Lesnar's Antics Reflect Poorly on Sport
NBA forward Zach Randolph made an obscene gesture to Indiana fans while playing for the Trail Blazers, part of the crew that got them nicknamed the Jailblazers, and was suspended a game by the league.
Running back Reggie Bush didn't wear Nike or Reebok labeled cleats, official cleats of the NFL, in a preseason game as a rookie and was fined 10 grand.
NHL left wing Sean Avery made an off-color comment about an ex-girlfriend dating an opponent and was immediately suspended by the league and condemned by his employer at the time, the Dallas Stars.
But a lout named Brock Lesnar did all of the above in one fell swoop Saturday night in what was ballyhooed as mixed martial arts' marquee event, UFC 100. Nonetheless, the sport and its fans decided to champion him as its new face. That Kimbo Slice thing, which left another MMA organization called EliteXC under investigation by Florida authorities, didn't work out so well.
I'm not going to tap out – to use MMA's phrase – the mixed martial arts of UFC, one of MMA's myriad sanctioning organizations. This isn't about a still newfangled fighting sport's inability to warm the Neanderthal deep in my soul. Boxing continues to do that for me. Bourbon Street at closing time never did.
But if MMA in general, and UFC in particular, is going to live up to its stated desires to be the next big thing in sports, and not just some niche happening, it is going to have to demand that its athletes respect the game -- and those who watch it -- just as is required of athletes in other sports.
Lesnar said UFC boss Dana White pulled him aside late Saturday night and chastised him for his embarrassing histrionics after stopping Frank Mir in two rounds. As a result, Lesnar apologized.
"I was so jacked up [because] I'm used to selling pay-per-view tickets," Lesnar, who was a professional wrestler on the WWE circuit until a few years ago, told reporters. "I come from a business that is purely entertainment. I screwed up, and I apologize."
Wow. Call me underwhelmed.
There isn't a sports commissioner worth his or her suit coat who would take Lesnar's mea culpa as enough punishment for the superfecta of fouls Lesnar just committed. They'd have him on indefinite suspension as I write and getting ready to cough up part of his purse as restitution.
But that isn't what the UFC is all about. It's not about being spectacular; it's about being a spectacle.
That's one of the differences with MMA and the sport it is said to be chasing -- boxing. (By the way, for those who think MMA has passed boxing, it hasn't, yet. None has drawn what a Mike Tyson or Oscar De La Hoya fight did) When boxers cross the line from spectacular to spectacle, they are shown the locker room's backdoor. See Mike Tyson or his Brownsville, N.Y., homeboy Zab Judah. Both have been fined, suspended and had their licenses revoked for acts unbecoming professional fighters and the boxing game, like, most famously, Tyson biting off a piece of Evander Holyfield's ear or Judah turning a stoppage he didn't like into a riot.
When MMA fighters cross the line, they get lauded. "Lesnar post fight speech prob best ever in all sports," Mark Cuban, who runs HDNet Fights, tweeted after Lesnar's show.
Lesnar isn't the first MMA or UFC ogre; he's just the latest. I recall another MMA and UFC-anointed star, Tito Ortiz, who beat the first and only MMA fighter I ever knew, Dallas' Guy Mezger, in a rematch. Mezger, who now presides over Cuban's HDNet MMA productions, unfortunately was ahead of MMA's time. He was a good face for the game way back when it was mostly seen in this country only on video because it was outlawed just about everywhere.
But Ortiz supplanted Mezger. He knocked him out in the first round of a UFC rematch, put on a T-shirt that vulgarly insinuated Mezger was gay and then presented his middle finger to his vanquished opponent's corner. Imagine one of Roger Goodell's or David Stern's charges doing something so disgusting. They'd be lucky not to be drummed out of their games altogether.
But who was going to seriously reprimand Ortiz or who will consider doing the same to Lesnar? There isn't anyone in MMA or UFC with the gravitas or righteousness to do so, least of all UFC boss Dana White. After all, White's most memorable moment running UFC came earlier this year when he unleashed a profanity-laced attack via video blog on a female reporter whose story he didn't much care for. He referred to a source that the writer used by an anti-gay slur similar to that Ortiz employed against Mezger. The video blog was actually posted on White's UFC Web site until a less-primordial mind removed it. White then issued his mea culpa and -- presto -- UFC 100 reaches a record audience. That says less about White and Lesnar than it does their organization's fans.
This is really just another sign of the coarsening of society. It isn't that so many observers enjoy the unbridled violence of UFC and its cousins. It is that so few of them appear to make even the slightest demand from their new favorite sport for a little self-respect.