MMA Opinion: The Fine Line Between Caveats and Caviar

Conor McGregor
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Recruiters for sports have been known to say something like the following after a prospect is recruited and the team building begins: “You used to be the man when I came and found you, but now, I have all of the men.“ This is intended to illicit humility in the athlete who may think himself above his team. Well, imagine your coach is Phil Jackson and that team is a Michael Jordan Bulls team. Maybe the Zen-master would not have had to say such things because the rest of the locker-room knew what was up. Imagine being the man and then being on a team with the actual man.

Well, something like that happens in Mixed Martial Arts, albeit with opponents rather than teammates. It happens quite a bit actually. Imagine being somewhere around 205 pounds or thereabouts and deciding to make a run in MMA in the last decade or so. In fact, you find yourself being pretty darn good. In your area, you are the man. You climb the ranks on the local scene. You beat all of the local heroes. You get the call-up to the big show in the UFC. And like those days back in school when the prof would post the grades on the bulletin board, you walk up to the rankings wall and see the name Jon Jones. Shoot.

Or maybe you have watched the shuffling of a certain Irishman in various weightclasses not just a few years ago. You hear him quip to poor old Rafael Dos Anjos who has only ever climbed uphill in MMA that Dos Anjos getting the fight with him means something inappropriate about undergarments (semblance of dignity attempted here) i.e. he gets lots of dough. The world back then was the lightweight division’s oyster and everyone jockeyed for a Conor fight. People knew there was a lurker out there battling injury and quietly staying on the precipice of relevance, but then all heck broke loose and Khabib started being Khabib- mowing down opponents and making caveats of men. And very quickly the idea of being the man at lightweight seemed to be an impossibility unless you were that certain Nurmagomedov (the name is less like a surname than you may think – do a little research).

The sport of MMA is small enough and young enough that should an exceptional talent rise up, they indeed can affect all the others in their purview – even the sport as a whole. So much so, that their very existence becomes a splinter in the finger of whole divisions and can mean the difference between stardom with its benefits and practical obscurity. While Georges St-Pierre was still healthy and yet retired, no welterweight could escape this nag that they may not be all that great as long as they have not been tested by the dominant Canadian. Sometimes it is not just a mega-talent or Jordan-esque type figure looming; it can also be that youth just spoken of. Ronda Rousey introduced Women’s MMA to the UFC by plowing through all-comers with her Olympic-level Judo, torqueing arms like a gambling addict. However, unlike the fact that some of the best to ever play basketball were indeed playing at the same time as Jordan (not needing to type ‘Michael’ proves the thesis), the growing pains of certain divisions and absence of depth made some like Rousey look unbeatable when in fact, the sport had just not caught up yet in their divisions. Equilibrium settled in and Holly Holm had her day and Henry Cejudo found his footing (pretty good pun right there) in beating a previously-dominant Demetrious Johnson.

MMA is already a sport with so much serendipity. In its most equitable state, fairness is a longshot. Injury, timing, fortuitous match-ups, age, pandemics, etc. make it such a fickle mistress. Under the most predictable conditions, it is unpredictable. It makes it all the more weird (in the technical sense of that word), when someone rises above and casts a shadow over the whole land. Though deserving of every ounce of rightfully earned respect, even a Hall-of-Famer like Daniel Cormier narrowly escapes caveat-status because his name is attached to consensus GOAT, Jon Jones – infractions and all. Other fighters will not get such respect for whatever reason(s). The shadow of some looms so large that a dignified fighter like Cole Miller will likely not get much shine at all being connected to – and eclipsed by - Conor McGregor.

The general rule in MMA is that it is to the victorious (and sometimes charismatic) that the spoils go. So much so, that sometimes being dominantly victorious has a way of tipping the scales so very far that those in the shadow miss out on anything like spoils – even in some cases, scraps. If it is true that to be the man, you have to beat the man, we see why the man may be feasting while those notches on their belts (some of which are made of gold) may unfortunately have been made a caveat in the big picture.

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