Phil Rothfield did not appreciate what he saw at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre on Saturday night. Rothfield is the Sports Editor-At-Large of the Daily Telegraph. His byline on other stories he has published on the newspaper's website includes the tagline, "League's most feared critic", referencing his coverage of the National Rugby League.
While many MMA fans and pundits were declaring UFC Fight Night 33's headlining bout between Antonio Silva and Mark Hunt a Fight of the Year candidate, Rothfield's story dismissed the five-round slugfest as:
Nothing but barbaric savagery that should be banned in this country.
Rothfield was also shocked to find out that women would be "allowed" to compete in the sport of mixed martial arts:
The fact women were allowed to fight on the card was an even bigger disgrace.
Rothfield went on to say that MMA more or less signals the total collapse of civilized society.
It would be easy to dismiss the words of Rothfield as coming from just another out of touch critic. It would be easy to take a defensive and dismissive tone when discussing Rothfield's take on what he saw on Saturday night, but that doesn't help. In fact, to merely dismiss Rothfield and claim him to be a clueless hack only hurts the overall growth of the sport, especially in areas that the UFC is looking to make inroads, such as Australia.
For all the claims that Rothfield makes in his story, one sentence shines through that indicates that there is some hope to make him a believer. That there is more to the sport than Rothfield's kneejerk belief that MMA is nothing short of pure barbarism.
In the conclusion of his story, Rothfield states:
The beauty of all sport is the toughness and determination of its competitors. The pain they put themselves through to become the best.
Those two sentences make me want to believe that a great deal of what Rothfield wrote in his story came from ignorance about mixed martial arts, something that fans of MMA have dealt with pretty much from day one.
Ignorance is something that can be overcome through education, and that should be the goal with Rothfield and his ilk. Don't shout them down. Don't roll your eyes and offer a dismissive wave of your hand. Sit down and educate them on what they are missing about MMA.
Rothfield obviously appreciates what it takes for someone to become a professional athlete. What he needs to see is the dedication, toughness and determination that makes someone like Georges St-Pierre such a success in mixed martial arts. Hell, maybe if he even knew the back story of Mark Hunt, he would come to appreciate what it took for Hunt to go from unwanted baggage that came with the UFC's purchase of Pride FC to become a man that UFC president Dana White referred to as "one of the greatest stories in sports right now."
I'm not denying that some of the appeal of mixed martial arts is the visceral thrill of watching two huge dude's that have to cut weight to make the 265-pound heavyweight limit stand toe-to-toe and try and inflict massive damage to one another over the course of 25-minutes. If I made that statement, I would open myself up to just as much criticism as Rothfield has with his claims.
Painting all of mixed martial arts with the wide brush that Rothfield used misses the beautiful jiu-jitsu game of the sports top practitioners. It misses the countless hours of strategy and planning that go into planning for a fight. It misses the multiple practices and training sessions that the athletes go through every day to reach the top of their chosen profession. It misses 99 percent of the things that make mixed martial arts the sport that it is.
If anything, Rothfield's attitude shows just how far mixed martial arts has to go as a sport. So, before you go on the defensive and attack Rothfield, or the next person you run into that feels the same way about mixed martial arts, take the time to try and show them that there's more to the sport than they think. Let them know that the athletes that participate in this form of competition are just as worthy of their admiration and respect as the players in the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL or NRL.
If you make that effort, and they still don't get it, that's fine. To think that MMA will appeal to everyone is foolhardy. There are plenty of sports that I don't watch, but that doesn't mean I don't appreciate what those athletes go through to get to the top of their sport. Hopefully, over time those that are dismissive of MMA will at least give the sport and its athletes that same level of consideration and respect.
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