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August 7, 2017 | by  | in Sports | [ssba]

Moral Outrage: UFC v Boxing

On the weekend before last, UFC 214 was held in California, the highlight of which was the heavyweight rematch between Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier. The fight itself ended in typically protracted fashion after Cormier took a kick to the head, which clearly did damage but failed to finish the fight. A dazed and stumbling Cormier was eventually corralled by Jones, who mounted Cormier’s back and landed three more head shots before the referee called the match.

But it was not this extended display of violence that has sparked controversy. Rather, in the aftermath of the fight, Cormier, who clearly needed to be escorted from the ring and receive medical treatment, was subjected to an interview. It was unnecessary and more than a little unpleasant to watch this man struggle to answer the questions through tears and obvious head trauma. Why didn’t his own trainers, the various UFC officials, including the president of the sport, who were all in the octagon, step in for the health of their competitor? These moments removed for some any notion of credibility the sport could maintain; the violence in the fight was somehow acceptable but the aftermath was straight negligence.

Throughout its rather short history the Ultimate Fighting Championship has struggled with legitimacy, and there has been a significant amount of moral grandstanding claiming it to be barbaric. A particular brand of this grandstanding, which is often offered by older heads, attempts to condemn the violence of UFC while maintaining the integrity of boxing, as if repeatedly punching someone in the head is not only fine but something to be analysed and respected, but as soon as you add kicking and various forms of wrestling some line has been crossed. For some, this stance screams of hypocrisy, but it points to a difference in how the two sports are viewed and engaged with and why the end of the Cormier/Jones fight has created such consternation.  

Part of why boxing is held in a different regard is its history, which is defined not only through the sport itself but through its treatment in various media. There is a long list of boxing-based film and literature which are held in high regard by at least a few, who we can assume, would never consider watching the sport proper. Boxing therefore exists simultaneously as a sport and as a narrative form, with its own tropes, character types, and expectations. The violence at the heart of boxing has been legitimated through these various depictions, which provide a map to the viewing experience by placing the violence within a context of narrative norms.

This, at least in part, explains why boxing is viewed differently, but not the UFC’s rapid rise in popularity. Coinciding with the UFC rise has been a slow erosion of boxing from the mainstream. The former’s disregard for the appearance of the legitimacy boxing commentators often strive for would suggest that its audience is attracted to its violent, hyper-masculine tendencies. So even as commentators continue to take to their soap boxes declaring the sport an immoral waste, much of what they will be doing is simply articulating the sport’s very appeal.


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