Holding a submission too long or hitting a guy after he’s unconscious is something that referees should be ready to stop for the sake of all fighters’ safety. With that said, words and taunts, however disrespectful, require no intervention. Ironically, penalizing prizefighters for disorderly conduct is unprofessional. No one is to interfere with their prefight, in-competition, or post-fight brand expression.
Mixed martial arts is not a children’s event full of vulnerable youth where protective parents are watching. Nor is this a martial arts gym where they teach respect and to only use techniques to protect yourself or the helpless. It’s prizefighting, and ostentatious antics elicit fanfare.
If a coach wants to discipline a fighter for bad behavior, so be it. Coaches train their fighters both mentally and physically, so they can do as they please. Matt Hume stopped Demetrious Johnson’s excessive celebration after he KO’d Joseph Benavidez, and that’s fine because they have an intimate relationship. What’s not okay is refs and athletic commissions projecting their values onto athletes competing for a prize. Policing behavior is unethical because it censors the way these competitors can express and thus promote themselves. If part of their brand is showboating or being a villain, then they should be allowed to do so. Their ability to elicit attention is positively correlated to the value of their purse, which consists of payments and privileges afforded them by both fans and promotions.
Bellator 227 hosted a short-lived welterweight rivalry between Michael “Venom,” Page (MVP) and Richard Kiely. The two were not shy about voicing their distaste for one another during the prefight build up. Many people do not like these types of exchanges, and respect is essential, but so is promotion. The purity of martial arts is forfeited once athletes decide to compete for compensation. Legacy may be their priority, but every fighter is fighting for the money. If they were not, they would do it for free, and there would be no need to have a manager. It is important to acknowledge that there is a certain level of materialism that comes with being a prizefighter like it or not.
A post shared by Michael Page (@michaelvenompage) on Feb 7, 2017 at 10:17am PST
In addition to materialism, psychological tactics are also a part of the game. An outcome can be influenced by how effectively one fighter can diminish the focus of their opponent. A few weeks ago, MVP fought Kiely. As MVP holds his fist in the air during their final face-off, referee Dan Miragliotta mentions to both fighters that they should show respect for one another. About a minute in, MVP taunts Kiely, who then flips MVP off, and Dan pauses the bout. That was the moment Dan went too far. He makes a comment to Kiely, then turns around to MVP and says, “show respect to each other.” He likely told Kiely the same thing, so let’s dispel the assertions that Dan’s reaction toward MVP was race-related. What can be seen is an abuse of power from a position of authority.
More than the power dynamic, this is about Miragliotta inserting himself into the pockets of both fighters. These were genuine emotions they displayed. These demonstrations make fans feel like they know the fighters more intimately. Then they feel closer and are more compelled to spend money on these athletes. A referee or commission should not interfere with a prize fighter’s connection to his or her fans. It cannot happen.
At one moment, MVP appears to photo himself with an imaginary camera. Dan stops the bout again to take MVP’s top position and take a point away from him. He tells MVP, “You lose this fight with me you play games.” The comment seemed to come from a place of frustration or pain with Dan. Sometimes emotions cannot be suppressed entirely, but you cannot act on them in a professional setting. Dan seems to have emotional baggage to work through, so let’s be empathetic, but let’s hold him accountable as well. Dan must be formally disciplined, whether financially or not, but something must be done to prevent an overreach that affects the outcome of a future bout.