Friday 24 May 2019

Joe Brolly: The time has come to call a halt to the UFC's bloody freak show

Tony Ferguson (left) in action against Anthony Pettis
Tony Ferguson (left) in action against Anthony Pettis
Joe Brolly

Joe Brolly

In the movie Django Unchained, Django and the Doctor visit a wealthy southern slave owner (played by Leonardo DiCaprio). As they are shown into the drawing room, two slaves are fighting in front of a hearty fire for their masters' amusement and money.

"Keep fighting niggers," says DiCaprio, as the two visitors come into the room. He sits there, resplendent in his purple velvet long coat and cravat, sipping cocktails with his wealthy slave-owning friends. "Come on over gentlemen, we got us a fight going on that's a good bit of fun." A beautiful, smiling black woman, very well dressed, is draped over a sofa, sipping champagne. In the background the two men are wrestling hard, groaning and breathing heavily.

Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov. Photo: Sportsfile
Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov. Photo: Sportsfile

"Get back on top now, then turn him around," DiCaprio says to his fighter, as though he were explaining homework to his son. "Come on now, there you go, there you go." A few seconds later, his man has his opponent in an arm lock, wrenches out his shoulder, and the vanquished fighter lies on the floor screaming in agony. DiCaprio is triumphant. He jumps up, and punches the air with both hands, "Woohooo. Wooo hooo hooo hooooo!" There is blood spattered everywhere. All over the fighters' bodies and faces. All over the floor, even the gentlemen's shoes. It is disgusting, and almost impossible to watch.

In the early hours of Sunday morning, I thought of Tarantino's movie. I had gone downstairs to see if my 13-year-old son and his half a dozen excited friends had gone to bed after watching the McGregor fight. It hadn't started yet. So I made some chilli tea and sat down amongst them to watch it. A black man called Ovince Saint Preux was fighting another tremendous specimen called Dominick Reyes. Reyes beat him up systematically from the first bell, raining powerful kicks and punches into his face and head until it became almost impossible to watch.

Reyes, a beast of a man himself, kept staggering forward, throwing wild punches. After two rounds his opponent's face and body were covered in blood, so that his facial features couldn't be made out. The commentator said, "Saint Preux is bleeding like a stuck pig now." Thirty seconds later, he was stretched out on the canvas after a shocking left hand from Reyes. Like DiCaprio's hearth, there was blood everywhere. The crowd whooped and roared. A very excited, very well-dressed woman in the audience came forward and filmed the stricken fighter on her phone as he lay there. 

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Tony Ferguson fought a man called Anthony Pettis. This one was even bloodier. Pettis knocked Ferguson down heavily early on. He recovered his senses and administered a shocking beating to Pettis, who was gashed all over his face, so that his blood was all over Ferguson's body. At one point, Ferguson got his man on the ground in a hold, then proceeded to strike him on the head and face with the point of his elbow around 20 times. As he did this, the crowd chanted "Olé Olé Olé Olé, Olé Olé". Just like an Ireland soccer match at Lansdowne. "These guys aren't just bleeding over each other," says the commentator, breathless with excitement, "they're bleeding all over us!"

Eventually, the fight was stopped. Pettis was in a terrible mess and had a fractured hand. Time for a drink at the bar.

Two women tried to kill each other. The Karate Hottie (real name Michelle Waterson), who has done naked photo shoots and boasted in a pre-fight interview, "I've beaten up some of my opponents so badly, they have actually shat themselves during the fight", was matched with Felice Herrig, a seriously dangerous looking white woman. Felice was not to be outdone by her opponent's defecation-inducing credentials. The viewers discovered that "Felice famously made Justine Kish soil the octagon during their UFC fight in 2017". What can one say, only, "Woohooo. Woo hoo hoo hoo. Way to go Felice." Anyway, they battered each other until there was blood everywhere. The viewer was not told whether either or both defecated in their hot-pants during the fight, but it was all every disturbing, ending with Ms Herrig in very bad shape.

Conor McGregor looks like a human dog, and behaves like one. I thought the beating he got was worse than any-thing else that happened during this disgusting night. "How many shots can one man take?" roared the delighted commentator during the second round when McGregor was being repetitively struck in the face with heavy blows as he lay on the ground. "Khabib is trying to smash his face in." "He's getting smashed alright," roared his co-commentator. I thought at that point he could die if the referee didn't intervene. But no, the bell went, and he was allowed to continue. It just got worse.

When Khabib choked him out in the fourth round, I thought of the fine line they tread between life and death. If that choke had continued, how long before this exhausted human being slipped into a coma? Ten, 15 seconds? What if his windpipe had been crushed? At that point, McGregor could easily have been bleeding into his brain. Like Joao Carvalho, who died in the cage in Dublin two years ago. As Carvalho lay on the ground dying that night, McGregor high-fived and celebrated with his opponent. Woo hoo hoo hooo!

As a veteran criminal barrister, I can tell you that words are more powerful than any beating. I have stripped the hardest men naked in court, by exposing them in an environment where they are neutered. In a kidnap case once, I cross-examined a witness with an ultra-violent past. I suggested he had several aliases and dates of birth. He denied this. He denied that he had been the person involved in a series of serious crimes across the UK.

