By Seth Falvo
My first thought following the main event of UFC 167 was that Georges St. Pierre had a concussion. Granted, “hack journalist” is a far cry from doctor, but he was displaying symptoms that should make any sports fan concerned. He lost track of what round it was, he had trouble forming words, and the completely vacant look in his eyes was disturbing — even for a guy as stoic as GSP.
If this thought occurred to Dana White and the media members in attendance, they did a damn fine job of hiding it. You know what happened by now: White claimed St. Pierre “owed” everyone an immediate rematch, the media attempted to steer Georges St. Pierre away from talking about the signs of brain damage he has been experiencing — despite St. Pierre’s best attempts to do otherwise — and White eventually talked to the champ in private before downplaying everything that St. Pierre admitted to experiencing as much as possible.
As Stand and Bang accurately wrote, “White’s behavior [was] so transparently morally repugnant that there’s no reason to spend time pedantically analyzing it.” He wanted to pressure GSP back into the cage as quickly as possible, because the longer the champion has to reflect upon the damage that he’s done to himself, the less likely he is to return to the sport. Yet there are actually fans — and plenty of them — who managed to take the bait. There are fans who buy the ideas that St. Pierre somehow “owes” it to anyone to accept a rematch against Johny Hendricks, that he’s obligated to return to the cage immediately, that Dana White’s dangerously-capitalistic treatment of his most influential champion is completely acceptable.
And let’s not forget the most disgusting part about this: These fans are delusional enough to say with a straight face that MMA is about “respect.”
I’m really not sure how we ever managed to accept the “mixed martial arts is about respect” fallacy in the first place; pretending that the earliest MMA events were complex rituals of respect — as opposed to sporting events and entertainment — is adorably delusional. Perhaps it caught on due to the revisionist history that all martial arts suffer from, perhaps due to a misunderstanding of Bushido. Or perhaps it’s just reframing caused by the cognitive dissonance required to care about the people you enjoy watching injure themselves. Regardless of how it got here, it’s at the point where even fighters like Houston Alexander believe that MMA is about respect, which is laughable on its own, and downright dangerous in the aftermath of UFC 167.
No human being “owes” someone harm to their own mind and body. That I have to explain this to people who claim that their sport is built around respect is more than a little disturbing, and their rationalizations only paint a scarier picture. There’s the argument that Georges St. Pierre “chose to be a fighter,” as if he also chose to give up his right to retire whenever he wants (which he was hinting at well before Saturday night) and his right to look out for his own health when he made that decision. Others are slightly more humane, and instead argue that he simply “owes” it to us to get back in the cage within the next few months, because second-impact syndrome and brain damage are things that should be taken as lightly as possible. I’m sure the medical community will be thrilled to learn that.
Respect does not come with conditions. You can’t only respect someone when they do what you want them to. If you do, you aren’t “respecting” them, you’re manipulating them, and that’s exactly what abusive spouses do to their victims. “Georges, you know I respect you, baby. It’s just that I love watching you fight soooo much and you made me soooo mad by wanting to take time off that I didn’t have a choice but to publicly humiliate you like that. Please don’t leave me, please give me (or in this case, Johny) one more chance.”
I’m not saying that I don’t think Hendricks was robbed on Saturday night. And I’m also not saying that I wouldn’t watch a rematch. But I am saying that if Georges St. Pierre decides to stick around for one more fight, I want him to do so only after he feels he’s had enough time to recover from Saturday night and make an educated decision. He’s built his entire life around being the ideal Zuffa employee and perfect ambassador for our sport, despite never needing us as much as we’ve needed him. If you think this sport is about respect, you’ll wait patiently, too.