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No line of work is without its own brand of bulls---.
It’s ironic that, despite the celebratory status of puritan work ethic, the Good Book states that the very concept of work was created as a form of punishment. Even the evolutionary necessity of work -- the idea that we must work in order to survive -- doesn’t really apply to humankind anymore; we’re so ahead on the species power rankings that survival on a macro scale is no longer a pressing issue.
Yet for whatever reason, there is something essential to our being that demands work, and even craves it. Idleness is the devil’s workshop, as it goes, and prolonged periods of no work can unhinge the mind and divorce us from what it means to be human in powerful ways. That makes it all the more strange that we can’t seem to help ourselves from polluting this inescapable, vital thing with political B.S.
The world of mixed martial arts has been brimming with it lately. Whether it’s fighter pay, the ever-growing demands of so-called “independent contractors,” including how much they’re allowed to weigh after weighing in, or the potential sale of the largest MMA organization on the planet, these stories have dominated the landscape of fighting as much -- if not more -- than the actual fights.
To be sure, this phenomenon is not endemic to MMA, and I certainly am not trying to downplay the importance of these discussions. The sport as we know needs these issues to see the sanitizing light of public discourse in order to improve. I, too, have thrown my two cents into the wishing well of open conversation a few times, hoping that it adds some forward momentum to the equitable development of a sport I care about, however small it may be. At the same time, though, it’s easy to get lost in the politics and forget about why those politics matter: the sport itself.
Of course, there’s an immediate and gratifying aesthetic to the spectacle of combat. Watching people do things we are wholly incapable of doing is always entertaining, but it’s even more so the case when the physical feats are violent. Violence is inherently interesting. It engages us in very real biological ways and strikes a primal chord whose reverberations have otherwise been all but domesticated by modern life. Said in a simpler, more beer-soaked manner, fighting is badass.
Putting aside the satiation of our innate bloodlust, there is something more elemental with regards to fighting, more fundamentally to-the-point about why we watch: In a lot of ways, an actual fight is as fair as life gets. It’s why everything under the sun, from trying to change civil liberties to living with cancer, is described metaphorically as a fight. There’s an implicit balancing of the odds when it comes to fighting.
The world throws countless uncontrollable variables your way that are basically never fair. Some people get tougher breaks than others, and there’s no apparent internal rationale to it all other than the fact that dedicated, painstaking effort will always tip the aggregate of those variables more favorably. Yet unlike the fight against, say, cancer, which is almost always dirty and unfair, a fight against another person is as winnable as it is losable. Something about that is beautiful -- and deeply compelling.
You tend to get what you deserve in the cage. If your head is sticking straight up, it will likely get hit. If an arm is wandering in open space, it will probably get bent backwards. These are simply natural consequences of action and inaction; no other person or thing can be held accountable. Indeed, fairness is not absolute equality, rather the simplification of inequality to a justifiable existence. Of course, there are exceptions, especially when it comes to judging -- see Rafael Carvalho-Melvin Manhoef at Bellator 155 on Friday -- but such circumstances are generally rare in the grand scheme of things. Still, ridiculous scorecards like that one speak to the fact that the human impulse to err is stubborn, and the messiness of real life can intrude upon even our best efforts to transcend it.
Fighting is the purest representation of humanity. It reduces tremendous and chaotic complexity into organic chains of cause and effect. It treats no man or woman any better or worse than anyone else. It’s how regular life is supposed to be; and while it may be a momentary reprieve from the gusts of random chance, it’s not excluded from the tedium of work that is built into everything else. Humans are still a part of it, after all.
Some of the best, most practical advice I ever received was that, in order to circumvent the political maneuvering of work, all you need to do is be good; be good at what you do, and be good in who you are. Mixed martial arts has its fair share of political bulls--- and wrinkles to iron out, and there are many fights worth fighting. However, it’s important to remember what we are fighting for and that, at the end of the day, what we are fighting for is still good.
Hailing from Kailua, Hawai’i, Eric Stinton has been contributing to Sherdog since 2014. He received his BFA in Creative Writing from Chapman University and graduate degree in Special Education from University of Hawai’i. He is an occasional columnist for Honolulu Civil Beat, and his work has also appeared in The Classical. You can find his writing at ericstinton.com. He currently lives in Seoul with his fiancé and dachshund.