It Took a Japanese National to Turn Josh Koscheck Into a Fan Favorite

Yoshiyuki yoshidaPromoted from the FanPosts by Kid Nate.

Although the headline of this blog focuses on a negative dimension of last night’s UFC fight card, I thought overall, the card was really great. With regard to the fights, Swick’s speedy disposal of Goulet and Koscheck’s dramatic knockout of Yoshida were extremely impressive. And despite Brandon Wolff being a local Hawaii fighter, I have to give it up to Ben Saunders – what a spectacular display of the clinch.

Most importantly, I thought the UFC’s production for their cause to fund the development of a research center for traumatic brain injuries was very well done. I’ve never supported the war in Iraq, but one cannot deny the need for research and services that benefit fallen soldiers.

For better or worse, my shtick tends to be noting social concerns in MMA and providing my attendant political perspectives. The one thing that did bother me about last night’s "Fight for the Troops" was the negative welcoming (i.e., booing) directed towards main event fighter and Japanese national, Yoshiyuki Yoshida.

It is common knowledge among hardcore MMA fans that American Kickboxing Academy welterweight, Josh Koscheck, is not normally a fan favorite. At the weigh-ins for his fight against Thiago Alves, Koscheck was the fighter being booed. Now pitted against a Japanese national at an event that clearly had a backdrop of emphasized American patriotism, all of a sudden Koscheck became the fan favorite.

This is not 1882, during a time when America was ensconced in a discriminatory hysteria of "Yellow Peril." This is not 1941-42, when America decided to incarcerate approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans along the American West Coast out of racist fear that they would sabotage our country. This is not even the 1980s when the America was so threatened by Japan’s auto industry that Asian Americans were targets of the most severe racial discrimination in cities reliant on car production.

Had Koscheck’s sudden support and Yoshida’s booing fallen under those types of contexts, the fans’ behavior, while deplorable, would have at least been understandable – a sign of the times when anti-Asian racism was more overt. However, in this context, there was literally no reason to boo Yoshida. His pre-fight comments could not have been more respectful. At "worst," his comments exemplified confidence, but what professional athlete shouldn’t have confidence going into a competition? Furthermore, our country is not in any type of conflict with Japan.*

This notwithstanding, in this militaristic and patriotic fight context, the Japanese national was still turned into the bad guy to such a degree that Koscheck, a fighter who fans usually love to hate, became the overwhelming fan favorite. As a Japanese American, whose father served in the United States navy, I take exception to this personally. And on a broader social level, it is bothersome to know that simply because an athlete is from anther country, he or she may still be booed in 2008.

Undoubtedly, some readers will get through this post, roll their eyes, and think that I am some hypersensitive liberal, fixated on something completely inconsequential. To this, I have a few comments. The fact that virtually nobody in the MMA media addresses race is astounding (although there are exceptions). Even UFC President, Dana White, readily admits that the UFC fan base is overwhelmingly Caucasian (listen to the tail end of Colin Cowherd’s ESPN radio interview with Dana White from Dec. 9, 2008, the "noon" segment found HERE). Among sports sociologists like myself and mainstream sports media, race is a controversial, but fairly common topic of discussion. But in MMA, for whatever reasons, race is darn near taboo, and that in itself is a problem.

There are bigger problems in our world, and there are probably bigger problems in MMA. However, when an athlete is booed simply because he or she is Japanese (or any other nationality/ethnicity) this cannot be completely dismissed, trivialized, or laughed upon. If it is, what does that say about the mixed martial arts industry and us as a fan base?

David Mayeda, PhD, is lead author of Fighting for Acceptance: Mixed Martial Artists and Violence in American Society

* This is not to argue that if our country is in conflict with another, that serves as justification to discriminate against a fighter from such and such country. If, for example, Koscheck was taking on a mixed martial artist from Iraq, the Iraqi fighter’s nationality would be no reason to boo him. Under our current global circumstances, it would simply be more understandable, though equally regrettable.

\The FanPosts are solely the subjective opinions of Bloody Elbow readers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Bloody Elbow editors or staff.

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