Martin Smith column: MMA must keep its mayhem inside the cage

Khabib Nurmagomedov, right, takes down Conor McGregor last weekend
Khabib Nurmagomedov, right, takes down Conor McGregor last weekend

It’s come a long way since it’s cage-fighting inception. A long way from the bare-knuckle brutalism it once conjured up.

But MMA took a huge step back at the weekend.

A step back from its middle-of-the-night mainstream, grudgingly acknowledged sporting respectability and back to the dark days.

The days of a decade ago when Doncaster Dome staged some of the early bouts that attracted Russian hard men and their intensely coutured girlfriends to Saturday night scraps.

All sides-of-beef shoulders and shaved heads at the bar, bristling with intimidation.

And that was just the blokes.

Mixed Martial Arts has moved on since then and it’s fearless protagonists create some of the most thrilling and primal scenes in sport, also some of its most disturbing.

It unleashes the entire range of physical and mental demands on participants and when the build-up to fights includes the dark arts of trash-talk, psychological warfare and intimidation it’s barely a sport at all by the time the battle starts.

Should insults to family members, disrespect for religion and abuse of national identity be part of sport? We saw what that can lead to in the mayhem that followed the Conor McGregor defeat by Khabib Nurmagomedov at the weekend. 

MMA is not alone in this. We see violence afflict other  events.

Sport rouses emotion or it isn’t worth anything. But some of the depths dredged around this one were offensive by any standards.

After-fight brawling is not exclusive to MMA and the sport has been meticulous in its attention to its reputation in recent years.

MMA has been battling for sporting legitimacy since its inception and the pre-fight hoo-ha is a revved up version of what boxing has been doing for 200 years to sell itself.

But it has to be about putting bums on seats, not blood. The pre-fight hype has led to a build-up of bad feeling that cannot be satisfied by action inside the ring.

Sport should encourage participants to control their dark urges and base emotions within rules, not unleash them in their full fury.