Trash talk is a time-honored part of combat sports. From Muhammad Ali’s verbal jabs at his opponents to Dwayne Johnson threatening to send jabronis to the “Smackdown Hotel,”* it’s generally considered a pre-fight ritual. Two guys poised to fight don’t like each other, they say a bunch of nasty stuff about their opponent, and then fans delight as the two slug it out in a ring or a cage.
Nevada, home to many Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) events, apparently thinks it’s time to play nanny to MMA fighters and regulate what can be said before an event.
“I think it’s gotten to the point with certain unarmed combatants to where it’s become totally unacceptable,” said Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) Executive Director Bob Bennett. “I definitely think, unequivocally, that’s something we need to take a more active role in and hold fighters accountable for their language.”
The unarmed combatant Bob’s thinking about is Conor McGregor, a man who takes as much pride in his ability to verbally dress down opponents as he does in actually fighting. He wore a custom suit with the words “Fuck you” printed in stripes to promote a boxing match against Floyd Mayweather. He called Nate Diaz a “broke bitch” who could be bought and sold “a hundred times over.” And Dennis Siver, according to McGregor, is a “midget German steroid-head.”
But none of those can top the war of words between McGregor and his opponent back in November of last year, Khabib Nurmagomendov. During pre-fight exchanges, McGregor called Khabib a “smelly Dagestani rat” and a “backwards cunt.” Conor accused Khabib’s manager, Ali Abedelaziz, of being “a fucking snitch terrorist rat…I don’t even know how that man is in this fucking country.”
McGregor’s verbal jabs had an effect, but not the one Conor intended. After Khabib beat McGregor in their fight, Nurmagomendov jumped the cage and attacked members of McGregor’s team. After security stopped the brawl, Khabib justified his actions by saying Conor “talked about my religion, he talked about my country, he talked about my father.”
The Nevada State Athletic Commission apparently isn’t satisfied with the six-figure fines levied against both fighters for their post-fight antics. Now they’re ready to pursue regulations on what combatants can say to each other before they square off for battle.
The commission members agreed to pursue rule changes to punish this type of fighter speech or what they called “inciting comments,” but realized they weren’t prepared to draft the actual regulations and placed the topic on a list of “items for future agendas.” “[It] would break a lot of precedent and without notice that we’re going to start fining and/or suspending for what you say vs. what you do,” [NSAC Chairman Anthony] Marnell said.
Commission members would be well advised to tread lightly on this issue. It might be best if they just let the matter go. It’s bad enough a state regulatory body is considering policing what athletes can and cannot say. What makes these proposed regulations untenable is the Commission’s arguable attempt to punish the speech of one fighter.
In a sport with countless athletes fully prepared to give pre-packaged statements at press conferences, Conor McGregor stands out in his ability to entertain by roasting his opponents. He’s built a career on getting under his opponents’ skin before the cage door shuts. Punishing McGregor for his pre-fight antics by placing restrictions on what he can and cannot say is the combat sports equivalent of censoring Lenny Bruce.
Plus, if fighters get hurt feels over an opponent’s inflammatory comments, they have the easy recourse of beating the ever-loving hell out of that person come fight night. They get paid to do it and have a license allowing them to commit state-sanctioned assault. Why does the Nevada State Athletic Commission need to play nanny in this scenario?
UFC President Dana White isn’t a fan of the tabled NSAC speech regulations.
“These guys get into a cage and they punch each other in the face. They can knock each other unconscious, they can choke each other, but they can’t say mean things to each other? It’s pretty ridiculous.”
It is ridiculous. State regulatory bodies have no business telling grown men and women what they can and can’t say before an athletic competition. And if the aggrieved parties don’t like it, they can settle the matter in front of a live audience with their fists.
*Before anyone gets on my case about this, yes, professional wrestling is scripted. Batman isn’t a real life superhero either, but most people don’t act like an ass and spend their waking hours pointing that out to people.