MMA Opinion: Risking Life and Limb for What?

Shutterstock / Nicholas Piccillo
Twenty-Three. That is the number. The number of surgeries Chris Weidman had before his catastrophic leg break that happened against Uriah Hall’s shin at UFC 261. One of those procedures necessitated a complete do-over when a bone his hand died (yes, died!) due to lack of blood flow. That was twenty-three not counting the leg break and ensuing trouble associated with that injury that occurred at UFC 261. It is a crazy thing that those surgeries that have happened and the ones that are currently happening are all done in hopes that Chris can enter the arena again only to risk more injury and more surgeries. All with the goal being no injury, but instead elation, victory, and subsequent spoils. Yet, it is twenty-three and now – counting.

Isn’t that the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over expecting different results? Aside for humanity’s sake: How about launching a campaign that everyone stop saying that? That is, in fact, not even close to an actual definition of insanity. If people keep parroting that, one writer may go actually insane – the real kind. Alright, back to business. Though it is not a clinical definition of insanity to keep attempting to pursue a dream of a UFC championship in spite of all the harm that comes in the efforts, it does seem a little – well - crazy.

It may at times seem like hyperbole when fighters say they are willing to die in competition. Phrases are bandied about like, “I want to go out on my shield”, or “I want to leave it all in the cage.” But, in Mixed Martial Arts, things have literally happened where those sentiments become less and less hyperbolic. Mix in the long-term effects, cognitive issues, tolls taken due to stress and weight cutting and you have a recipe for actual lives being threatened. Recently Paul Craig twisted Jamahal Hill’s arm like a pretzel at UFC 263. And it is strange that this description itself is almost not hyperbole. Aside from the referee waiting entirely too long to stop a fight where Hill clearly had no use of his flopping arm, it ended up getting Craig a bonus.

Memes abound with the tagline, “So you want to be a fighter.” Putting the awkward and famous Ultimate Fighter speech aside that Dana White used to “motivate” that early cast; and also excepting the poignant times the phrase is connected to the bloodied photo of an unrecognizable Rory MacDonald during that famous Robbie Lawler brawl, this is a best attempt to try and capture the gravity of competing in MMA. Most attempts like that fall short. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief to hear Hill merely dislocated his arm and did not break it. That is the point where fans all go back to their normal lives. Lives that include paying to watch men and women quite literally risk life and limb for money and whatever else motivates them.

It is the outsider or casual fan that would learn all of this and think it is a worthless endeavor. But martial arts has never existed without tests, nor has it been about the task of avoiding strain. While there are many opportunities to use martial arts in ways that may never need a test that includes violence or threat, it will prove true that the philosophies that lean that way are not in the heart of martial arts that spawned those uses. If martial arts is indeed a rehearsal or portrayal of actual war, it should not surprise that it is saturated with pain and injury. For some, that willingness to risk actual life and limb is tantamount to ultimate art. It is for some, a pure 24 karat beauty. It is pure because it has as its finish line: survival. But it also has rewards that can be hard to define and that are indeed elusive. Chris Weidman is known by MMA fans, not because he knows his limits, but because he stretches them. Like his respected nemesis Anderson Silva (infractions aside), it will not be that Chris did not risk life and limb after injury and recovery that he will be lauded for, but that he – and all those martial artists like him – did risk it. Weidman like all MMA fighters who step in the cage echo Roosevelt’s sentiment in that he, “at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

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