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.