Shaun McNeil, a self-proclaimed mixed martial artist, sits in an Australian jail awaiting his court date for assaulting four teenagers on New Year’s Eve, leaving one in a coma. He pretentiously declared “I’m an MMA fighter” moments before attacking the boys, according to witnesses.
McNeil doesn’t have a professional fight record and isn’t affiliated with any MMA promotions, but that hasn’t stopped Australian media outlets from linking him to the fastest growing sport in the world. All of the country’s skepticism and rage is summarized in The Sydney Morning Herald’s piece “Smash, grapple and choke: the unstoppable force of MMA.”
Author Matt Buchanan implies that MMA is a blood sport that, while improving one’s physique and self-esteem, is viewed by society as disgraceful and disgusting. If this is what Australian society thinks, continental drift couldn’t separate their ideals more from modern countries like the United States and England.
Built on principles of discipline and self-defense, MMA teaches to respect one’s opponent. If anything, it is more civil than Australia’s signature sports, rugby and Australian rules football. Here, athletes wrangle for an NFL-like ball while smashing into each other like NHL players slam into Plexiglas, all without pads or helmets. MMA may be disgusting at times, but it is far from disgraceful.
One reason Buchanan focuses on McNeil’s “I’m an MMA fighter” statement is because the story loosely intertwines a similar case from 18 months ago. Dubbed an MMA devotee, Kieran Loveridge “king-hit” random passers-by in July 2012 before he killed Thomas Kelly with one punch. Loveridge’s crime has nothing to do with MMA, much like Mercedes-Benz isn’t responsible for a car owner running over a pedestrian, yet he is linked to the sport without further attribution.
Loveridge and MMA are separate, unrelated entities. This isn’t meant to take away from Loveridge’s callous crime, but it does highlight the importance of working with more than hearsay.
The attack on MMA stretches out to the UFC, which “aggressively promotes its caged bouts with bloody advertisements, and rewards fighters with incentives for knockout strikes and maximal aggression.” He later adds that with so many knockouts, there isn’t much need for an incentive.
It’s true, some UFC promo clips include bloodied up fighters, which could be edited for a younger audience. But to scoff at the thought of fighters receiving a bonus is short-sighted.
Name a well-known company and, more than likely, they offer bonuses their employees. Fighters don’t have incentives built into their contracts like other professional athletes and they can’t live off two-to-three fights a year. For example, UFC 168 paid out over $100,000 each to Chris Weidman, Anderson Silva, and Ronda Rousey. Conversely, nine fighters earned less than $30,000, including any bonuses.
Sometimes, a knockout or submission or Fight of the Night honor earns the extra money needed to keep the dream alive.
MMA is a combat sport, but it does not condone violence outside of a ring. Insinuating that it is linked to McNeil, Loveridge, or anyone that physically attacks another person indicates a lack of understand of what MMA stands for. If we are going to blame MMA for violent acts, we might as well punish musicians for childrens’ foul language, or XGames athletes every time an amateur breaks their arm performing a trick.
While Australia has a The Ultimate Fighter team set to take on Team Canada this season, there is a call to ban all cage related events. This is the fastest growing sport in the world for a reason, and it’s not because of the brutality. At some point, Australians will understand why.