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Editorial: MMA laughs at Joshua Fabia when it should reckon with him instead

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The saga between Josh Fabia and Diego Sanchez is much older than you think.

Diego Sanchez walks to the cage to fight Martin Held in Mexican City, Mexico.
Diego Sanchez walks to the cage to fight Martin Held in Mexican City, Mexico.
Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

‘Good riddance.’ That was the collective sigh of relief when the MMA world saw news of Diego Sanchez parting ways with Joshua Fabia.

MMA fans are combative by nature. It’s not just the sport. It’s Pride vs. UFC. It’s Diaz fans versus McGregor fans. It’s actual fighting. So it was nice to see the rare moment of everyone in MMA, in complete and total agreement. I include myself of course, but I’m also not ready to celebrate.

I was never all that familiar with Fabia. I just knew Diego Sanchez. They say you can’t hide who you are in the ring, and few fighters have ever been more revealed than Sanchez. Sure, he was and remains a well-rounded collection of skills, but his style was always about volition more than prowess. And Sanchez has been an open book outside of the cage too. We know the details of his fights in school, his struggle with bulimia, and financial troubles.

There’s a sincere part of the MMA discussion I appreciate when it comes to Fabia-gate. People actually care about Diego’s well-being. He’s flawed and fucked up. Like the rest of us. Fans seemed invested in the situation, as if to protect him. It’s actually quite sweet. But this wouldn’t be MMA without some sour to go with it.

Some of that sour comes from the tone. Take Donald Cerrone. When he was asked about his thoughts on Fabia in the leadup to UFC on ESPN 24, an MMA reporter explained to Cerrone how the two met. According to Sanchez, Fabia managed to tap him in forty seconds. Cerrone replied with a gay joke. “I think your idea of tapped and my idea of tapped are different. I think Diego got tapped in forty seconds for sure. Different kind of strokes for different kind of folks, buddy.”

Which is, whatever. I’m not here to play Grandfather Ethics based on whether you think what Cerrone said was funny. It’s a timid gay joke, I guess: the kind of thing Spider-Man would say to Bone Saw. My point isn’t to raise a big stink about Cerrone’s joke, but because it does something you see in any comments section of any article about Fabia, which is to fixate on whether Fabia was Diego’s lover. As if that somehow adds an extra greasy layer to Fabia’s already-questionable presence.

Fabia is questionable enough. Even if nobody saw the Cronenberg-directed video of Fabia kicking Diego in the head while Sanchez hung upside down, we’d still have a trail of behavior that borders on abusive. There’s the handling of Diego’s social media accounts, the aggressive interest in Diego’s medical records, which would be fine in any other context — but combine that with Fabia’s way of confronting UFC employees (and fighters), practicing with a knife, some disturbing rumors, the power of attorney Fabia gained, and you end up with a high-def view of something improper at best.

Whether Fabia’s relationship with Diego qualifies as ‘abusive’ is not for me to determine. It’s certainly telling that in interview after interview, Fabia tries to take control of every discussion, controlling the narrative, regardless of whether it’s about him, demanding attention and respect from people even when his attention and respect to others is not given the same weight. However, we can determine what elements we choose to delete from our community.

Fabia himself isn’t even interesting as far as fast food philosophers go. He sloshes around in the same mud wallow that self-help gurus have been bloviating about for decades. ‘Believe in yourself, you can do anything, be positive.’ These are the words of people looking to talk at you, not to you. They’re slogans without the scholarship; each one implying that the wisdom of everyday life is more important than the machinations of our collective experience.

It goes without saying that there’s nothing wrong with thinking positively. Knowing that a silver lining is part of every dark corner is something MMA fans are especially good at. Seeing Stipe Moicic’s legs fold underneath his unconscious body had the obvious physical punishment of Miocic getting knocked out, but it came at the cost of Francis Ngannou’s triumph, who then got to come home to the proverbial hero’s welcome. ‘All in the game,’ right?

That game, for better or worse, has nothing but honesty when it’s just the two combatants. But Fabia is playing a different game. I see people talk about Fabia and words like ‘cult’ are sometimes used in his orbit. Fabia is a lot less interesting. Everyone can point out Don King. But how many people remember Georges St-Pierre and Shari Spencer? Ronda Rousey and Darin Harvey? Michael Bisping and Anthony McGann? Alistair Overeem and Golden Glory? Or that time Quinton Jackson’s former manager tried to sell Jackson’s house with his family still living in it once their relationship soured? This isn’t to cast every manager under the same umbrella, or to call a manager’s job into question so much as to note a general pattern.

In truth, Fabia is just the same tin man that’s been around since prizefighting; the dross hopper who knows when toughness in the cage is inversely proportional to toughness outside of it. Good riddance? Absolutely. But Fabia won’t be the last. Not as long as prizefighting remains an open book for the fighters, but not everyone else.