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Cris Cyborg: Negative Narrative, Uplifting Performance

LF

 

There’s something awfully self-serving about wanting a fighter to lose. It reflects a deeper emotional connection to the fight that elevates it from a mere contest of skill and athleticism to a form of theater. The fighters are suddenly characters in a play with the fight and its outcome having a profound outcome on their narrative trajectories, and as viewers, we are emotionally engaged in that. Savvy promoters who appreciate this may find clever ways to engage our feelings, using various tools and devices to frame the story and its characters in a way that’s more gripping and engaging, where Fighter A becomes that person from Nowheresville who is looking for their big break while Fighter B is that person who’s been talking big and acting like they own the sport. Some readers might go further and call these characters Faces and Heels. That’s a line, however, that some fans don’t like to cross: scripted drama, they say, yet deliberate or not, the narrative process is exactly the same.

What then do we make of Cris Cyborg? The drama is well known and the key words require no elaboration: Steroids. Cheating. Ronda Rousey. Tito Ortiz. Dana White. Why do some fans (at least in the MMA world) choose to hate her? Because of her appearance combined with her accomplishments? Because they think all of her success is due to taking steroids despite only being busted once? Because she calls out Ronda Rousey? Does that make Rousey (ironically) the Face in all of this? Who’s writing the script now?

As powerful and *natural* as narrative is, sometimes it may blind us from appreciating something that’s far more important in this instance: that last night, Cris Cyborg and Jorina Baars put on one of the best fights of the year and possibly one of the all time best fights in women’s kickboxing. It was a battle that saw both fighters dig deep physically and technically, putting on a performance that was worthy of a stage far grander than the Hard Rock in Las Vegas. It was a spectacle that should rightly serve as a career highlight for both fighters, who each landed incredibly hard shots and rallied back from dangerous positions. This is a fight that we should be grateful for seeing with both fighters deserving our admiration and praise.

One of the best things about the K-1 promotional model was its tendency to highlight positive storylines and gloss over negative press. This could be frustrating at times when honesty was demanded, especially with regard to issues like Badr Hari’s behavior and fighter pay. Yet, the ability to sell these storylines allowed us to focus on the fights, not the mud and dirt of the fight business (which believe me, goes to far murkier depths than you or I will ever get to hear about). After all, does having a front row seat to situations that should play out behind closed doors really accomplish anything? Why are the petty squabbles between Dana White and Tito Ortiz every fan’s business? As fans, let’s focus on enjoying the fights and let the so-called “businesspeople” (such as they are) worry about the rest. Let’s enjoy the moment. If you’re new to kickboxing and watch MMA predominantly, I can say that last night, you got treated to a certain caliber of a fight (for free) and an experience that is rare, so rather than dwelling on what this means for Cyborg and the UFC, let’s take a moment to celebrate the incredible toughness of Cris Cyborg and the awesome talent of Jorina Baars.

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Kickboxing Needs to Bring Their Content to the Fans

Enfusion

Kickboxing is a frustrating sport sometimes. There, I said it.

Kickboxing has been struggling to find its identity over the past few years. That might seem like a bit of an ominous statement, but when you look at how many different organizations we’ve seen in different mediums, how many star Kickboxers we’ve seen retire or rise to prominence, or how many we’ve seen languish in smaller promotions you’ll see what I’m talking about. Right now is an interesting transition period for the sport of Kickboxing and a vital time for the sport where it could either grow to be huge or it could fail and return to obscurity. How that product gets to the fans is probably the most vital part of the sport right now, even more important than the quality of the fights themselves.

The landscape right now is like this; GLORY airs on Spike TV in the United States and then has various, smaller television deals throughout Europe and Asia. K-1 is currently attempting to negotiate television deals while providing free streams via their website. SuperKombat airs on EuroSport and a few smaller networks in different spots in the world. Enfusion is in a similar spot to SuperKombat. Then there are various, regional Kickboxing events that get solid coverage locally but not much anywhere else.

Like I’ve been saying, it’s a very strange and fragmented sport for the time being. There are talks of GLORY considering moving some select, bigger events to PPV here in the United States, starting with GLORY 17. It would probably be in the vein of the UFC model, where the prelims would be on Spike TV and the main card on PPV, which is fine, the only issue is that PPV as a medium is a dying one. The concept of Pay-Per-View in the United States began in the 50’s but came to prominence in the 70’s and 80’s when Boxing took a shine to the concept of selling live broadcasts of big fights through cable systems.

