UFC 237: Dealing With The Violence Of Fist Fighting

It took a whole thirty seconds at Saturday night’s UFC main event between Rose Namajunas and Jessica Andrade for us to see how the fight would play out. Rose was using feints and fakes to set up an impressive display of jabs and crosses. Even the commentary team clearly saw the dynamic of the fight-“She’s just sticking her,” Daniel Cormier noted with over four minutes left in the first round. It was an incredibly impressive showing early on for Rose, reminiscent of Max Holloways blistering domination of Brian Ortega. Unlike Holloways performance, those who watched Rose’s fight know that she didn’t end up with a dominant victory.  After facing very little adversity one mistake cost her the UFC title along with her consciousness. It was a rather brutal and abnormal finish- Andrade slammed Rose like she had in the previous round, only this time the way Rose held onto Andrade’s arm caused her to get slammed directly on her head. It was shocking and disappointing. The slow motion replay was intense and many viewers found it difficult to watch. It was an unfortunate reminder of what people simultaneously love and hate about combat sports.

It was one of those results that should not have happened. Rose seems to be the better fighter- showing a more in-depth arsenal of attack on her feet that should have led her to a decisive victory. Jessica Andrade has been the same fighter for several years now-she is one of the best and most physically gifted athletes competing in the women’s division, but she lacks the essential skills to compete at the highest level. She ran into jab after jab and had no way of cutting rose off or pressuring. Though she had mild success with a powerful leg kicks it was not enough, yet she ended up victorious with what can only be called a low percentage outcome. Social media was set ablaze- some thought that Andrade’s slam was an illegal move (it wasn’t), some thought it should be illegal (it shouldn’t) and almost everyone thought it was too brutal. People were reminded that they’re watching two people hurting each other in a cage.

Only two months prior there was a similarly brutal incident in the cage. Remember that time when Robbie Lawler slammed all of Ben Askrens skull to the canvas and followed up with a flurry of punches? One look at Lawler’s face clearly showed Lawler’s intent- he planned on hurting Askren as much as humanly possible. While the fight was not stopped during this exchange, it was brutal none the less, yet there was no uproar. In fact, there was celebration! Gifs were exchanged all over the internet. There is always a certain brutality that accompanies most Lawler fights, and people love him for it. Lawler is a fan favorite and  a fighter who is hard to dislike. Seeing Lawler nearly end Askren’s undefeated streak was cause for celebration. In the Andrade and Rose fight, however, it was a reminder of violence on display simply because Rose is female fighter in a small weight class who is generally beloved. Rose is rather unassuming- she has a non-threatening physique and quietness to her that is a stark contrast to what people think of when they hear the word ‘cage fighter’, it was okay when Ben Askren was slammed and repeatedly punched in the face, but when the much more innocent looking Rose Namajunas was slammed it made people question just what they were watching.

Those who were pulling for Rose were clearly the most devastated on social media.

One of the best things about combat sports is the unpredictability. A fighter can be losing for nearly all of the bout and one perfectly placed punch can change the tide (see Derrick Lewis versus Alexander Volkov). This unpredictability makes fights exciting regardless of the likely outcome, but fans are never prepared to be on the other end of that outcome-where the fighter they’re cheering for succumbs to the one-punch knockout, or in this case the slam. Between the television screen and the professional production, there is a barrier that protects most viewers from seeing what is really happening- two people attempting to inflict violence upon each other. It is why the UFC is much easier to consume than a random street fight you may see on YouTube.

UFC 237’s main event was a reminder that we are fans of a sport where people are trying to hurt each other. It is a reminder that is only thrust upon us when things don’t go the way they are “supposed to.” Rose was supposed to wi-she did not though. She was slammed into unconsciousness. Andrade, the clearly less technically proficient athlete won, and it won’t be the last time something like this happens. We’re fans of a sport that is inherently violent. It is a sport that can seem unfair. Daniel Cormier has a compelling story and an impressive resume. He is a man who has faced adversity inside the octagon and outside. Jon Jones seems to be a man blessed with a body type made for mixed martial arts and seems to never learn from his mistakes outside the cage, yet both times these two men met in the octagon it ended in resounding victories for Jones. Fairy tale endings can happen in sports, but specifically in combat sports, they are much more unlikely. There is no need to do any moral gymnastics to justify one’s love for the sport- but an acceptance of the brutality can often times be difficult, especially given the results of Rose vs Andrade. One person who did not have difficulty accepting the results was the woman slammed upon her head. “it’s just a huge pressure off my shoulders,” she told Jon Anik immediately after in the octagon interview. Perhaps the conversations taking place should be more about how difficult the pressure of being great sits in champions heads, and less on Rose getting slammed on her head.