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At some point in the last year, Joe Rogan decided it was wrong to interview fighters after they suffer knockout losses. The topic was never really debated internally or externally; many around the sport simply accepted this as a new rule despite the fact that main event UFC fighters have been getting interviewed after knockout losses for well over a decade and it pretty much always ends up a positive moment for the losing fighter. The idea not to do it anymore obviously came from a well-intentioned place, so it quickly gained traction.
Rogan broke his new rule at UFC 214 on Saturday. He asked Daniel Cormier about his loss to Jon Jones after it happened. It produced a piece of poignant human drama that fans will remember for years to come. Rogan, of course, proceeded to profusely apologize for doing so, and the finger pointing quickly ensued. People jumped out from all corners to criticize Rogan’s decision with little critical analysis beyond the observation that it illustrated to TV viewers just how devastated Cormier was by the loss. Sadly, it appears opinion may be crystalizing that fighters shouldn’t be interviewed after knockout losses. It would be a real shame if that’s the case because those interviews over the years have proven to be extremely valuable, not only for fans but for the fighters involved.
Rogan went to interview Cormier for obvious reasons: He was curious how “DC” felt after the loss and wanted to give him the opportunity to speak. That will always be the case in these situations. Fans pay $60 or $70 for a pay-per-view, and getting to hear from both competitors after the main event is of clear fan interest. Moreover, it’s an opportunity for fighters to give their thoughts on the loss. That often cements the emotional connection the fans have with them in a way that wouldn’t be the case if they effectively disappeared from the telecast after the winner’s hand is raised.
The argument against these interviews rests in large part on the patronizing view that fighters aren’t in the right state of mind to give their thoughts. Beyond the fact that the fighters can always just decline to be interviewed, like Ronda Rousey did after being knocked out by Holly Holm and Amanda Nunes, this view that fighters won’t represent themselves well after knockout losses isn’t borne about by history in the slightest. In fact, going through Ultimate Fighting Championship history, pretty much every fighter who has been interviewed after a loss has represented well.
One of the most brutal knockouts in UFC history was Rich Franklin’s crushing one punch stoppage of Nate Quarry in November 2005. Quarry was left unconscious with his arms extended by his side. It was a scary scene. Quarry was interviewed after that loss. Was it an unconscionable violation of his emotional well-being? Why, of course not.
“I’m a firm believer that you see what a man you truly are in defeat, not in victory, so I went out, fought my best,” Quarry said. “Rich is a great champ; that’s obvious. He won easily, first round knockout. I did my best. I wish the best for Rich; he’s a good champion. I’m happy to have been a part of this situation.”
Quarry’s soft-spoken, honest and eloquent speech may have been the highlight of his entire MMA career. The way he dealt with defeat spoke to his character as a person and is something he can still be proud of 12 years later. It never would have happened if somebody decided to apply a blanket rule that fighters who lose via knockout can’t be spoken to for even 30-60 seconds, which is as long as these interviews ever last in the first place.
Many great moments in UFC history would have been erased if interviews with fighters who lost via knockout were verboten. Randy Couture’s speech in which he took off his gloves and with great dignity talked about what an honor it was to compete in the Octagon and put over Chuck Liddell’s warrior spirit came after he was knocked out. Couture would have had to declare “this is the last time you’re going to see these gloves and these shorts in this Octagon” on a much smaller stage, and his later return likely wouldn’t have been nearly as big.
In fact, interviews after knockout losses have produced one touching moment after another. Anderson Silva after being knocked out by Chris Weidman took the time to thank America for offering him a new home and changing his life. Franklin acknowledged he didn’t know what city he was in seconds earlier but still demonstrated his class by encouraging fans to cheer Silva and wishing his wife a happy birthday.
Chael Sonnen stripped away the persona after being knocked out by Silva and humbly labeled the Brazilian a true champion. Junior dos Santos looked like the Elephant Man after being knocked out by Cain Velasquez but still flashed his warm smile and congratulated the American Kickboxing Academy ace. Michael Bisping told fans that Vitor Belfort was the better man but vowed to fight on and not go away, a mantra that would earn him the UFC middleweight title three years later. These have often been extremely emotional interviews. That’s something that likely wouldn’t be the case hours later, not to mention that only a small fraction of pay-per-view viewers are watching the post-fight press conference.
It shouldn’t be surprising that fighters have represented themselves well after knockout losses. Unlike decision losses, where fighters will often feel like they won, knockout losses are emphatic. There aren’t excuses to be made and thus fans get to see the natural humility that comes with having to work so hard to excel. Going into a fight, fans see salesmanship. Afterwards in defeat, they see the fighter’s more authentic self, and it’s almost always a flattering portrait.
The one minor exception that started the backlash to these interviews resulted from Alistair Overeem’s knockout loss to Stipe Miocic. Overeem after the fight said he thought Miocic tapped, and some felt Overeem wouldn’t have made the accusation if he hadn’t been knocked out. Whether that’s true or not, it was no big deal and Overeem still came off well overall. When Rogan showed him that there was no tap, Overeem didn’t put up an argument. He just accepted it and then thanked Cleveland to cheers before heading off.
That brings us to Cormier. He was indeed devastated when Rogan tried to have a few words with him. However, let’s be clear about this. Cormier wasn’t devastated because he was interviewed. He was devastated because he worked so hard and still lost to his archrival. Removing the interview wouldn’t have lessened Cormier’s pain; it simply would have lessened the viewers’ understanding of that raw emotion and thus lessened their empathy for him in such a low moment.
To be sure, there were some who made fun of Cormier for his outpouring of emotion. Who cares what people like that think in the first place? For the vast majority of viewers, that emotion was a visual manifestation of all the hard work and dedication Cormier put into his craft. It made Cormier a profoundly sympathetic character and will positively shape perceptions of him for years to come. That people hated to see it so much was a reflection of how powerful it was. If fans hadn’t seen that, there might have been more criticism of Cormier for shoving referee John McCarthy and acting up after the loss. Instead, people just wanted Cormier’s pain lessened, even if removing the interview wouldn’t have diminished it one iota and only would have made fans care less about the pain in the first place.
Putting a curtain around fighters after they’re knocked out because they can’t handle the aftermath is as misguided as it gets. They’ve proven time and again they can handle it. Moreover, those interviews have produced unforgettable moments for fans that have bolstered the stature and dignity of the fighters involved. We’d be well served to give it a little bit more thought before throwing them in the dustbin.