MMA 2012: As the Sport Grows so Will the Amount of Criticism

Matt SaccaroContributor IIINovember 29, 2012

Feb 15, 2012; Omaha, NE, USA; UFC fans cheer before Jake Ellenberger fights with Diego Sanchez in the Main Event during UFC on Fuel TV 1 at Omaha Civic Auditorium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Ryerson-US PRESSWIRE

MMA fighters aren't paragons of virtue that are above all forms of criticism simply because they beat up other people in a cage. 

But you wouldn't know this if you've spent any time in the MMA bubble, where UFC heavyweight Pat Barry can call fans "roaches" on his YouTube channel and be praised by most commenters, and Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal can belittle the people who essentially bankroll the sport and not be met with any ill will. 

Their position stems from the harsh jeers and insults regularly received by fighters from fans, whether at live events, or on Twitter and MMA message boards across the Internet. They are right to a degree, sometimes fans of the sport can be insensitive.

MMA is a sport where two men try to incapacitate one another. To some fans, the winner is a hero and the loser is naught but a tomato can, fit only to beat up bums behind a Waffle House somewhere.

Is it right that fans denigrate men who train hard, risk their health, and burn more calories in a week than they do in a lifetime?

Probably not, but that's the way the sports world is—and as MMA grows, the criticism is only going to get worse, so fighters better get used to dealing with it.

Just look at the amount of criticism NFL players deal with. These athletes are under intense scrutiny from the fans and from mainstream media outlets each Sunday during the season and when they mess up, millions will be decrying them, often with colorful language. But they deal with this issue like professionals.

Did Mark Sanchez go on a tirade against fans at any point so far during his disastrous season that's seen him mocked by the entire football-literate world? 

Did Tim Tebow challenge pundits when they critiqued (or outright insulted) his throwing mechanics? Did he belittle them by saying that they know nothing because they never played a down in the NFL?

Did Cam Newton throw a temper tantrum and propose a boycott of the Charlotte Observer when it depicted him wearing a Hello Kitty shirt in a cartoon making light of his touchdown celebration?

And how many New York Jets players lashed out at fans after a receiving a pernicious verbal beatdown from fans at halftime during their game against the New England Patriots on Thanksgiving?

Only one did—Bart Scott—who likened the fans to dodgeball rejects before recanting his statements and saying that he had "a tremendous amount of respect for fans."

If these athletes, who are being insulted by far more people, can handle the slings and arrows of being a professional athlete, fighters can too.

The belief that MMA fighters are somehow special and different (I like to call it "MMA Exceptionalism") and don't adhere to the same rules as other athletes is groundless and wrong. 

Basketball players, football players, baseball players, tennis players, MMA fighters, etc. are all athletes and they're all criticized at points in their careers—it's just that some MMA fighters haven't figured out how to deal with it gracefully yet.

Saying "Well I can beat you up" or "You don't train so you can't criticize me" doesn't work outside of the MMA bubble, where fans who train and/or understand the difficulties of the sport are few and far between. 

The FOX generation is appealing to the kind of fan that feels perfectly at home saying things like "125 lbs? I could throw that guy through the wall," or "That dude sucks so bad even I could beat him up," and fighters have to accept this.

They may go a little too far with trash talk sometimes, but dealing with legions of angry fans is part of a mainstream athlete's job description; Employee of the month isn't all ham and plaques.

Fighters (and angsty fans who long for the old days where fighters weren't criticized as heavily) must learn to unencumber themselves of orotundity and ideological baggage. Fans make the sport popular, the paychecks bigger and commentary on the sport is their right, even if it's entirely negative.