João Carvalho beaten to death in MMA fight

João Carvalho was beaten to death.

This is not a judgement-filled statement. This is simply a fact.  João Carvalho died a violent death at the hands of another man.

It’s true that the man who killed him did not intend to do so and it’s also true that João Carvalho was himself a willing participant in the fight that ended his life, but we could say that about many confrontations outside nightclubs at three in the morning.

How many men (and it always seems to be men) have died as a result of a punch to the head ? How many men, and again it always seems to be men, have faced manslaughter charges for giving in to an impulse we might all have, both men and women? Who hasn’t, at some time in their lives, wanted to punch somebody in the face?

As a human being I’m not free of that impulse and although I have never done it, I know what the urge feels like.

I have witnessed mindless violence. I have seen people being kicked in the head by other people who are entirely oblivious to the potential consequences of their actions, and it has always sickened me because I do not like violence. I recoil from physical assaults against people or against animals and therefore I have never liked cage fighting but of course my personal squeamishness should never count for anything.

So what if I don’t like it? There are many other things in our society that would have to be banned if we allowed people’s personal likes and dislikes to dictate how we run our country. Hardly a year ago, we legalised same-sex marriage despite the outrage of those who didn’t like the idea, and that’s how we should operate a civilised democracy. So I won’t be calling for a ban on mixed martial arts.

I won’t be calling for anything, in fact.

All I’ll be saying here, like it or not, is that one man beat another man to death in the National Stadium in front of a cheering crowd. And I’ll be saying that I don’t like the idea of hitting your opponent when he’s down. I didn’t like it when Conor McGregor punched José Aldo in the head after knocking him down, even though it’s permitted in the rules of MMA. I like it even less when I hear that Charlie Ward had the opportunity to punch João Carvalho in the head nine times as he lay on the floor before the referee intervened.

It might be in the rules, but perhaps the rules are the problem. Perhaps the rules are simply a codification of the fight outside the nightclub. Perhaps the problem is within us, since so many of us are willing to condone and even enjoy practices that at one time would have been considered beneath contempt.

Kicking in the head and punching on the floor, I don’t like them. That sort of thing is not how I was brought up and if you don’t like my opinion, you can call me old-fashioned.

In this instance, I’ll be proud to wear that badge.

I don’t want to see any more men like João Carvalho beaten to death in the name of entertainment.


Conor McGregor beaten by Nate Diaz

Conor McGregor
Conor McGregor by Andrius Petrucenia

I won’t pretend to know anything about Conor McGregor, about mixed martial arts or about UFC in particular, but I must admit that I admire his chutzpah just as much as I find the violence of his sport repellent. I’m not passing judgement by saying that. Just stating a fact: I personally find the violence repellent and yet there’s something about the way McGregor carries himself that’s hard to dislike. You always feel that the swagger and the trash-talk are just things he must do, having bought into a world where trash-talk and swagger are valued above all else.

And besides, it’s not as if McGregor is alone in all the hubris and the posturing. It’s not as if he doesn’t have the finest of fighting royalty on his side in the form of Muhammad Ali, also known as Cassius Clay, the finest exponent of trash-talk known to the pugilistic world. And just like Conor McGregor, The Greatest sometimes let his standards slip a little as he did in his treatment of Smokin’ Joe. There was no call for the things he said about his opponent, and Joe carried the hurt of Ali’s words to his grave long after the pain of the punches had subsided.

Likewise, when years pass and Conor McGregor no longer sees himself as a modern-day gladiator, perhaps he’ll reflect on some of his words and cringe a little. He might be cringeing right now at his hubristic predictions that he’d take out Nate Diaz in the first round, but that’s UFC for you. The hype always trumps the truth which is this: Conor McGregor had to put on 25 pounds to fight a much heavier opponent who also happens to be a Ju-Jitsu black-belt. When he fought Jose Aldo, McGregor looked sick, having dehydrated himself so much in order to make the weight, and when he met Diaz, he wasn’t ready, because such major body changes take time to settle down.

Now, McGregor says he’ll lose 25 pounds and drop back to Featherweight to defend his world title, prompting many to ask how this can be good for his health. Is this life imitating Art, or to be more precise, is it life imitating the making of Art? It looks a lot like the insane weight regime Robert De Niro followed when he played Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull.  In order to fit in with the filming schedule which required shooting LaMotta’s latter days first, De Niro piled on the pounds at the start of shooting to play the older Jake and then drastically shed it all to play Jake the lean middleweight. This sort of thing can’t be good for a person’s health, and yet that’s also what Conor McGregor is planning to do in order to defend his featherweight crown.

Moving up two weight divisions, Conor McGregor had the energy of a featherweight powering the body of a welterweight. How was that ever going to work? When he failed to knock Diaz in the first round, he ended up mixing it on the floor with a Ju-Jitsu expert and that contest was only ever going in one direction, but perhaps much of the problem can be explained by his decision to torture his body with gigantic weight changes.

As I said, I don’t know much about mixed martial arts, but how much do I need to know to understand that this sort of thing can’t be good?  In many ways, it strikes me as a sort of macho anorexia and it seems to be leading in the same direction, although the million dollars Conor McGregor collected for his defeat will no doubt sweeten the bitter pill.

He strikes me (though not literally, I’m glad to say) as a nice enough guy. He’s pulled off a great coup in becoming the darling of UFC and he’s made a lot of money. Maybe Conor McGregor might consider not shedding all that weight, which, unlike De Niro, consists mostly of muscle. Maybe, if he has any sense, he won’t endanger his heart, and instead maybe he’ll decide to just enjoy the money he’s already made.

I hope he does. It’s plenty.