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The Debt of Kalib Starnes

Jake Rossen has a very interesting piece this morning where he attempts to lay out the case of what, precisely, fighters "owe" fans, "owe" their competitor and ultimately, what they "owe" the sport when they compete. Notable quote:

Did Starnes "owe" spectators a willingness to engage against Quarry even though he suspected he'd be concussed? Isn't that a masochistic attitude to take? Don't they put people on medication for that type of behavior?

"Yes" to all of the above. Welcome to the cranially irresponsible world of prizefighting.

There is a tacit agreement every combat athlete makes when he commits to a fight -- that he'll do his very best to win the bout. That doesn't preclude them from defending themselves, but it does mean that one can't assume the disposition of a drugged puppy simply because some hurt is coming their way.

Consider Tito Ortiz, a fighter whose persona has generally grated this particular member of the audience. Facing Chuck Liddell in 2004, Ortiz's prior training sessions with his opponent had congealed on his brain. From reports, he was unable to ever take Liddell down and was batted about like a tethered balloon standing.

Despite overwhelming evidence that he wouldn't be able to exchange successfully with Liddell, Ortiz gamely trudged forward, doing his best to evade damage while meting out his own. It didn't work -- Ortiz was struck down early in the second -- but he tried. He gave effort. He fought. Didn't shy away from Liddell the second time, either, even after he had tasted his own blood.

Nobody wins a fight going backwards. And if victory is the ultimate endgame, whatever a fighter does and however he does it should be predicated on putting one foot in front of the other. It might leave a cut, a bruise or a slightly engorged brain. Damage is the currency of combat.

There is a point where a motivated performance gives way to manic, misplaced courage. The Japanese fighters are famous for engaging against warhorses that -- because of size or skill -- could easily turn them into premature assisted care residents. Other fighters are obstinate in playing to their opponents' strengths to prove they have what it takes. Not healthy.

Show up, be in shape, try your best without taking foolish chances: not complicated arithmetic.

Fair enough. But what do the fans owe the fighters? Aside from the obvious "respect" and "adoration", I also think patience is due. Most importantly, while "reverence" would be too strong a word, something above respect and below reverence might fit the bill. Fans need to remind themselves exactly what it is that these fighters are actually doing for entertainment purposes. No one needs to boo-hoo the torment that fighters suffer through as its their choice to do so. But they do need to acknowledge it and they need to, inasmuch as they can, come to terms with how deep a sacrifice that is and how fatiguing that process is over the long run.

Fighters have to show up ready to fight and short of the kamikaze, they have to give their all. Fans, conversely, need to acknowledge and honor the sacrifice and commitment of fighters who hold up their end of the bargain. Over the long run, that will lead the newer or uninitiated fan to the patience and quiet respect smarter, more experienced fans already have.

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