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Opinion: Combat Sports Tribalism is Stupid

Tribalism and drawing lines is often a stupid, dangerous, and nonsensical thing. We see that in the larger world every day and the world of combat sports is in no way immune to that.

Throughout the promotion and aftermath of the Mayweather-McGregor bonanza, there has been this entire thread of boxing vs MMA, with boxing fans, fighters, and pundits first mocking parts of McGregor’s preparation, and then revealing in his defeat, as if Mayweather’s victory is the solidifying of the superiority of boxing. Many did the same after former multiple time boxing world champion Holly Holm dethroned UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion Ronda Rousey.

MMA fans are nowhere near innocent in this either. With the seemingly inevitable transition of Rousey into the WWE, MMA fans are raising their pitchforks towards pro wrestling, mocking its fans and practitioners, with many seeing Rousey’s, as well as her friend Shayna Baszler’s move into pro wrestling as a pathetic action worthy of derision. (None have done this to former UFC fighter Matt Riddle, who may be the biggest star in all of indy wrestling. Sexism much?) Those who do this, from Joe Rogan down, fail to see that MMA and pro wrestling have much of the same roots and that the  two have been intermarried since the first UFC onward, and always will.

There was someone else that was long guilty of this combat sports tribalism—me. Growing up as a Mexican-American, watching boxing has been part of my life since I was six years old. For whatever reason, at age seventeen, I became obsessed with watching and studying boxing. I was part of the last generation to grab Ring magazine from the newsstand every month; I watched Friday Night Fights on ESPN2 every week, and never missed a fight on HBO. When YouTube came around about ten years ago, it was Christmas every day.

At the same time, the UFC was beginning to explode in popularity, and I dismissed it out of hand. I was the layperson who didn’t understand grappling, mocked the often substandard boxing (I never saw BJ Penn back then), and thought the idea of punching a guy while he was down was one I wasn’t used to. I didn’t get it, and I was an ass about it. The only time my interest was piqued was when someone like Ken Shamrock or Tito Ortiz or anyone with pro wrestling ties was involved.

There were some glimpses through the wall I had built for myself. Watching Leonardo Garcia from my hometown of Lubbock, Texas fight in the WEC was one, as was the transition of Brock Lesnar from WWE into MMA (I resented Brock for the way he left WWE and REALLY wanted him to see him get his ass kicked). When it ended up being someone who looked and sounded like me— Cain Velasquez, I rejoiced with my other MexAmer friends that one of our own had made it to the top. And while I knew who guys like Georges St. Pierre and Urijah Faber and Anderson Silva were and maybe have grudgingly enjoyed a UFC Fight every now and then, boxing was better and no one could tell me different, especially at a time when Manny Pacquiao was knocking everybody out.

And then Ronda Rousey came along.

Yes, Rousey was the fighter who got me into MMA. Like a lot of people, the vision of this very attractive women ripping girls arms out of their sockets was something that couldn’t be ignored, that got my ass in front of the TV every time she fought. She made you pay attention; what Jim Ross calls the IT factor. And then I started discovering other fighters I really liked watching like Chris Weidman and Frankie Edgar, Cowboy Cerrone and Miesha Tate. Most importantly, Rousey got me wanting to learn how to do an armbar, so I finally took my ass to Extreme Martial Arts in Amarillo, Texas and started learning Jiu-Jitsu, kickboxing, and boxing. As much I had loved boxing, no boxer even made me go to the gym and learn. Rousey did.

Once I began to understand different positions and strategies and why fighters did things the way that they did them, watching MMA became much more fun for me. Plus, having people around me that enjoyed it didn’t hurt matters either. Now, two years after I started training, I hardly ever miss a UFC or Invicta card; I watch LFA cards whenever I can, and I’m even trying to give Bellator a chance (but damn, I feel like I’m watching Monday Nitro from 2000 sometimes when I do. Sheesh.) I’m not training currently, which breaks my damn heart, but martial arts changed my life in the way it has so many others. I love it.

That being said, I’m continually annoyed by the back and forth between boxing and MMA, and between MMA and pro wrestling. Of course, it’s a symptom of the extremism of the larger world in a sense, but can’t everyone just everything—I mean, we do at Fightbooth!

I think we waste a lot of time doing this and lose sense of what important—watching people beat the crap out of each other—scripted and nonscripted. I know that’s what I did. I missed so many great UFC fights because I was too busy hating it. Thankfully, we have Fight Pass now, and I can catch up.

I’m currently doing a thing where I’m watching every UFC from 100 to 200, (on 111) mostly while doing my cardio at the gym or to wake me at the beginning of the day. (Who needs Good Morning America) I’m catching up on all the fights and stories that I missed. Randy Couture vs Minotauro Nogueria. Shogun vs Machida. The rise of Cain Velasquez. The saga of Michael Bisping. And I love it. Yet I still watch NXT every week and love my This Is Progress and my Smackdown Live. I am still hyped beyond words for the #Superfly card on HBO and for Canelo-Golovkin. You can love all three people! I, for one, am much better for it…

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