Me: The police took the fingerprints and DNA of those men when they were arrested

Him: Did they?

Me: You won't believe this. Their fingerprints are identical to yours (jury giggling, looking at each other in amusement).

Him: That's unbelievable.

Me: If you're amazed by that, then this will knock you for six. Brace yourself . . . they don't just have your fingerprints. They have the same DNA as you (jury laughing now).

Him: That is amazing.

Me: How does it feel to be the only person in history born on several different occasions?

The jury exploded. He could take it no more. He vaulted over the witness box and threw himself across the aisle where I was, before being wrestled to the ground by the security men. As he was being dragged away, he was roaring "Crolly, Rolly, whatever your stupid fucking name is, you've no fucking sperm. I'll fucking kill you and your children, if you had any fucking sperm." Some time later, he was convicted of killing a rival in a family feud by driving over him in his car, then reversing back over him. What happened that day in court is a good illustration of the power of words.

"Your da smells like shit," McGregor told Khabib. He smashed up the bus carrying Khabib away from a press conference. Watch the footage. It looks like football hooligans going on the rampage. Inside the bus, as the glass shatters in on them (two fighters on the bus were injured), Khabib says, "I will fucking kill him." McGregor taunted Khabib about his religion. He said he would kill him. What does he expect in return?

Khabib vaulted over the witness box and threw himself into the aisle because McGregor taunted him to the point where he couldn't control himself. As the commentator so aptly put it before the fight, "Here we go everyone. Khabib, a man who has wrestled with bears since childhood, against McGregor, the Irish gorilla." These human beings are animals, just like Tarantino's fighters, and this is how animals are expected to behave. If they don't, then no one will be interested.

The worst of it was the shaking of heads and moral outrage in the studio afterwards, about how it had "brought the sport into disrepute". This was a bit like the Roman emperor turning his thumbs down, then when the beaten gladiator has his head chopped off, turning to his friends in the imperial box and saying "That was disgusting."

MMA, instead of being banned, is going through the process of normalisation. Once UFC was legalised, it was always going to be a money juggernaut. WME-IMG (Mark McCormack's world-leading sports and talent agency) bought UFC for $4billion in July 2016. Dana White, president of UFC, who said with a straight face on Sunday morning that this was " a black day for our sport", is worth over half a billion dollars.

The rematch (he'll no doubt be praying that's another sad day for his sport) will make him another fortune. They have placed a respectable veil over this savagery, using the conventional language of sports punditry and the trappings of any normal sport. This could be done with anything. Why not legitimise dog fighting? Call it the UDFC (Ultimate Dog Fighting Championship). Have highly trained vets there with expert veterinary first-aiders, so a Dana White type can say, "The primary concern of all of us at UDFC is the welfare of the animals." The fights could be stopped after everyone is sprayed with blood, just like the human version. The commentators just have to do what they already do for UFC. It is easily imagined:

Bob (US commentators are invariably called Bob): "That was a superb contest between two true warrior dogs. It is only a pity that one of them had to lose."

"I agree Bob, you took the words out of my mouth. I see the two trainers are embracing in the cage. This is an example of sportsmanship for the millions of young viewers watching at home. It is hard not to feel proud of this great sport when you see things like this happen."

"Let me interrupt you Bob, we're hearing some desperately sad news. Princess, the loser, who actually defecated on the octagon during the final round of this great fight, has had to be put down. Our thoughts and prayers are with her and her backroom team on this very sad occasion."

"Bob, can I just echo those sentiments. It will be a great consolation to everyone who loved her that Princess died doing what she loved."

MMA is not a sport. It is sold and marketed like the violent video game market. No boundaries. No rules, violence is good. Smash up a bus (a UFC spokesperson said next day "Dana is very pissed off about this."). Gloat over your opponent shitting in the cage as you literally beat the shit out of her. Knock a rival supporter unconscious as part of the fun. Kill a Portuguese kid. Let it all spread like wildfire amongst the kids.

McGregor is a superstar because being violent and out of control is great, lawful business. It is the ultimate pornography. The UFC are missing some tricks. Think of how much more money they could make if the winning fighter, still drenched in blood, got to have sex on stage with a glamorous prostitute as part of his prize. Or better still, what about offering any female in the audience $50,000 to come up on stage and screw him? That would bring in millions more in revenue. PPVs would go off the charts. The kids would love it. The best girls would become superstars. Why not?

People thrill to this extreme violence. Putting people in a cage, dehumanising them, and watching them attack each other with everything they have, brings us to somewhere primitive inside us. It is why the spectators in the Coliseum cheered as the sword was thrust home. It is why kids all around the globe know who Conor McGregor is. It is why, not long ago, the Dublin city fathers were going to offer him the freedom of the city.

It's not McGregor's fault, nor any of the fighters. Nor the referees. Nor the promoters. Nor the audiences. The law permits it. And it shouldn't. Time to ban UFC. It would be a sad day for Dana White, but maybe, just maybe, that is a price worth paying.

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