I was recently involved in a discussion, via the medium of social media, after I commented on a status, posted by a friend and MMA competitor. The subject was the latest round of a Mixed Martial Arts show, which had been recently aired on television. The theme of the status was the conduct of two of the competitors, before and after their bout, which was hyped as a ‘Grudge Match’.


During the broadcast, they showed footage of one of the fighters making a personal comment about the other, and his relationship with his ex girlfriend, followed immediately by the other shoving him backwards. Then followed clips of the two being interviewed and verbally bashing the other in very loud American Wrestling style, loaded with testosterone. Then came the fight. The aggrieved fighter won by decision, although it was not a classic encounter by any means, but he won convincingly. Then they continued to bait each other, having a microphone provided to assist with this.


I happened to agree with my friend, who thought that this behaviour turns what is an emerging sport into a soap opera. However, one of her American friends disagreed strongly, I assume he had strong feelings, to use the language; “I wipe my ass with your sportsmanship. This is a ‘Bloodsport’, and you have to be a fighter to appreciate that!” Okay, obviously hit a nerve there, but, as we both pointed out, we are full contact competitors, and still would rather our sport, and art weren’t dragged through the mud by behaviour no better than that expected of a football hooligan.


Sadly, this type of thing is ever present, and always gets time in the media. People always forgave Mohamed Ali for it, because of his talent. The late Henry Cooper, who fought Ali twice, voiced his opinion on this type of behaviour, but still forgave Ali, saying; “There was always a sense of tongue in cheek with Ali, but the others, they mean it.” I am an Ali fan as well, but I think there were times he crossed the line, and I wish he hadn’t. He played mind games, and was good at it, but it lost him a load of local support when he fought Joe Frasier in Manila.


So where is the line between ‘Fighting Smart’ and ‘Fighting Dirty’? Is there a place for this in sport? The media seem to think so, but then, is any publicity really ‘Good Publicity’? Some people enjoy this kind of thing, but I can’t help thinking it does Combat Sports no good what so ever.


A sport cannot function without competitors, and high level competitors, in any sport, are role models for the next generation. Combat Sports and Martial Arts are about enriching our lives and making us better people, so who does this behaviour from the top attract to the sport or art?


Thankfully, there are still plenty of positive examples. In the same discussion, I gave praise to a fighter, known as ‘King Mo’ for his conduct. He won his bout by ground and pound, for those unfamiliar with this concept, it is as it sounds, he was on top of his opponent, raining punches down on him, and it reached the point where his opponent was no longer actively defending himself, so the referee, rightly, stopped the contest. Before King Mo disengaged to celebrate his win, he first checked that his opponent was okay. Yes he then went and enjoyed the moment and pretended to do front crawl, breast stroke and then back stroke on the floor of the cage, but he showed his colours as a true gent and a sportsman. Examples of more well known, positive role models for combat sports, are Amir Kahn and Nicola Adams.


Don’t get me wrong, I think that to succeed, using the rules of your sport to your advantage is a must, but I am not sure what is achieved by open bad mouthing and hostility other than to turn people away from the sport. It takes a lot of discipline, heart and commitment to reach that level, not traits that are in abundance in street thugs and hooligans, so why behave like one openly?


You may not like your opponent, but the best way to make a statement is to beat them, or make them have to dig deep into their reserves of will and courage to beat you. At least there can be mutual respect between enemies. They say that grudges sell tickets, but has it not all been done before? It may well sell more tickets if the event is run with good competitive spirit.


I think a lot of sports can learn from one of my other loves, rugby. This is a game where the players slam into each other at full tilt. Sure, tempers flare on the pitch, but that’s where it stays until the next time they play. One memory from 2014 is the sight of both the England and Samoa teams sharing a group huddle after their particularly physical encounter during the Autumn internationals. This is the type of thing that can sway the mind of the parent to allow their child to take up the sport, as they see two groups of rounded people sharing a moment of mutual respect after refusing to back down.


I have competed in Full Contact K1 Kickboxing for a few years now, although I started a little late in life, and after every fight, win lose or draw, I have showed respect to my opponent, received it in return, and I hope this continues. It has never been my thing to interact with my opponent before a fight. It is harder to try and knock a ‘Nice Guy’ out if I’m honest, but I’m happy to chat afterwards, and have made some good friends that way. These are people who have done you the honour of allowing you to test your skills, training, and personal qualities against theirs, and, as my friend who posted the status on social media pointed out; “What would we achieve if we had no opponents?”