Mixed martial arts, and more specifically the UFC, has continually raised scholastic/Olympic-style wrestling to new heights in the consciousness of popular culture. This trend continued last Saturday night when, after defeating Dan Henderson in the co-main event of UFC 173, Daniel Cormier did the unprecedented in his post-fight interview, and used a joke which only members of the wrestling sub-culture would appreciate.
In a call out to light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones, Cormier uttered the following:
"I'm the kid at the wrestling tournament that's always in your bracket!"
It doesn't look like much, but this may be history's first example of a somewhat visible, mainstream-ish athlete making a high school wrestling joke on fairly important national broadcast of a sporting event (a pay-per-view broadcast, but still).
In case you didn't quite comprehend all the implications of Cormier's "always in your bracket" remark, allow me to explain.
Wrestlers throughout the world, particularly high-school wrestlers in the United States, live from one bracket sheet to another. Most weekends of the wrestling season, they wake up in the blue-black cold, travel to some high school, weigh in, and check out their bracket sheet. Each weight class has its own bracket sheet hanging on the gym's tiled wall in weight-order above the 50 year-old porcelain water fountain which provides a trickle of liquid that tastes like a cross between lead and unwashed jock strap (except in Wisconsin, where they don't hang above the water fountain, they hang above the bubbler).
These bracket usually look like smaller versions of this
These brackets communicate every potential opponent a wrestler may face at a tournament.
Due to mathematical necessity, most wrestlers possess an average or below average in skill level. When these young athletes peruse their brackets, they will curse under their breath at the anywhere from the couple to the many wrestlers, depending on the size of the tournament, who are probably better.
The beauty of Cormier's call-out joke is that he didn't just code it for any wrestler to understand, he coded it for a good wrestler to understand, a wrestler like Jon Jones. While most wrestlers are worried about many wrestlers in their bracket, really good wrestlers usually will only potentially face one or two opponents that could possibly come out ahead. In basically every bracket, even the best kids will find a wrestler might be better on that weekend, and Cormier is likening himself to that wrestler; he is the one tough match the local stud finds waiting for him in that weekend's tournament. Where Cormier comes from, he was that stud; the same is true for Jones. Cormier's "kid in the bracket" metaphor refers back to experiences that he knows he and Jones share.
The real story here isn't Cormier's joke itself, it's the fac that he made it. By making joking wrestling references where everyone can hear them, Daniel Cormier is helping MMA to normalize the sport of wrestling, which for many decades has been popularly viewed as something that only existed in the fringes and margins of the sporting world.