Time running out for MMA’s Tipper Gores

I have to say, I find it abhorrent.

Bare-knuckled, talentless thugs fighting it out for supremacy while the crowd, both those in the arena and those who pay for expensive cable subscriptions to see the spectacle, bays for blood?

Nope, ice hockey is not for me.

As a sports journalist I’ve covered two ice hockey world championships and an Olympic final, and interviewed numerous world-class players and officials but, if you’ll pardon the pun, I just can’t warm to it.

But despite my misgivings about the sport, its inherently macho culture evidenced in regular on-ice fights between team “enforcers”, and the undercurrent of performance-enhancing drugs at virtually every level, I do not question its legitimacy, nor do I judge its players or condemn its fans.

I write about it with the same respect I would any sport or any athlete.

I wish the same could be said of the modern-day Tipper Gores who, every time the name of Conor McGregor or the sport of mixed martial arts are mentioned, boom out their contempt for all involved form the highest of vantage points, despite their own admissions that they have no idea what they are talking about.

I mean, think about it – in what other area of sports journalism would ignorance of the subject matter be worn like a badge of honour?

You remember Tipper Gore, right? The busy-body wife of Al Gore who in 1985, before he became vice-president of the USA, demanded that music (in particular rap, hip-hop and hard rock) be censored?

Her legacy is not a world devoid of the evils of rap and heavy metal – in fact, both genres have flourished, with Jay Z now topping many entertainment  rich lists and tours of hard rockers raking in the millions across the world.

Instead, her legacy is one in which t-shirts bearing the imprint “Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics” are worn ironically, in tribute to the staggering arrogance and stupidity of her and the Parents Music Resource Centre, the gang of worthies she set up to decide what is and what is not acceptable culture.

Luckily music fans simply did not give a shit – much like the MMA fans of today.

Don’t get me wrong – I too find it difficult to watch sometimes.

When Ilir Latifi, a Swede from Rosengård in Malmö, was knocked out in a recent fight, I felt crushed – the few times I’ve met him he has been warm and decent to me, and to see him flying back unconscious was hugely unsettling.

And despite the fact that I rank the epic fight between Robbie Lawler and Rory MacDonald as one of the best I’ve ever seen, I can almost feel MacDonald’s pain at the end as he finally succumbs, his nose a smashed, bloodied mess.

I get the fact that people don’t like it.

I get the fact that people don’t like McGregor.

On many occasions I have stated how I believe his foul mouth and his tendency towards misogyny and racial epithets is extremely troubling (and indeed damaging to his “brand”).

I’m not asking anyone to like it. Or him.

But there are a lot of people who do, and their interests are not being served or indeed taken seriously by many in mainstream media at the moment.

(One well-known Irish commentator actually sought me out in the press room at a soccer game to tell me how much he hated it, and editors regularly feel compelled to condemn the sport to me, even as they order coverage of it.)

The argument is made that criticism of the sport is not about class, and writers point to their own working-class roots as evidence that they cannot be biased.

Once again they are putting themselves at the centre of the story, rather than looking at the bigger picture.

The truth is that, wherever I go in the world at the moment, young, working-class men are the ones who talk to me most about McGregor and mixed martial arts.

When I asked him a question at last week’s press conference at Madison Square Garden, my phone started buzzing in my pocket even before I reached the end of my sentence.

All young lads, all watching live, all sending me messages, from all corners of the world.

In previous years it might have been Mike Tyson and boxing that were the subject of their affections, but things have changed.

It is not that young, working-class men are the only fans of MMA – it is that they make up a fairly large constituency, and they are the section of society that are roundly and regularly ignored in the media as it is.

That is what is meant by classism and snobbery.

In a week when an Irish athlete made history in Madison Square Garden, I would have expected sports journalists to put aside their personal prejudices and try to hide their ignorance while giving the sport and the subject the respect it – and its fans – deserves.

It hasn’t happened yet, but it is happening.

For the most part I work for very mainstream, respectable media outlets, and the fact that I have covered several UFC events for them this year is a good indication that the crossover is well underway.

Like Tipper Gore, the pearl-clutchers of Irish sports media will soon be left behind, left to celebrate their self-confessed ignorance to an ever-decreasing audience of retweeters and commenters as the rest of the world moves on.

And as has already happened in the USA, MMA fans will eventually enjoy the validation that comes from being featured in the mainstream media, and the sport will likely replace boxing as the number one combat sport.

And the UFC and McGregor?

They’ll continue laughing all the way to the bank regardless of what any of us says, so we better get used to it.

 

 

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