(Lesnar and Mir enjoy the calm before the storm.)
“I want to break his neck in the ring. I want him to be the first person that dies due to Octagon-related injuries. That’s what’s going through my mind.”
Frank Mir’s ill-chosen words about Brock Lesnar during an interview on the Pittsburgh-based Mark Madden Radio Show created a firestorm yesterday that led UFC President Dana White to issue a statement along with an apology from Frank himself. The MMA blogosphere latched on tighter than a Mir guillotine. Should a fine be levied? Should the UFC exert greater control over its fighters? And if you care to count the comments condemning Mir, the number is probably south of the number of anti-Lesnar comments after UFC 100. Ah, the irony.
Let’s all slow down and take a deep breath, shall we?
I understand where some of that collective reaction comes from. Yes, comments like these potentially give the anti-MMA journalists of the world ammunition to paint mixed martial artists, and the sport in general, as barbaric and savage. But should we be overly concerned about the same group of jackasses who did one MMA story in their collective careers before White’s Loretta Hunt video blog rant and then suddenly found the time to rake him over the coals within hours of when it hit YouTube?
I’m a bit surprised by the MMA community’s reaction. Or maybe I should say over-reaction.
I spoke to Mir after his apology was issued and he was initially surprised by the response, but understands the wording wasn’t optimal:
“Obviously I didn’t mean I was going to try to kill the guy. I’ve said I was going to rip guy’s arms off before and I don’t have a collection of arms hanging up at my house. I’ve heard football players say they were going to rip someone’s head off a thousand times and I’ve yet to see that happen. It was a poor choice of words but I never realized that it would cause all this. People took it way too literally and didn’t listen to the rest of the interview. I actually complimented Brock during the appearance, but if you isolate out those few seconds it looks bad.”
While I recognize that Frank was more graphic in his description of breaking Brock’s neck, the verbiage of killing your opponent isn’t that rare. Michael David Smith over at MMA Fighting did a nice job of summarizing a few recent “death references” that got virtually no attention at all. One of those instances took place on the nationally televised Primetime show featuring BJ Penn and Georges St. Pierre as they readied for UFC 94. The biggest story to come out of that episode was whether BJ was training hard for the fight, not that he opened the show with “Georges, I’m going to the death. I’m going to try to kill you and I’m not joking about this.” And, ironically, Brock said he was counting the days until he could murder Mir at UFC 100 on Maxim.com. None of those instances spawned an apology from the speaker or a public statement from the UFC.
“Maybe I should take it as a compliment that other people were able to say similar things and get away with it and I can’t. Maybe people who have seen me fight really think I have the potential to do that kind of harm. But I’m no murderer. I’ve had one traffic ticket in the last eight years,” Mir commented.
That would be a disaster.
One of the great things about MMA is that the athletes are often raw and unedited. For my money, that makes them more appealing to fans and vastly more interesting. As professional athletes go, they are “As Real as it Gets.”
And let’s be real. This isn’t tennis.
Two guys (or women) get in a cage and do their best to knock the other person out or make them cry uncle in a myriad of incredibly technical ways. Combat sports are going to include feuds, people wanting to rip each others’ heads off and aggressive behavior and speech. It just goes with the territory and it’s going to happen sometimes. I would hate to see the UFC legislate non-physical behavior. If Frank were to hold a choke after Brock tapped, fine him, suspend him or dismiss him a la Babalu. But let’s not get crazy over a poorly chosen sentence or two.
There’s a price to all this outrage, and I can guarantee that 99% of you won’t like it.
When things like this get blown too far out of proportion, there is a risk of a chilling effect on the fighters that could impact the gritty reality that separates MMA from so many other sports. That chill can also make the promotion of a particular event or fight less intense, less interesting and, ultimately, less profitable. And don’t be surprised if you see a chilled Mir going forward.
“After this, I have to be more cautious. This turned into such a big issue that it affected my training schedule today (as he prepares for an interim title fight with Shane Carwin) so this experience will make me more cautious in the future.”
Time will tell where Mir draws the verbal line. Will he simply omit certain language or will his caution go further? Only time will tell. Is it a stretch to think that other fighters watching Mir suffer the consequences of his ill-advised words will edit themselves in their next interview? There are already some fighters who give relatively canned responses to every question about every opponent. Sure that’s safe, but it does little to promote the event and create an intangible interest in a fight, a fact not lost on Mir.
“I’ve heard so many fighters give cookie cutter interviews and the same responses to the same questions over and over. I decided I wanted to take a different approach and answer questions like I was talking to guys in the locker room. I figured people would rather hear that. Maybe I was wrong.”
Mir’s not wrong. I’m not a fan of manufactured bad blood, but Frank and Brock clearly have a mutual distaste for one another. I’d much rather get the locker room version of Mir, Lesnar and every fighter being interviewed than the one who is cautiously and perfectly saying what they think sounds good instead of what they really feel. If the price tag for that honesty is that there will be times that it’s over the top, then so be it.
Larry Pepe is the host of Pro MMA Radio. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.