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Kickboxing's Role in a Time of Turmoil

Nabiev

I try to follow the elite fighters of the world on social media, Facebook, twitter, and on Instagram. Despite the language barrier, the fighters usually post things in English, or post a picture with a smily face or something, allowing me to keep up. So as I go down my Instagram wall, I notice that Russian based(Dagestani by birth) fighter Dhabar Askerov had been posting pictures of Russian president Vladimir Putin. Now again, I don't understand the words that accompany the picture, but I will say that Putin looks pretty damn cool in the pictures. Often wearing shades and seems to cool to be bothered by the events of the world. Adding to this, Artem Levin is another Russian fighter who has several pictures of himself and the National Muay Thai team with President Putin. In fact, international Russian fighter Artem Vahkitov is in one of the pictures with Putin, all of the men proud to be in the presence of one another. I also follow Ukrainian kickboxing star Artur Kyshenko. As I watched his recent post on Instagram I noticed that he has crossed himself out of the Legend poster, the Russian promotion that used him on their card last year. Adding to this, Kyshenko recently posted a pick of him in his Ukrainian youth, wearing his national colors at the podium of an amateur Muay Thai event. It most be noted that there is a chance this is complete coincidence, as the youth pick is a comparison pick and Kyshenko was injured after the first fight in the tournament, so he could have crossed himself out because of that. Also, I do not think that the fighters are in anyways enemies, but as one could imagine, there is no way that they couldn't be effected by the events between the Ukraine and Russia.

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Kickboxing Metagame: Are we in the post-Dutch era?

Kiria

If you’ve been a kickboxing fan long enough, you must know when a show has that “Dutch” feel to it. There’s pounding trance music, corners frantically yelling at the top of their lungs one second and chanting “Heyyy!!” (along with the crowd) the next, the VIP tables which the Dutch inexplicably prefer to stadium seating, Joop Ubeda snapping at everyone he possibly can, Mike Passenier drinking more of his fighters’ water than they actually do--the list goes on. One of my favorite conceits, however, has always been the advertised nationality of the fighters featured on these shows. At face value, the fighters on an It’s Showtime or old school Golden Glory card hailed from all over the world, from Suriname to Morocco, despite either being born in the Netherlands or having spent most of their life there (It’s Showtime took this conceit to more ludicrous extremes--playing NBC’s Olympic anthems throughout its fights and intermissions). These not-so-foreign fighters also competed with a similar fighting style, employing the Dutch systems practiced in powerhouse gyms like Chakuriki, Mike’s Gym, Golden Glory, Vos, and Meijiro and popularized by the late great Ramon Dekkers. This Dutch style would dominate kickboxing for nearly three decades, from its Muay Thai success in the 80s to its near ubiquity in the pantheon of K-1 champions.

But by 2011, things began to change. The fall of K-1 saw the kickboxing landscape largely shift to the Dutch scene with It’s Showtime and its roster of local prospects leading the way. The stylistic metagame subsequently coalesced around the same Dutch fighting system and the various particularities of its standout fight camps--devolving from an era of diversity which saw the likes of Andy Hug, Mike Bernardo, Glaube Feitosa, Ray Sefo, Masato, and Buakaw fight for the top position of their weight classes. The Chakuriki fighters liked to fight technical, the Mike’s Gym fighters liked to bash each others’ brains in, and everybody liked liver shots and some variation of punching combinations followed by low kicks. In short, the fights got boring, with fighters performing the same old moves on each other with little variation and more importantly, no innovation.

And then there was Giorgio Petrosyan. A petite Armenian with lots of decisions and few KOs to his name, Petrosyan unravelled the Dutch style of kickboxing. He read its tempo, he anticipated its combinations, he internalized its rhythm--and using his exquisite technique he defeated every major Dutch stylist in recent memory, from Albert Kraus to Andy Souwer to the Dutch system’s latest standout, Robin van Roosmalen. Petrosyan’s rising success was soon accompanied by increasing disarray in the Dutch ranks. There was anger, frustration, exasperated remarks of Petrosyan being overrated and boring--a point fighter rather than a fight finisher. And yet no one acknowledged the increasingly apparent reality: that Dutch Kickboxing was becoming increasingly predictable and exploitable.

Meanwhile, Andy Ristie ravaged It’s Showtime’s entry and mid-level ranks with his “unorthodox” fighting style that combines KO power and clever technique with his tall, lanky frame. While never flawless, Ristie’s style seemed to pose a darkhorse threat to the top, a threat which was finally realized when Ristie sent Petrosyan and van Roosmalen thundering to the canvas. In both fights, Ristie broke his opponents’ rhythm and form, slipping curving punches through the guard which found their mark. In one fell swoop, Andy Ristie turned the lightweight division upside down and singlehandedly breathed more life into kickboxing than it had since the Masato-Buakaw era.

The end result is a revitalized metagame that is being defined by innovation and the unravelling of kickboxing orthodoxy. The era of Ramon Dekkers is over. The future will see the arrival of more Petrosyans and Andy Risties--fighters whose diverse abilities take the game to new heights while upsetting the norm. It’s also not insignificant that both Cor Hemmers and Thom Harinck have retired at this time, opening the field for new coaching talent from around the world to make their names. Davit Kiria vs. Andy Ristie is only a taste of the type of fight to come: cerebral, intellectual, suspenseful, with glimmering strokes of artistry and sweet science rather than the concussive, brain rattling thunder of Meat Day. This is kickboxing at its best, and if you’re a fan, then you should welcome the evolution of the sport into the more fully realized competition of striking arts that it always promised to be.

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