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.