Discussions of inequality and discrimination are always crucial for deepening understanding and facilitating change. This is especially true in times of heightened social tension.
Hosted on the combat sports analytical hub The Fight Site, four black mixed martial artists spoke on a panel where they were able to share their own experiences with racism and offer opinions on how best to address these issues.
The panel included UFC heavyweight contender Curtis Blaydes, UFC women’s flyweight prospect Shana Dobson, Contender Series winner and Bellator MMA lightweight Sidney Outlaw, and Bellator MMA welterweight and Marine Corps veteran Bradley Désir.
The panelists responded to a number of prompts, including recalling their earliest experiences with racism, how they feel race has impacted their MMA careers, and sharing their thoughts on those in the sport who use inflammatory rhetoric to promote themselves.
After detailing a story where he felt afraid and isolated after a trip to West Virginia for a wrestling competition, Curtis Blaydes reflected on the frustration of having to prove the existence of racism to others.
“Why am I arguing with you, you don’t get it?” Blaydes said. “It’s not plain to you? You think we’re all lying? Do you think we all got together on Zoom and had a group meeting like, ‘Yo, let’s all lie. Let’s just all make up a bunch of stories about police brutality, about teachers picking on us because we’re black. All these instances of racism, let’s all lie.’ It can’t be.”
The fighters consistently emphasized the importance of anti-racism - taking action or intervening against racist behavior or rhetoric instead of staying a passive observer.
Bradley Désir utilized a clear analogy to illustrate this point.
“Let’s say maybe I’m not a fighter, I’m a lover, right?” Desir said. “Maybe you don’t expect me to jump in and throw punches for you. But at the very least - you expect me to pull people off of you. Yes? That’s what I feel like is happening. Black people are being jumped, and people are like, ‘Well I’m not going to fight anybody.’ That’s okay, pull them off of me! But you don’t want to pull them off of me.”
Each panelist explicitly stated their disapproval for the inflammatory marketing tactics of fighters like Colby Covington. The panel was held before Covington’s infamous “smoke signals” remark.
Curtis Blaydes made an argument that has grown popular with those who protest Covington’s rhetoric.
“I don’t rock with Colby. I don’t like him at all. I keep hearing, ‘Oh it’s just a shtick’. Well if it’s a shtick it’s an awful shtick and he needs to find a new one. That Brazilian thing? I’m against all racism. I think if you can play a racist that well, you might as well be a racist.”
With regard to how they personally are treated by their respective organizations, all four panelists felt that if they keep winning, they cannot be denied opportunities.
The rest of the discussion included many positive points, including the inclusive spaces that they have had the good fortune to train at, like Elevation Fight Team in Colorado. The fighters involved all presented unique perspectives on issues of race and how they felt it would be best to move forward.
Hopefully there will be many more productive conversations like these in MMA and combat sports moving forward.