Ronda Rousey is front and center in a crazy MMA news week. | Photo: Joe Faraoni/ESPN Images
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Our beloved MMA is an ass-backwards, lunatic sport, so it figures that a week that looked conversationally desolate on paper would create spectacularly MMA-ish headlines. There might not be any major MMA this week, but this week in itself has been a real spectacle, a representative spectacle.
When I let my social guard down and tell people what I do, when they don’t ask me about Ronda Rousey explicitly, they ask me, “Oh ... well, what’s that like?” You would think that the primary explanation would involve covering fights, breaking down the Xs and Os and telling the stories of the persons involved; you’d be only partially correct. Most of my week covering mixed martial arts, most of my neurological energy, is dedicated to intellectually digesting and trying to make rational sense of an endless battery of bizarre stories, truths and partial realities. It’s not something you can so easily put into words, to explain the profound “WTF?”-laden nature of this sport, especially to a layperson. I wish I could preserve my Twitter timeline from this week in hopes of giving future social inquisitors the kind of partial insight for which I lack the words.
You and me, we love this freakshow carnival sport, lunacy and all. Together, let’s savor seven of the juiciest crazy pills from a wonderfully representative week of MMA nuttiness. All headlines will be rated both on the Human Scale and the MMA scale, which is perhaps a tad whimsical but, I think, still quite intuitive.
The Human Scale rates a news story on the time-honored scale of one to 10, based on its average newsworthiness, whether or not it represents a unique or spectacular narrative to a layperson and whether it captures a snapshot of culture in a larger way. The MMA Scale rates a news story as a humorous non-sequitur out of 10, based on the abstract notion of “how MMA” a story is. This is a hard criterion to define, but if it’s the kind of topic you couldn’t explain to a layperson successfully in under 30 minutes, makes you question your fandom and makes you want to discharge a firearm while screaming, it’s probably very MMA.
Sometimes these scales work against each other, sometimes they don’t. For example, an MMA fighter publicly endorsing a questionable political candidate might score highly on the Human Scale, but an MMA fighter becoming a questionable political candidate is dead certain to score high on the MMA scale. A story such as, say, the last decade of Lee Murray's life, would max out both scales. Got it? Let’s get after it.
1. Rousey Dates Fighter Man (Still)
THE STORY: After weeks of everybody knowing as much, UFC women's bantamweight champion Rousey publicly confirmed she is dating UFC heavyweight Travis Browne.
ANALYSIS: Rousey is MMA’s biggest superstar by miles and, in terms of her overall crossover success and the unique interest groups she reaches as a cagefighter, maybe the biggest ever. However, with such exhaustive coverage of mainstream romantic minutia, it’s really only A-level celebs dating A-level celebs that make waves. Although many mainstream media outlets will report on Rousey as a matter of rule now to get those necessary clicks, to most of the world, Rousey is dating some fighter guy. At least Gina Carano had the courtesy to trade Kit Cope for Superman. However, in the MMA sphere, this is equivalent to the hottest hallway gossip of senior year. Within the diehard community in this sport, Rousey’s public persona is a polarizing one, and her dating any fighter is going to become instant hot-take fodder. Yet we’re talking about Rousey, who has called out Floyd Mayweather Jr. for his hideous past of domestic violence, dating an accused-albeit-unproven domestic abuser who is still technically married to the alleged victim. In the MMA world, these deeper elements give the story a whole different kind of charge. You’ve got people openly hoping the allegations against Browne are true, so as to destroy his public grace, and others openly praying that they’re unfounded, so as to vindicate Browne and sully his accuser, rather than rooting for any chance to ascertain the truth. A story about the Rousey-Browne relationship is literally the most-read story in the history of Bleacher Report’s MMA section. This isn’t peak MMA, but it’s still high on the scale.
HUMAN SCALE: 4.5/10, entirely owing to Rousey’s name value.
MMA SCALE: Severed teddy bear arms in the shape of a heart/10.
2. Rousey’s Mom Hates Trainer Man (Still)
THE STORY: Dr. AnnMaria De Mars, Rousey’s mother, took her thinly veiled hatred for her daughter’s trainer public, castigating Edmond Tarverdyan on video.
