Joe Brolly: MMA is an inhumane business designed to bring out worst in us
MMA is a corruption of martial arts. Extreme violence and a moronic culture (think professional fake wrestling with real violence) are its twin pillars. This moronic culture is all about disrespect, vile abuse, revelling in extreme violence (the more savage a beating is, the better), condoning criminality and hero-worshipping money. Critics are attacked and frozen out. Only cheerleaders are welcome.
My column last week went viral, with over a million reads online. It was a genuine response to what I have seen happening to MMA. In the column, which was carefully vetted by the editorial team at the Sunday Independent and by the lawyers, I called for MMA to be banned. The reaction to what was a serious opinion piece vividly illustrates how diseased this "so-called sport" (MMA matchmaker John Perretti's words) is.
It came at me like a tsunami. Tony Fagnano, the editor in chief of MMA Today (Twitter bio, "I hate to advocate drugs, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they've always worked for me") branded me "a clown" and "a nonce". It is only possible to give the smallest flavour of the abuse. I was variously called "a Down's Syndrome", "a pussy", "a wankstain", "a one kidney wanker", "a fucking coward", "a little pussy bitch", "a butthole surfing girl" (I had to look up butthole surfer). I was threatened with all sorts. I was going to get "a beat down" and "get stomped on mothafucka" and "I'll destroy you and your family" etc etc. I was abused about my personal life by young men from Ireland who brought my children into it. Typical of the decency of the GAA, I was subsequently contacted by the parent of one young man who apologised to me and said that he had found out about his son's public abuse of me through a relation. I don't write any of this in a 'poor me' spirit. Simply that this is the culture that surrounds this barbaric, inhumane business.
John Kavanagh, Conor McGregor's coach (he also coaches Dillon Danis, twitter motto "Bathe in hate"), contacted me via Twitter to say I was ignorant of the subject and that it was a sport where the culture was one of respect and self-discipline. "Call into the gym for a coffee," he said. Coach Kavanagh's understanding of 'respect' is set out in his public tweets. When Khabib made it clear that his faith meant he could not fight McGregor in summer because of his observance of Ramadan, Coach mocked him, tweeting (@John_Kavanagh) "Jesus loves knockouts but Mohammed wasn't a fan of MMA? Choose your religion wisely young fighters." Perhaps Coach should choose his opponents more wisely in future.
When Khabib's manager Ali was being poisonously abused about his personal life and son Noah by the respectful Conor McGregor, Coach Kavanagh enthusiastically joined in, retweeting, "Noah is the son Ali abandoned in Colorado when he started as an informant for the NYPD and who he is $50,000 behind in child support for. @TheNotoriousMMA does his homework when preparing for war."
One of my favourite examples of Coach's culture of respect is his tweet about Floyd Mayweather before his fight with McGregor: "He should have stuck to hitting girls and running strip clubs. He's awoken a dark animal that he's only met in his worst nightmares."
The reality is that Kavanagh is an embodiment of this dystopian nightmare. Condoning the criminal behaviour and excesses of his fighters, supporting their trash talking, subjecting opponents and their managers to vile abuse about their personal lives, then trying to pretend that respect is at the heart of this business.
McGregor hobnobbing with the world's most powerful dictator is a bit of fun to be enjoyed. "One of the greatest leaders of our time," said McGregor as he posed for pics with the man who has backed genocide in Syria, caused the deaths of 10,000 civilians in the illegal invasion of Crimea, is waging a lethal homophobic campaign against the Russian LGBTQ community and who has opponents assassinated all over the world. "Are you disrespecting your president you little fucking rat?" said McGregor to Khabib during a pre-fight press conference, as he bounced about like a man who had injected Red Bull directly into his vein.
Kavanagh's other main fighter, Dillon Danis (@dillondanis), is another role model for respect. "Ali said his son is Noah to be seen" he tweeted about what must be a very painful part of Khabib's manager's personal life. That one got 3,320 likes. Classy. Last week, he tweeted to another MMA fighter (Rafael dos Anjos) "Lets fight then fuck commissions let's meet up and fight you pussy little bitch you give every fight you no heart rat." No doubt there were stern words in the gym after that outburst.
No wonder Perretti says, "What is happening is disgusting and horrendous. It marks a serious decline in North American culture, where hooliganism and violence are becoming normalised and there is one scandal after another."
BT Sport triumphantly released a sickening clip last week (with the audio from the ringside mics enhanced) of the hammering Khabib gave McGregor when he had pinned him to the ground in the second round. Khabib says, "Let's talk now bitch" then strikes him two heavy right elbows on the face as McGregor is pressed against the canvas. "Talk," he says as he strikes him with another big right hand in the face. Three more heavy right hands to the head follow, and Khabib says, "Talk now." Then two more heavy punches, "We're talking, let's talk now." Followed by a big left elbow to the face. The pummelling continues until the end of the round. McGregor, dazed, breathing hard, gets to his feet and as Khabib continues to taunt him saying, "Let's talk now," he says. "It's business, just business." How that fight was allowed to continue during this is beyond me. It is bad enough punching a man when he is standing up and his head is free to move. But sustained punching and elbowing to the head of a man while it is anchored against the canvas?
Perretti - who was primarily a kick boxer - suffered over a dozen concussions during his fighting career. He developed scar tissue on the brain and now has many symptoms of brain injury. Often, he will have long absences where he comes to and has no memory of what he has been doing. He writes: "At aged 40, that was the beginning of not knowing where I was. I was getting lost, physically lost, and having to pull the car over and not know where I was for an hour or two."
MMA only came into being in the mid-1990s. As the savagery has increased, it is obvious that brain damage is going to develop in fighters as they hit that 30-40-year mark. Some of the trendy journos poured scorn on my piece last week, and that is their prerogative. Like the young men who hero-worship MMA stars, they have become immersed in an inhumane business that is designed to bring out the worst in us. Or as Coach Kavanagh puts it, "the dark animal" that we "meet only in our worst nightmares".
I have been sounding out influential TDs and senators in the last week. They are universally appalled by what has suddenly become normal. I intend to set up a working group to look into the banning of this barbarism. The mcgregorisation of society needs to be stopped before it is too late.
Sunday Indo Sport