By Rija Tayyab
The biggest event in Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) history between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor made headlines for the almost-riot that occurred in the T-Mobile Arena in Paradise, Nevada. Close to 20,000 people (a lot of whom were intoxicated) in the stands were at risk, and both fighters were later suspended and fined for their actions. However, attributing the incident to the behavioral flaws of fighters alone risks overlooking the real challenge at hand:
Combat sports such as mixed martial arts and boxing are based on the glorification and enjoyment of violence. As a precursor to matches, fighters insult each other and rile up the crowds in wait for their matches. For MMA fighters, experts argue that 9 years on the ring is enough for them to be too worn out to continue. ‘Worn out’ entails multiple concussions and head injuries, broken and dislocated bones. Brutality is the name of the game. However, fighters make millions of dollars through just one fight. Conor McGregor’s estimated net worth as of now is roughly $100 million dollars and growing. Violence is big business.
Why then are we surprised when violence spills out of the ring?
Mostly because it suddenly becomes too real. The cognitive dissonance between our value of protecting human bodies against hurt and the enjoyment of the same kind of violence becomes obvious. It is okay for McGregor or Khabib to almost die in the octagon because they’re not normal people. They’re in a spotlight, earning millions, some not even speaking the same language as us, caught inside a transparent box that ostensibly separates them from the outside world. What does it say about human dignity when we still condone and relish in the blood of highly glamorized gladiators? Do we even stop to think about what it is about combat sports that excites us so much? We must ponder the effects of the glorification of violence in our daily lives. Banning combat sports is not the answer to this problem. Recognizing the raw reality of the octagon, and those that dazzle inside, is a necessary precursor to understanding the ambiguously dizzying, quickly fading boundary between entertainment and reality and its creeping effect on our day to day lives. In politics. In business. In sport.