ANALYSIS: Even with Rousey’s star power, this doesn’t necessarily play well on the Human Scale because it’s particularly easy for people to comprehend an athlete’s parent hating his or her coach. Parents literally kill their kids’ sports coaches and vice versa in this world. In the mainstream broad stroke, this seems as pedestrian as it gets. On the MMA flipside, the loose-cannon mother of the sport’s biggest star cooks up a video diss track for, of all outlets, LatiNation? Nevermind Dr. De Mars calling Taverdyan a “terrible coach” and “bad person,” this was after essentially using Twitter to tease the impending video’s release by tweeting cryptic messages excoriating the then-unnamed Tarverdyan with the hashtag “#AdviceFromMom.” Most famous sports parents defend their kin, as opposed to publicly critiquing them and calling B.S. on their public posturing the way Dr. De Mars does with her daughter. She is off the chain, in the best and worst ways possible -- very MMA. Also, Dr. De Mars referred to the superstitious power of “red underwear” multiple times during her screed, proving further that St. Conor McGregor is inside all of us now.
HUMAN SCALE: 2/10, especially with “terrible coach” being the major verbal dagger.
MMA SCALE: Rabid mama bear in a gi/10.
3. The Not-So-Highest Man on the Planet
THE STORY: Former two-division Bellator MMA champion Joe Warren tested positive for marijuana following his Sept. 25 win over L.C. Davis and has been suspended 90 days by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, pending further investigation.
ANALYSIS: Despite Warren professing to be “The Baddest Man on the Planet,” his suspension is meaningless to a non-hardcore fan, especially for something as benign as smoking weed. Your average human response will range from “That’s dumb” to “He’s dumb.” On the MMA micro-level, this is 60 different shades of stupid. First of all, it’s not a shock, as Warren entered MMA after winning a Greco-Roman world championship and then flunking a drug test for pot, dashing his Olympic dream. As part of his appeal of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency suspension, Warren interviewed with a psychotherapist. He told the therapist that he’d been smoking marijuana since college following the death of a wrestling teammate. Warren is an admitted medical marijuana user and lives and trains in Colorado. On top of that, the TDLR gives him a 90-day suspension, pending investigation, but could end up suspending him for a year. In classic Texas regulatory fashion, Warren could wind up with a “suspension” that doesn’t mess with his fighting schedule in the slightest or he could be out a full year. On top of that, the TDLR’s threshold for a positive test is 50 nanograms of marijuana metabolites per milliliter (ng/ML), and Warren was 53 ng/mL. Wait, it gets better. Texas’ 50 ng/mL standard is garbage, as the World Anti-Doping Agency, Nevada and other commissions now observe a standard of 150 ng/mL -- three times the amount Texas allows. Wait, it gets better. It turns out 50 ng/mL is a big improvement for Texas, as UFC President Dana White revealed in the past that Jessica Eye’s positive pot test following her UFC 166 win over Sarah Kaufman was triggered by 16 ng/mL, back when Texas’ threshold was 15 ng/mL. Fifteen.
HUMAN SCALE: 3/10, because (a) some people always care about a story involving marijuana and politics, and (b) just in case anyone recognizes Warren from those Dave and Buster’s commercials.
MMA SCALE: A pile of blunt guts carefully manicured into the shape of Texas then set on fire/10.
4. Mr. Diaz Goes to Washington
THE STORY: Nick Diaz’s petition to the White House to have his five-year suspension from the Nevada Athletic Commission lifted surpassed the necessary 100,000 signatures by Oct. 16 and now stands at over 113,000.
ANALYSIS: Short of ending up on the local news and then going viral, it’s hard to imagine a Diaz story that would better engage the public. As mentioned with Joe Warren, some folks are instantly magnetized to political marijuana causes, plus this has a whole anti-hero angle to it. A layperson can’t appreciate the full depth and breadth of Diaz’s wackiness, but he or she can still recognize Diaz’s desire to stick it to the establishment, and I think most layfolks would consider a five-year suspension for Diaz an abuse of power, especially in light of how his NAC hearing was conducted. Whether you signed the petition or not, if you’re reading this article, I don’t need to explain to you how surreal and humorous this situation has become. Even if Diaz never gets his moment to sit down with President Barack Obama and plead his case, we’ve still ended up in a world where Diaz was a more rational character than a bunch of government officials, to the extent that Cher rallied around him on Twitter. That’s Cher, you guys, Diaz and Cher.
HUMAN SCALE: 5/10, because some people love weed as much as some other people hate the government.
MMA SCALE: Nick Diaz instead of Nic Cage in “Moonstruck”/10.
5. And Yet, Without People Regulating the Sport ...
THE STORY: French journeyman Arnaud Lepont alleged medical and promotional negligence following his Sept. 27 knockout loss to Vincent Latoel under the One Championship banner in Jakarta.
