Subtitle: A Look at What Crazy Means and How We Can Define It in Mixed Martial Arts.
As a big league sport, mixed martial arts is still in its infancy in comparison to the Big Five of Soccer/Football, Football/Hand Egg, Basketball, Baseball and Really Fast Car Racing. The money involved in each of the Big Five intensifies and makes more operatic the stakes, emotions, and most importantly, the attention given to the athletes themselves.
Almost everybody has an opinion on Cristiano Ronaldo - they either hate him or love him. Most people have an opinion about Mike Tyson too - but it's more universal: the man was crazy good and legitimately crazy too.
The superstar athlete who is completely bonkers is something that every single one of the Big Five has, covets and exploits as much as possible. Have we gotten that kind of athlete in MMA yet? How do we define "crazy" in MMA - a sport where athletes engage in controlled violence against each other to win money and fame?
In one of my favorite columns of the year, Brian Phillips over at Grantland gives us 31 Notes on Crazy Athletes. The whole column is very much worth reading, but select portions of it can be chopped out and used to look at MMA athletes.
3. The defining sports caricature of the moment is probably the "crazy" athlete - the athlete who's so wild, unpredictable, unfiltered, and potentially destructive that he seems to be literally insane. This isn't the only sports caricature of our era - and there are some caricatures, e.g., the Inspirational Pocket Passer, that seem to be essentially timeless - but it's the one that's most distinctively ours.
9. The "crazy" athlete is the athlete who does or says whatever comes into his mind, for whatever reason, without regard for either consequences or social norms, whether that means dressing up as Santa Claus and driving around an English city handing out money (Balotelli), wearing a wedding dress (Rodman), or biting someone's ear off (Tyson). His actions are the diary of his id. He's so utterly absorbed in his own weirdness that if he shocks you, it's a coincidence.
4. Examples of the "crazy" athlete include Ron Artest/Metta World Peace, Mario Balotelli, Dennis Rodman, Mike Tyson, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Milton Bradley, Randy Moss. Emmanuel Frimpong, the 20-year-old Arsenal midfielder, has excellent potential as a "crazy" athlete, but was recently set back by the revelation that his "Dench" clothing label was inspired by a slang term pioneered by the Ghanaian-British rapper Lethal Bizzle, and not by Academy Award-winning actress Dame Judi Dench.
As a sport, MMA is surprisingly universal. We have Brazilians on almost every major card anywhere. The Japanese have kept the sport alive for almost 25 years in a culture of fads and trends. The former Soviet client nations and the Europeans have always been gaga for combat sports and we are starting to see the sport spread elsewhere. However, I genuinely think we have no more than two or three people in the sport that are the same kind of bonkers as Balotelli or Metta World Peace.
Hit the jump for more notes, thoughts and to yell at me for overlooking this fighter or that nutcase.
Phillips elaborates on the concept of the "crazy athlete" more, while also defining the tendency of online communities to declare something the Best Thing Ever, when that thing is demonstrably not and will be forgotten within days (the term he chooses is "whaff").
5. For an athlete to qualify as "crazy," it has to be plausible that he would attack someone for no reason. But violence by itself doesn't make an athlete "crazy." Ndamukong Suh isn't "crazy." Joey Barton wasn't "crazy" back when all he did was beat people senseless in the taxi queues outside nightclubs. But he has since become "crazy" on the basis of his mournful spirit-quest posturing, his constantly quoting Nietzsche, and his Twitter advocacy of a fat tax.
6. Other athletes who aren't "crazy": Ricky Williams (too bashful, too dreamy), Andrey Arshavin (not dangerous enough), 95 percent of jabbery wide receivers who are ultimately just looking for attention.
[...] You can't be "crazy" if you're just cannily exploiting a business opportunity. "Crazy" is not a tactic.
Unfortunately, that last line eliminates Chael Sonnen from contention.
The violence issue is a tricky one here.
To begin with, I exclude the career criminals. Crime isn't cool and to lessen the seriousness of their illegal actions and hopefully, their subsequent punishment by calling them "crazy" is not what I am after. Furthermore, most of them committed the crimes with full knowledge of the illegality and wrongness of such conduct. That knocks out Lee Murray, Mike Whitehead and all too many others.
Next up is the street fighters. Practically every boxer or MMA fighter out there has a story about street or bar fights and some tell them extremely well, so we are laughing instead of horrified that people go out and do such dumb things. Plus there is the whole "that is their actual job - to go out and hurt someone until they quit or the referee steps in". I submit that we have to see or hear about the violence in such an unusual setting, instigated by such a strange reason, or implemented by odd method in order for it to be memorable enough to call a fighter "crazy".
To declare Maiquel Falcao a member of this selective club is a difficult call. His fights have seen their share of controversy, yet I think there is a certain level of logic and background to the most controversial of them all - the utter demolition of Leandro Gordo at Desafio: Fight Show in 2007.
"Before the fight, he went on different radio shows to badmouth me and my family," Falcao said. "He does this to intimidate his opponents, and with me he did it way more than usual. Before the fight, he scaled the wall of my home, stole my fight shorts and showed up wearing them on fight day. On top of that, he sent people to my home to threaten me. This made me lose my head."
Given that bit of provocation, does the savagery Falcao displayed in beating Gordo as unconscious as humanly possible on fight night eliminate him from the MMA Crazy Club? I think so.
The impulsiveness of words and deed is a key feature. We have to be able to accept that this bit of lunacy-that-might-actually-make-sense or that piece of "I have no idea what that means, but I'm laughing/horrified" actually happened and that fighter did it. As Kevin Garnett screamed, anything is possible and that is why we pay attention. In a way, these very public figures working through their problems on the public stage allows a discussion flashpoint that can be very helpful to us regular people. The attention given to people who experience differing degrees of normality and possibly deal with disorders and complexes that are not given the public attention and spotlight they deserve can generate great talks, increased awareness and the courage to deal with similar things ourselves. Or we can just flip out in better style.
With all of these criteria in place, I can now make my first pick for the group of fighters I call the MMA Crazy Club.
Nick Diaz is a highly functioning human being with incredible dedication towards his chosen pursuits. He is very intelligent, quite articulate and at times differing and concurrently, a generous and savage human being. At the same time, I can literally believe that he said or did anything you could make up. His campground quote is one of my favorites ever, along with the Floyd Mayweather can't stop a double leg bit too. So much of what he does is spontaneous, genuinely felt and completely bizarre. He is better than Balotelli in my estimation - although not nearly as well paid. He is also my inaugural member of the MMA Crazy Club.
I leave the deliberations on other MMA athletes to you. Some of them will shade towards the darker side of human nature and others will lean towards the more benign, goofier side. Hash them out as you may, but stick as closely to the truth as possible. All should be as fair as possible in love and war.