I recognize that I inherently don’t view grappling the way that non-grapplers do. In fact, my view of grappling may even clash with the views of other grapplers. However, I think those who have a common background with me will probably feel the same way – grappling as a sport is about respect and trust. You don’t slap the other guy because he’s being a dick, but you also try to not be a dick in the first place.

We glamorize the hero/villain relationship. Professional wrestling embodies this notion of Heels and Faces. It’s the cited example when we talk about this culture seeping into MMA and now BJJ, though I’m certain society has looked to defined heroes and villains at least as long as plays have existed. To me, grappling shouldn’t be a play. I’m not there to be entertained by a story unfolding. I don’t care if good is conquering evil. I’m watching because there is knowledge to be gained from watching two wrestlers engaging each other. Technical details and ideas for movements which may not have previously been considered by an individual are unearthed when they watch two experienced grapplers handling each situation they find themselves in.

To me, a relationship where grapplers antagonize each other before, after, or during the match is all unsportsmanlike conduct and should be penalized. It has no place in what I’d consider to be the spirit of the sport. If I were refereeing a judo match and someone started using offensive or derogatory language during the fight it would be a penalty. Someone could get a disqualification for unsportsmanlike conduct for doing that. I’d wager it’d be the same in wrestling (in fact, I can almost guarantee it would be an offense during an Olympic match). So why is it that when it happens before a match we feel it’s just building up entertainment value?

That’s not to sound all high-and-mighty. Joking about an upcoming match or the challenges it will hold can be hilarious. Sakuraba does an excellent job of this. Having said that, while I feel that Tonon’s joking about his upcoming fight with Palhares was pretty funny, I can see where even this can start crossing a line – the accusations of Palhares fighting dirty were a bit much. What we saw out of Tonon vs. Palhares at Polaris 3 was a perfectly respectable and exciting grappling match. None of the eye gouging or holding submissions too long that were being joked about. We did see dirty tactics and deplorable behavior in another Polaris 3 match though. Eye gouges and fingers in the mouth are things I was explicitly taught not to do in a match, and the “Stockton Slap” is certainly not a technique I’ve ever learned on the mat.

Bad blood will exist. Some people just aren’t compatible. But to me, a hero/villain relationship has no place in sport grappling. On the mat you’re trusting that your opponent will follow the rules and show the same respect you’ll be showing them. That respect should come from the outset. It should be an assumption you can make. I don’t think everyone needs to be able to hang out together. I don’t think it’s wrong for people to confidently speak to their ability to handle a match. What I do think is wrong is the braggadocio and insults. I no longer follow MMA because of all the shit-talking. If that’s the path BJJ is going to take, I’ll find a different form of grappling to associate myself with. I want no part in it.


4 thoughts on “Hespect

  1. Well said. Bad blood, as you say, will always exist, but the rise of trash talk that seems to come along with it recenty is not something I am keen on.

  2. The pro wrestling schtick is stupid, juvenile and should have no part in BJJ.

    With that said, I have to admit it is also effective at making a fight more exciting. As much as it annoys me in MMA (part of the reason I barely watch it these days), on the odd occasion when I have been tempted to watch some – e.g., the series of TUF that had John Danaher on it – I wanted to watch the climactic fight with bleach blonde guy because I wanted him to lose.

    Same thing with Agazarm at Polaris: he’s good at trash talking and playing the heel, which makes the inevitably campy “boo hiss, *twirl moustache*” performance during the fight more exciting. His match with Dan Strauss at Polaris 2 was way more entertaining than almost all the others as a result. It also helped against Jake Shields at Polaris 3: I doubt I would have paid much attention to it if Agazarm hadn’t built it up by talking so much shit prior, during and after the match.

    So at a pro event, I can handle a bit of pro wrestling foolishness (the balance at Polaris works for me: 1 or 2 fights that go all in with the Heel/Face thing, all the rest staying respectful). Though I agree completely that at a normal ‘amateur’ tournament, it would be ridiculous and irritating, meaning I wouldn’t recommend the tournament to my students in future.

    • I don’t see the difference between McGregor and Agazarm in this regard. I wouldn’t even know of either fighter if they weren’t so boisterous, so I concede it helps sell tickets to their events, but only because the community is so attached to the braggadocio as to make a big deal of it. Likewise with Bethe Correia – her fight with Rousey was completely undeserved as evident by the 34-second KO (not helped by her record prior to the match), but now she’ll forever be known as the loud-mouthed Brazilian who got knocked out by Rousey. I didn’t even watch the fight, but because of the hateful things said it became a media storm and I can tell you every detail of it.

      If I were to look at the Agazarm/Shields match without knowledge of the proverbial shade each competitor had thrown at the other, the match would not be any more or less exciting. As a grappling match it fell pretty flat to be honest. I preferred Tonon vs. Palhares much more. That comes down to how I judge a match though – what happens on the mat. Both Garry and Rousimar were actively going for submissions, there were exciting scrambles, and both guys seemed to be trying in earnest while still respecting each other. Everything off the mat, or the unsportsmanlike conduct on the mat, is all just hype which doesn’t make a better match to me.

      I’d just rather see these matches marketed based on the merits of the fighters, not who can come up with a more colorful analogy to describe the other. Relative to entertainment value – I feel better about a match where the guys shake hands at the end and are smiling because they know it was a good fight. Shields/Agazarm definitely took the rivalry thing too far.

      • Without the pro wrestling nonsense, I would have little interest in an Agazarm match. He’s a good grappler, but what makes his fights fun to watch is that silliness, as much as I like to think I’m not affected by all the old pro wrestling marketing tricks.

        If they marketed the whole event that way, I wouldn’t watch it. I totally agree that it’s better to have a match where they shake hands at the end. However, one or two heel/face fights like that on a card is ok, IMO, though I guess it could be a slippery slope that ends with Joe Rogan insisting everybody we’re watching has world class everything while an idiot shouts slogans next to him.

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