because the best way to make the world safer is to make it illegal to do stuff like MMA; as if this worked really well during the prohibition years in 1920’s America when not a drop passed anyone’s lips.

Rather than emotional opinions we need to review last weekend’s tragedy with reason and consistency. Expressing opinions that are misleading and hugely inaccurate don’t serve anyone other than the author.

Sinead Ryan’s opinion is a classic example of that. Ryan wrote…

“MMA is in an entirely different league. It is little more than authorised, and glorified, assault. In no other sport – even ones linked to serious injury like motor or horse racing – is the object to take out your opponent, to crush him until he can no longer breathe.”

Not only is she wrong about the object of MMA (not even the slightest evidence of a Google search here) but she seems to suggest that it’s OK to have casualties in other sports so long as it happens on the back of a cute animal or in a shiny machine.

The object of MMA is to beat your opponent using a diverse set of martial arts skills. Sometimes it’s pretty brutal; sometimes it pretty boring. Most importantly, almost all of the time athletes get to go home after the competition with, at most, some cuts and bruises. What happened to Joao Carvahlo was very much in the minority. A little googling will support this statement.

It’s refreshing to hear Dr Darragh O'Carroll, who works as a fight doctor in Los Angeles, put casualties in MMA in perspective. Speaking to RTE news O’Carroll said "with regards to the safety of the sport, there are more deaths in cheerleading than with MMA. It's just that MMA, for obvious reasons, can be sensationalised.”

There have been numerous comments under articles and social media posts outlining which sports have had more deaths. I’m not sure highlighting statistics around deaths is the best measure of how safe a sport is.

At this point we are now circling the ‘which sport is more dangerous’ drain. This line of debate serves nobodies cause. Instead of focusing on the worst case scenario could we not ask how to make the sport safer?

MMA has exploded across the globe in the last fifteen years. The biggest promotion, the Ultimate Fighting Championship has gone from the point of extinction to mainstream media acceptance in some countries.

The UFC produces more around 50 live events annually that consistently sell out regardless of the location or venue size. The most recent UFC in Dublin last October sold out the 3Arena in seconds. And before you dismiss its popularity as solely being down to the Conor McGregor factor, the UFC’s first event in Ireland in January 2009 previously held the record for the fasting selling event outside the US for some time.

Conor McGregor. Photo: Getty

UFC content is broadcast in over 150 countries to more than one billion TV households worldwide in 21 different languages. In a nutshell, MMA is going nowhere. Complaining about it, not recognising it as a sport even an outright ban will not make it go away.

In the absence of any government involvement MMA in Ireland has been trying to regulate itself. As a result initiatives like the founding of the Irish Amateur Pankration Association, which works closely with the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation and the adoption of SAFE MMA protocols have all happened off Irish MMA’s own bat.

Furthermore the better Irish MMA promotions have worked with Joe Clifford and his cuts team and CodeBlue fronted by Glenn Ellis., both of which have contributed to increasing the safety standards at Irish shows.

What has been even more disappointing than the uninformed opinions is that Junior Sport Minister Michael Ring Michael Ring claimed he predicted this tragedy. You’d expect that if someone had “concerns, grave concerns” they would take the matter of regulation seriously. No. Instead he opted to send a strongly worded letter to 17 promoters.

Minister of State for Regional Development: Michael Ring

John Treacy seems to have missed the point a little also. Talking to RTE News he came out blasting … “If we bring forward guidelines and codes of practice and they are not followed then I think there is no place for it in Ireland, it's as simple as that.”

The guidelines and codes of practise are there. An international support network for Irish MMA is there. There have been massive strides by MMA to regulate MMA in the absence of governments getting involved. Treacy doesn’t seem to get that Irish MMA will be a willing participant in any discussion.

If you consider the case of MMA in the US, New York recently became the 50th and final state to recognise and formally regulate MMA. This was in no small part to the tireless campaigning by the UFC. MMA has been seeking acceptance in the sports arenas and the parliament buildings all over the world. Ireland is no different.

At one point there was no-one more against MMA than Republican presidential nominee John McCain. If you roll forward to 2007 McCain remarked about safety and regulation that he thought “the sport (MMA) has made significant progress.”

In 2014 McCain began working closely with MMA promoters to fund brain injury research at the Cleveland Clinic. When asked during an interview McCain went as far as to say that he absolutely would have participated in MMA as a young man in the Navy if it were around.

MMA is not going away. It’s time for rational response rather than emotional rhetoric. If Joao Carvalho’s passing is to mean anything it should be that he played a role in making it safer for those who came after him.

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