During the UFC 158 press conference there was an interesting exchange between UFC president Dana White and Yahoo!'s Kevin Iole, one of the deans of the MMA media. Iole started off with this comment and question:
Iole: I just want to preface this by saying I'm never against sportsmanship, but in this fight it was kind of a let down the way it ended because guys are talking shit and doing all this and then all of a sudden not only do they hug and everything but they say this is all make believe do you feel like that hurts the credibility with the audience going forward? I'm not advocating the bad talk but if in fact they do it, when it's all over they say 'oh this is all promotion' 'this is all make believe', do you feel like that leaves a sour taste in a lot of people's mouths after that?
White: Do you believe that?
Iole: He said it. I don't know what to believe after hearing that.
White: I know what to believe. I've been in the middle of this bullshit for frigging three months. I think that when these guy got to the point like when they're sitting here at the press conference last week when Georges was talking about his dark place and all that. You said that. I didn't get a fucking ventriloquist or imitator to come shoot the promo. He said that. All the stuff with Nick Diaz happened. You guys couldn't hear the corner talk, between rounds Diaz was saying 'he hits like a bitch, win or lose this fight, he's a pussy.' He was trying to slap him after the rounds. This wasn't promotion this wasn't anything, this is Nick Diaz, this is the way he is.
"When the fight was over I didn't let his corner or Georges corner into the cage until I was sure it was ok. When you watch Nick he was storming around and then he calmed down a little bit and one of GSP's guys came over and tried to hug him and Diaz shoved him and said 'You don't come over and hug me, not you.' Trust me, whatever they say, they're not that good of actors trust me."
Later in the press conference Iole asked GSP, "When the fight immediately ended you put your hand out to shake Nick's hand but you seemed very tentative, where you convinced he was going to shake your hand or was there some doubt that he was going to pop you or something like that?"
GSP answered, "I was afraid. I look at him, at his body language because I didn't know if he was going to punch me or something but I was on my guard so to speak. But, you know when you finish a tough fight there is some sort of cameraderie. I don't know how to explain. It is something you need to live to understand. You put on a show together you give everything you have."
Dana: "When it's fake you don't need to worry about shaking the guy's hand afterward, just for the record."
Let me preface my comments by saying that Iole is playing a bit of set up and allowing Dana and GSP to try to clarify something that is fairly nuanced and could be confusing to fans.
Here's the deal, the Octagon is one of the few contexts in modern society in which people are allowed to express truly negative thoughts and emotions. These guys are really trying to hurt each other. That is an incredibly intense emotional experience melding hostility, comradery, fury and mutual respect.
One thing that's important to note is that many of the post-fight comments by GSP and Diaz were made in the cage before a blood-thirsty crowd of 20,000+ Canadians who've been encouraged to build themselves up into a frothing lather of hate against Diaz. It's a very important thing for the fighters to remind those fans that it's ultimately just a show, a sporting contest and that they need to let their anger toward Diaz go and celebrate his accomplishment and the sacrifices he offered them by giving his all against GSP.
Also in the moments immediately after the fight, the fighters are very much in an altered state. They've just experienced a level of catharsis that most of us can only imagine. They've risked their health and mental well-being for 25 minutes in bare-handed combat against a trained professional athlete and martial arts expert. The fight is the culmination of months, or in this case, years of anticipation and build up. They've been mentally obsessed with their opponent and finally got to exorcise those summoned demons by going full-out for an incredibly long period of time.
The only person that has truly shared their experience in that moment is their opponent. After a title fight like this, GSP and Diaz are at the eye of the hurricane, surrounded by madness and screaming fans. Let them have their moment together.
Let them have their post-fight afterglow and the brief moment when they can express their mutual respect and admiration. The reality of that mutual appreciation in no way diminishes the reality of the mutual hostility they summoned in the months before the fight and the half hour of brutality in the cage.
The post-fight show of respect is a ritual just like the pre-fight handshake. Combat unleashes forces that every edifice of civilization is constructed to repress and deny. Let the fighters have their moment to put the genie back in the bottle, it doesn't diminish the fan experience in any way.