UFC Fight Night 26: Alistair Overeem and Nature of Schadenfreude

Photo by Esther Lin of MMA Fighting

UFC on Fox Sports 1 was a smashing success. A blistering night of action was followed up by a blistering collection of negativity as well, it seems.

Whenever I find myself discussing MMA with someone else, be it casually among personal friends, or intimately among strangers on the internet (funny how that works), I can't help but identify the similarities with the discourse and MMA itself; an experience that can be simultaneously frustrating, and exhilarating.

UFC on Fight Night: Shogun vs Sonnen was the perfect case in point. I was frustrated by Uriah Hall. Here's a guy whose talent and wits in the cage appear vast. He has some of the most gorgeous wheel kicks you'll see in MMA. Yet watching him plod forward like "a street fighter character controlled by someone who's on the phone" (as one twitter fan described it) was frustrating.

I was frustrated with Alistair Overeem. The carnage he enacted on Travis Browne was incredible. Yet a few seconds later Overeem is back to his old tricks; breathing heavily, eating shots he should otherwise avoid, and eventually falling down in a position he's grown accustomed to in the UFC.

At the same time I was exhilarated. Exhilarated by Browne's incredible comeback; a comeback that was only a few right hands shy of Barry. vs. Kongo (though ultimately a much better contest). I was exhilarated by Matt Brown putting the stamp on Mike Pyle faster than...well, this.

Juggling these emotions can be a test in and of itself for MMA fans. Which is why I think that juggling tends to manifest itself in post-fight schadenfraude. Our resident moderator, Dave Strummer, wrote a brief thoughtful fanpost on any fans' favorite past-time.

It's natural for a fan to be mean to the tribe they don't belong to. Readers are probably sick of hearing me talk hockey because who the hell watches that besides Jordan Breen, and whoever happens to be Canadian among MMA fans, but yes...by my own admission, I take a certain pleasure out of watching the LA Kings lose. Sometimes the hatred isn't even intentional...it's just a groupthink atavism among Dallas Stars fans. There's no real logic, to any of this except that their team is an obstacle to Dallas' success*.

But none of this is to say that it's justified. In the wake of Fox Sports 1, there's been a lot of celebration from some fans. A celebration in watching Uriah Hall not fulfill his potential; a notion all the more foolish because it's undercut by the fact that Hall is 29, has been fighting since 2005, and has likely plateaued as a fighter.

And then there's Alistair Overeem. If you were reading the PBP thread during the Overeem fight, the comments section might look like a place two seconds removed from the experience of watching The Empire Strikes Back for the first time.

I suppose for some, the logic is that it's "fitting". Overeem is already a known "steroid cheat" (a phrase that has less and less meaning the more we explore performance enhancement), and he's cocky. He "deserves" to lose like that, the logic goes.

In team sports, you can get away with this. But I agree with Mr. Strummer that MMA is a very different game. Fighters can't fall back on a lucrative contract...or in some cases...contracts so lucrative that you can be paid upwards of a million for doing nothing other than reaping the benefits of your general manager making a mistake. For fighters, the reward only marginally outweighs the risk.

And this ignores the metaphysical humiliation. I've never been in an actual fight (or does a fight only register on your personal fight finder if you actually got punches in?), but my dad was a hell of a machinist for an amateur boxer. One day I decide that youth is enough to overcome his myopia, and crow's feet. So we strap on some 8oz. gloves, and I proceed to do my best Reggie Strickland impression.

Unlike in team sports, there's no metaphor for a humiliating defeat. In a prizefight, if you lost, your body feels that humiliation as much as your mind. And sometimes, that humiliation can leave a permanent mark (I'm pretty sure that the photo above is what Brad Pickett will look like weeks from now).

I understand schadenfreude in sports. Nowadays it's exacerbated by the internet(s). And no not ironically...it's easy to find yourself quietly rooting for teams or fighters to lose because you're hyper-connected to the intimate details of their fandom. You can actually make generalizations about entire subcultures that didn't exist ten years ago. A Nick Diaz fan isn't just a potential pothead. No, he's a potential pothead whose closest connection to philosophy is a barely legible fortune cookie soundbite surrounded in tribal tattoo. And he tweets all day about Danny McBride movies. He's even politically educated, inasmuch as he knows lots and lots of details about Ron Paul.

My point is that we're up close and personal with our opposition these days. Maybe it would serve some of us some good to just take a few steps back. Nobody is saying who you can and can't root for. Nobody is saying some fighters don't deserve ridicule, and mockery from time to time (like War Machine). Just that UFC Fight Night 26 was one of the best shows of the year. Chances are, the fighters you hate the most played a part in this personal treasure of yours. Surely that's worth just a little less negativity.

*Well...some of it's logical.


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