Criminal charges or part of the game?

Bring On The Drama

Many people (and by people I mean primarily wives and girlfriends) liken professional MMA to soap operas for men. This is probably due to the constant trash talk between fighters, as well as the hype and drama it creates leading up to big fight. When elite professional fighters are engaged in pre-fight pressers and staredowns, you can cut the anxious tension with a knife. Even if it’s only a small part of why we love MMA, it’s one that makes it uniquely entertaining. As fighters are fond of regularly pointing out, MMA is the only sport that allows you to literally beat the snot out an opponent that you genuinely dislike or maintain a heated rivalry with. However, the “leave work at work” mantra doesn’t always apply, and the personal grudges often find their way into real life. These altercations are starting to result in criminal charges.

Recently at the UFC fighter retreat in Las Vegas, Cris “Cyborg” Justino went toe to toe with fellow UFC fighter Angela Magana to confront her about some recent tweets that Cyborg considers downright insulting and disrespectful. The confrontation heated up quickly, and Cyborg landed a punch to Magana’s face that left her visibly wobbled according to multiple witnesses. A video of the incident has since emerged via Fansided and speaks for itself. Police were called, charges were filed, but no arrests were made at the time. Fox Sports, BJ Penn, and multiple other outlets also covered the gory details of the altercation, so I won’t spend much time on the incident itself. This article focuses more on the aftermath and the bigger questions it raises.

Keyboard Karma

Magana certainly isn’t the first professional fighter to make use of social media to taunt, insult, or humiliate an opponent, but the recent tweets that enraged Cyborg were obviously perceived as quite egregious to provoke such a physical response. Personally I don’t have a problem with fighters using social media to air out their grievances with the promotion, other fighters, the media, or anyone else. It creates fodder for analysts and cringe-worthy entertainment for fans. However, when virtual behavior yields physical consequences, even professional fighters tend to cry foul. As Mike Tyson once said, “Everybody has a plan ‘til they get punched in the mouth”. Magana initially seemed to quickly forget about the cyber-snark that resulted in a busted lip, and immediately focused on the pending criminal charges against Cyborg that she feels are well deserved.

Shot.

Chaser.

Justino supporters naturally began mercilessly mocking Magana for filing charges.

This one sounds strangely like something one of the Diaz brothers would say….

After a tweetstorm rebutting what seemed like Cyborg’s personal troll army, the resulting hangover eventually forced Magana to attempt to deflect from the situation.

Did Magana instantly join the ranks of internet keyboard warriors who’ve suffered karmic backlash and then expected the justice system to avenge their physical and emotional lumps? Was this instead simply a case of assault that should end with Justino in handcuffs just like Jane Q. Citizen would be if she had done the same?

Criminal Charges or Part of the Game?

Fox News reports that Cyborg was cited for misdemeanor battery (though not arrested). It is also rumored that local authorities are considering upgrading the charges. That could mean actual jail time if an overzealous prosecutor gets hold of the case. As of the writing of this article, the UFC still hasn’t released a statement on the incident. Given Cyborb’s recent shots at UFC matchmakers and management, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them suspend her or even terminate her contract.

Often forced into close proximity to each other during media events or other public venues, professional fighters become agitated, tempers flare, and melees occur. Anytime you throw two athletes in a room together who train day in and day out to punch, choke, or kick each other into submission or unconsciousness, it’s going to happen. Especially when bad blood exists between fighters or camps.

I’m immediately reminded of the Cormier/Jones staredown fight or the Diaz/McGregor bottle throwing incident. Even more recent was the Chiesa/Lee scrap in the middle of a UFC press conference. Chances are good that if you’re reading this and also remember them, you’re smiling right now.

The last thing on the mind of any MMA fan when something like this occurs is the legality of what’s happening. We aren’t concerned with who should be charged for assault and thrown in jail. There are no gasps in horror at the sight of a brawl. We live for this kind of action! It creates a heightened sense of tension in the air “when cage door closes” as Khabib Nurmagomedov says. The two begrudged warriors finally get to duke it out on fight night, and all the buildup leads to a glorious battle.

Entertainment Vs Internment

Short of holding all pressers via Skype, staredowns with plexiglass in between fighters, mandatory bubble wrap suits at all social events, and/or pre-fight restraining orders issued to respective opponents by the promotion, fights are going to continue to happen. However, when Johnny Law starts to get involved, all bets are off and could have a big impact on MMA rosters or events.

What do you think? Given the proximity these fighters are forced into to create maximum provocative tension for entertainment, should professional MMA fighters be criminally prosecuted for assault when it occurs outside the cage or is getting punched in the mouth just one of the inherent risks involved with being a professional fighter under contract with a promotion like the UFC? Sound off in the comments.

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