The now popular sport of mixed martial arts (MMA) is a fusion of martial arts and sports. The practice of martial arts — often linked with religion and spirituality — demands high morals while involvement in sports requires one to practice sportsmanship, which is essentially fairness, respect, and a sense of fellowship with one’s rivals.
But this is simply not the case in the post-fight brawl between Russian Khabib Nurmagomedov and Irishman Conor McGregor in Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) 229 on October 6 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
It was a much-awaited fight — a grudge match whose roots can be traced back to an incident at Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, New York in April wherein McGregor threw a hand truck at a bus carrying rival fighters after a press conference ahead of UFC 223. The Irishman, reportedly, was looking for Nurmagomedov who had an argument with one of his pals. McGregor was charged with assault after the melee that resulted in the injury of several passengers.
UFC 229 could have been a classic fight with Nurmagomedov retaining his title after submitting the former two-division champion McGregor with a face crank. And then all hell broke loose.
The Russian jumped over the Octagon fence apparently to attack McGregor’s training partner Dillon Danis. One of Nurmagomedov’s companions also tried to punch McGregor before security officers took over the scene. It was utter chaos.
No amount of justifications from both fighters and their fans will alter the fact that the incident has deeply tarnished the reputation of MMA.
East vs West
Chatri Sityodtong, CEO and chairman of ONE Championship, the UFC’s counterpart in Asia, said that his organization still upholds traditional martial arts values in stark contrast with the prevailing hooliganism in western MMA.
“Martial arts has been a way of life here for over 5,000 years,” Sityodtong told The Manila Times, pertaining to the martial culture of Asia.
Sityodtong, a former fighter himself, said that he has never been in such an incident.
“I haven’t been involved in any form of scuffle or melee outside the ring because we were thought of carrying ourselves like a true martial artist. We settle things inside the ring, not outside.”
Sityodtong stressed that ONE Championship will not tolerate any form of thuggery.
“If you engage in conduct unbecoming of a martial arts practitioner, you’re gone in an instant,” he said.
Sityodtong added that it is a tragedy to witness the current misuse of Asian martial arts.
“Unfortunately, some organizations in the West have tarnished the image of Asia’s greatest cultural treasure by turning it into a blood sport spectacle fueled by hatred, anger, drugs, controversy, trash-talking, humiliation, and even criminal behavior.”
MMA coach Mark Sangiao of the famed Team Lakay agrees that respect is part and parcel of traditional Asian martial culture.
“If you notice, Asian martial arts value respect every single time there is a match or training. In judo, they bow to their instructor and opponent. In wushu, we observe a particular hand salute, and in muay thai, they have closed-hand greetings. There is respect between the players and within the sport itself,” Sangiao told The Times in a telephone interview.
Hybrid Yaw-Yan founder as well as local MMA trainer and promoter Henry Yap Kobayashi asserts that martial arts is a high calling.
“For us, martial art is sacred. We always add value to our players by instilling in them the characteristics of a true fighter,” said Kobayashi.
Meanwhile, Alvin Aguilar, considered the father of Philippine MMA and the founder of the Universal Reality Combat Championship, said that Asian culture plays an important role in the development of a distinct Asian MMA culture.
“It ‘s that respect is more prevalent in Asian countries. We give respect to women elders and those in need. An elder is called tito or tita (uncle or auntie) or addressed with a po or opo — words that Filipinos use to show their respect. In the West, the elder men and women are addressed just like anyone else [first name basis].”
Who’s calling the shots
Sityodtong believes that fight promoters should embrace the responsibility of molding MMA into something that inspires not only strength and courage but honor, hope and goodwill as well.
“As the leader of this company, I think deeply about my responsibility and ONE Championship’s power to shape and influence values, culture, and society across our footprint in 138 countries.”
Sityodtong said that MMA should be something that parents could encourage their children to watch.
“When children put up posters of our heroes in their bedrooms, parents can feel safe and happy. Families can celebrate our heroes for their values, their achievements, and their life stories. You see, life is not about making money at the expense of humanity. No, life is about making the world a better place for humanity. For me, our mission is sacred at ONE,” he stressed.
Sityodtong believes that martial arts should instill in people an unbreakable warrior spirit to conquer adversity.
“No one is perfect, and no one is meant to be. We all fall down. We all make mistakes. We all fail. Martial arts have the incredible ability to change lives, to turn weakness into strength, to mold fear into courage, and to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary.”
JEAN RUSSEL DAVID AND THE TIMES SPORTS STAFF