Did you watch the Conor McGregor fight at the weekend? It wasn’t for the faint hearted. McGregor took a stupendous beating from a man, Khabib Nurmagomedov, whose hairline seems to start at his eyebrows. I’d got out of bed at 4am to watch and quickly rather wished I hadn’t. There was nothing balletic or mesmerising about the megaviolence, the way there often is with a McGregor fight. Instead, it was like watching a particularly brutal and skilful bludgeoning outside a pub. Khabib spent a good portion of the contest squatting over his prone opponent and thumping him very hard in the face. As I say, not an easy watch in the small hours, although there was an excellent riot at the end.
One of the chief attractions of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is the complete absence of virtue signalling or political correctness. In that respect it’s very pure. Fighters do not seem to spend much time worrying about, say, by which pronoun they would like to be addressed or whether or not the patriarchy is an oppressive construct. When the cage door closes it turns out there’s not a great deal of time for these middle class conceits. ‘With that flying knee kick to my head you have in a very real sense used your privilege to profoundly transgress my right to identify as a non-binary cisgender elf’ is not the type of nonsense you hear fighters uttering, and long may it last. It’s why the sport is so increasingly popular. Shortly after he had punched all sense out of his opponent during his fight at UFC 229, heavyweight Derrick Lewis was asked by commentator Joe Rogan on live television why he had taken off his shorts. ‘Because my balls was hot,’ Lewis said. ‘I understand,’ Rogan replied. Hard to imagine, say, Sue Barker having this type of conversation with Rafa Nadal on Centre Court at Wimbledon. Later, asked how he planned on celebrating his win, Lewis said: ‘Probably just go home and throw my wife’s legs up in the air and see where it goes from there.’ Again, not the type of interview we get on Match of the Day.
It may be that there is no political correctness in cage fighting, but that’s not to say it’s not political. It most certainly is. Vladimir Putin, a man not renowned for his love of 18th-century romantic poetry, is a big fan. He personally called Khabib to congratulate him following his win over McGregor and to tell him he was ‘proud’. Presumably, Putin felt Khabib had defended Slavic honour after McGregor had cast some particularly fruity aspersions on it in the build up to the fight (McGregor referred repeatedly, for example, to Khabib as a ‘smelly Dagestani rat’). We know Putin believes boys will be boys – in the past he has expressed something approaching pride in the antics of Russian football hooligans – and so his fondness for UFC is unsurprising, particularly when it is the Russian who is destroying the Westerner.
Predictably, President Trump is also a big UFC fan. Sen. John McCain once famously referred to the sport as ‘human cock-fighting’, a comment that played a big part in it being banned in 36 American states in the late Nineties. Trump was the first businessman to take a punt on the sport following McCain’s description – he allowed two UFC events to be held at the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort in Atlantic City in 2001. Only this summer, in fact, he had UFC head honcho Dana White (who endorsed him for president at the 2016 Republican conference) to the White House for a photo opportunity.
By far the most surprising piece of political theatre in Las Vegas on Saturday night came shortly after featherweight Nik Lentz won his bout by repeatedly kicking his opponent in the head. Speaking immediately afterwards, Lentz dedicated his win to ‘my homie Brett Kavanaugh’, adding of the recently sworn in Supreme Court judge: ‘Way to go, Special K.’
Lentz has since backed up his comments with a well thought out 420-word essay, which he posted online. As a piece of writing, it is one in the eye for anybody who thinks all cage fighters are morons.
He writes: ‘In the case of the assault-on-common-sense atrocity that was the Democratic attack on m’boy Special K, it was incumbent upon me, as an American and a Conservative, to reach out and give him a fist-bump for fighting the good fight. As far as the allegations against him, my mind goes to a phrase from Dr. Jacques Valleé:
“What can be checked has been checked; and it leads nowhere.”’
Lentz then proceeds to take aim at what he perceives to be the increasingly dark forces of liberalism:
‘For my “critics”; for you limousine liberals in Charles Schumer’s district in Park Slope who screech about ‘open borders” then slink back to your doorman buildings, you chanters and ranters in Golden Gate Park who advocate for “reforms” that make no sense and are based in your own self-hatred and lack of self-worth, you vicious “Antifa” cowards who have exchanged black masks for brown shirts… I suggest instead of screaming about perceived injustices, you take a moment to look inside. I expect you’ll identify the emotional, intellectual and political immaturity that informs all of your shrill, selfish behaviours. Grow up and do something productive.’
I’m not sure if it is the case that fighting fans and fighters are more likely to be right wing than left, although certainly that seems to be the way it is. Perhaps that’s because mortal combat can be viewed as the logical terminus of the central argument in support of capitalism: every man for himself and to the winner the spoils. Is the fight game really a great right wing monopoly? If it is then maybe the time has come for an LGBTQ, left leaning destroyer. He or she would, I suspect, clean up on pay-per-views.
What I can say for certain is that, unlike politics, there’s a pleasing simplicity to cagefighting. It’s just one that’s not best enjoyed before breakfast.