Sometimes, it's nice to see the "good guys" win. Of course, it's more complicated than that, but at UFC 217, that was the prevailing message.
Nursing my own grappling injury, I was unsure about watching UFC 217 on Saturday night. I had been following the event—the UFC puts out tons of promotional material, like its Embedded series—and knew it was going to be big. There were three title fights, including the return of George St. Pierre, a heralded welterweight who hung up his gloves four years ago. He'd be fighting Michael Bisping for the middleweight belt. TJ Dillashaw and Cody Garbrandt would be fighting for the bantamweight championship, and in the event I personally was most invested in, the undefeated strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk would face Rose Namajunas for her belt.
There was also a *lot* of trash talk.
If there's one thing I can't stand about the UFC, it's this aspect. The wannabe WWE-style posturing, trash-talking, frankly boring bullshit. It comes off as petty, try-hard, teenage-level angst more often than not, and honestly, brings down the professionalism of the sport.
Even the fighters I love watching indulged: Jedrzejczyk is usually pretty understated in her intimidation tactics, but she turned it up to 11 in the pre-fight circus this time around, getting in Namajunas' face during weigh-ins, while Rose claims she just kept reciting the lord's prayer.
In all the pre-fight packages, Namajunas was presented as a humble person: where the cameras followed Bisping and Garbrandt and, to a somewhat lesser degree, Jedrzejczyk in their fancy cars, buying slick watches, and getting groomed to perfection, she was shown at her gym during the Halloween party for the kids there, who dressed up in costume.
Because of all the posturing and bullshit, I have no idea how much of these presentations are the fighters in any kind of natural state, and how much is them playing up their public personas because they know the company loves to market this shit. And I know, I know. Money talks. Marketing fights in America has always been about the big loud bullshit. It's a shame, but, in this case, there was a salve.
In one of the biggest upsets in women's MMA history, Namajunas defeated Jedrzejczyk at her own game: with strikes. I was screaming at my TV. I think I scared all my pets.
In the post-fight interview, Namajunas was beyond humble, and she had a beautiful message:
"This belt don't mean nothing, man, just be a good person," she said, emotional. "We fight, but it's for entertainment. I want to give hugs."
And then she went on to say that she's nothing special, which, hey, have your moment, lady! But I get it. She stood at the very top of the world, and made her voice clear. "Be a good person."
She added more in her post-fight conference:
"Mixed martial arts, there's just been a lot of trash talking and things like that… People I feel like aren't really being true to themselves or being honest. I don't know, maybe that's what they feel they need to do to entertain things. But I'm just kind of sick of it. I'm sick of all the hate and anger. I feel like we have a duty as fighters to try and be a better example. Martial arts is about honor and respect. It takes a lot of courage to get in that cage, no matter who you are."
This was mirrored, in some fashion, when St. Pierre won later in the evening, where he explained his gameplan for beating Bisping (who out-trash-talked everyone on the card, making fun of everything from St. Pierre's weight to his jeans pre-fight) and then explained "Martial arts is not about who has the biggest balls," he paused, and sheepishly added "sorry for my language!" in a frankly adorable exchange.
It feels like, in a small but very real way, the nice people won. They won on technique and diligent study of their opponents, not by being the biggest, loudest assholes in the room. And when they were given the mics, and their shiny new belts, they steered entirely away from the brash bullshit that the UFC seems to love to market.
It was truly, honestly beautiful.