TRASH TALK IS BIG BUSINESS IN MMA
Trash talk has been a part of professional sports for as long as competition has existed between humans. Teams have always exhibited pride about their clubs that has often translated to friction between opposing teams, and athletes have always made it a point to get inside the heads of their opponents for an advantage on the field of battle. Indeed, in the era of Muhammed Ali, some of the most vicious trash-talk emerged from the most historical bouts of our time. It was only natural that the highly personal nature of mano-a-mano combat eventually showcased some verbal sparring even in the ultra-respectful realm of the Martial Arts. Anyone who keeps current on the sport understands how difficult it is to reach the upper echelon of Mixed Martial Arts even if you’re talented. There are a lot of highly skilled fighters out there and the difference between winning and losing is often one mistake. This is where some fighters are leveraging the power of the media to supplement the work they put in during training. Not long ago the defacto answer for MMA’ers wanting fights in the UFC was ‘I’ll fight anyone they put in front of me,’ but that answer has done little for the fans and nothing for the fighter. Currently we are seeing the results of how a little controversy can go a long way in the career of the Mixed Martial Artist. Trash talking has made it’s way to the forefront of Ultimate Fighting, and the fans are beginning to take notice.
You can’t mention trash talk without first mentioning Chael Sonnen. One might even credit him with perfecting this angle for MMA’ers everywhere. Although extremely skilled and able to pull out wins over the toughest of opponents, people generally forget that Chael’s style has been criticized by many as simply a decision game. Coming from a wrestling background, it is certainly an advantage to use your best weapon in the Octagon, but again, a smothering style has been the fodder of UFC detractors everywhere. Chael certainly realized this due to the experiences of his mentor Matt Lindland, who despite beating the top Middleweights in the division was cut from the UFC. Both are extremely similar in style and approach to fighting, so it’s easy to assume that Chael’s strategy is about making himself an invaluable commodity for the franchise even if his fights could be considered slow. This is how you get such gems as “When you are the best fighter in the world they have a name for you. They don’t call you a great fighter, they call you Chael Sonnen.” Chael cares little for the veracity of his statements, he’s more concerned with creating storylines and drama for the fight. This approach has been vastly successful with the fans because he is a natural in front of a camera and handles the media like a seasoned pro. Love him or hate him, you will watch him fight. This often-overused cliche isn’t used enough when it comes to Sonnen, you will love him or hate him, but his talk will keep you wondering what he’s going to say next.
There are clues that the UFC might be encouraging trash talk at some level. A former UFC fighter, Sean McCorkle, stated that the UFC paid him for his promotional contributions to bouts. Though not as well-known, like Sonnen he is a polarizing figure in the MMA community and often says things for shock value. It is precisely his penchant for shocking statements that led to his introduction into the UFC, going 1-2 before being cut from the org. His tale is hardly unique in the scheme of things when you consider other lightening rods like Ronda Rousey or Nick Diaz. Rousey has been making the media rounds during 2011 and has managed to talk herself into a title shot with little more than 4 fights. It’s no secret that women’s MMA has a tough time with acceptance on the MMA landscape, but interest in Rousey seems to have generated a lot of interest in the women’s divisions. This is especially true with the absence of both Gina Carano and Cristiane ‘Cyborg’ Santos. Tate vs Rousey is the hot ticket for Strikeforce on March 3rd, driven by Rousey’s non-stop verbal barrage against every top women fighter out there. It doesn’t even matter that Ronda has literally skipped the line of women fighters who deserve a title shot, the fans have demanded this match because of the drama surrounding it, another example of how a little controversy can put a fighter on the map.
Every once in a while, trash talk isn’t used as a tool for a career, sometimes the talk is real and sometimes the feelings behind it are even more real. Such is the case with Nick Diaz and Georges St Pierre. Diaz has made a habit out of calling out GSP, but never more so than at UFC 137 when he called Georges ‘scared’ in front of a nation of UFC fans. For Diaz’s part he considered it a necessary evil. “You gotta come off like that just to get a fight,” said Diaz. “I gotta be the bad guy. You point your finger and make me the bad guy. I’m the bad guy now, and now I get a fight.” St Pierre was less inclined to play the game however, and openly stated “Nick Diaz is the most disrespectful human being I’ve ever met, and I’m going to put the worst beating you’ve ever seen on him in the UFC”. Since then, the rehabbing St. Pierre has told media outlets that he supports a Diaz victory over Condit in what appears to be a nice little vendetta in the making. This is probably the first time we’ve seen GSP emotionally invested in a fight, but if Diaz does prevail against Condit Saturday night, this matchup will be the biggest event of the year.
Talking trash has become the fast track to bigger fights, more fans and even monetary gain for the fighters. Although Martial Arts is known for respect, the larger the sport gets the more enthralled the fanbase will be by the drama associated with the matches. This is where the MMA is taking a page out of the WWE Playbook. The UFC is wisely encouraging these storylines for the simple fact that the biggest fights will always have a backstory that resonates with the fans. The fighters understand the need for heat between potential opponents, and it’s a short leap for competitors that are going to punch each other repeatedly to go down that road. As the sport expands, look for more personalities and less adhering to the ideas of blindly respecting the person you’re going to fight. The rewards for making a bout seem more interesting with self-promotion is an idea that goes back a long way but has just now made it’s way into the UFC. Whether the talk is real or just a tool, it certainly adds value to a potential match.
I for one applaud the fighters for expressing themselves when preparing to ‘get it on’.