ANALYSIS: If Lepont's account is accurate, this is an ugly story, a reminder of how desensitized MMA can make us toward certain physical and psychological hardships. MMA’s past is filled with notorious horror shows, from infamous vale tudo tournaments rigged by the Russian mob to Pride Fight Championships allegedly sending fighters out into the ring while held together with blue Kinesio tape and painkillers. Lepont was brutally iced by Latoel with punches and soccer kicks, the kind of finish that’d make an unseasoned fight watcher wince. Cynical as it is, however, if you’re an MMA lover, almost no part of Lepont’s horrific story shocks you. Lepont recounted how he was knocked out, allegedly given a cursory glance by a physician, promptly left the cage on his own, passed out backstage on his face while spitting up blood and then was taken to a public hospital in Indonesia. Reportedly left to his own devices in an impoverished country where he doesn’t speak the language, Lepont alleges he was denied necessary, routine post-fight care, all while sharing hospital floor space with incontinent senior citizens and motorcycle accident victims getting their feet lopped off. The average human is horrified by this story and would say something like, “It’s a miracle he didn’t die.” The seasoned MMA spectator would think, “Yeah, you’ve got no idea.”
HUMAN SCALE: 8/10, possibly higher if the person remembers the hospital scene in “Jacob's Ladder.”
MMA SCALE: Casually stepping over the wounded body of an injured citizen/10.
6. ‘Vai Cavalo’ Becomes ‘The Chechen Crazy Horse’
THE STORY: UFC heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum accepted a “lucrative” offer to become the brand ambassador of Akhmat Fight Team, the MMA club owned and financed by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov.
ANALYSIS: Werdum is the heavyweight champion of the world and a remarkable late-career success story. Kadyrov is, to be blunt, a literal warlord, and the largest sections of his Wikipedia entry are dedicated to his myriad of human-rights abuses. In that way, their link-up seems like a politically ambitious Coen Brothers pitch and therefore has some broader, imaginative appeal. Patrick Wyman’s fantastic Deadspin piece on Kadyrov’s previous MMA patronage will excite even a non-MMA lover. On the other hand, most folks still couldn’t point out Chechnya on a map. Moreover, if they don’t like MMA, they don’t have to struggle with moral and philosophical conundrums of watching Werdum-Cain Velasquez 2 while thinking about the Brazilian’s training camp being subsidized by a bloodthirsty despot. The usually thoughtful, engaging, multilingual, multitalented Werdum is a great ambassador for this sport, especially in global efforts to foster its growth. Of course, this is MMA, so it figures that he would win the UFC heavyweight title and then be co-opted by a pathological war criminal whose primary interests are posing on Instagram and killing political dissidents. This is infinitely more embarrassing than when Werdum unwittingly said Alistair Overeem had “so much cock.” Unlike that lost-in-translation flub, you can’t even laugh about this.
HUMAN SCALE: 6/10, as high as 9/10 if you show them Kadyrov’s Instagram page.
MMA SCALE: The rich guy paying you to hang out with him is also a serial killer/10.
7. A New Twist on the Old MMA Poop Story
THE STORY: An unknown and severely intoxicated woman knocked on the door of UFC star Urijah Faber, entered his home and locked herself in his bathroom. The woman passed out and had to be removed by Sacramento police and fire, but only after vomiting and defecating on Faber's bathroom floor. ANALYSIS: A story like this transcends MMA, perhaps even language, if you can pantomime well enough. If you replace Faber with yourself and tell this story at a party, you win the room, and any attempts to one-up you would be woefully transparent. It doesn’t matter that it happened to Faber; the anecdotal sequence of events is going to produce belly laughs so long as you have any storytelling skills. Oh, but it does matter that it was Faber. He is social-media savvy and knows how to give the people what they want, so you better believe he documented the entire ordeal through a series of live Snapchats. Without the video component to the story, who is to say if he makes it onto Perez Hilton or Opie Radio to retell it? In the MMA context, the laughs are even richer. The Faber-T.J.Dillashaw-Duane Ludwig drama is continuing to fester and intensify in the media, further evolving one of the most melodramatic, pro-wrestling-esque storylines we’ve ever seen in MMA, and yet Faber is in the news because some wasted girl purged all over his floor. Also, Faber ended his string of Snapchats by satirizing himself and his Team Alpha Male crew, wittingly or not, by conducting an epilogue of the incident in his living room with his shirt suddenly removed. Ronda Rousey, this sport’s regulators and international war criminals might divide us and strain our psyches, but a scat story of this magnitude has a real unifying magic.
HUMAN SCALE: 9/10, conservatively.
MMA SCALE: Genki Sudo’s “We Are All One” flag/10.