Opinion: The Scrapper and the Professional Athlete in MMA
By Jesse Heitz
Once upon a time MMA was powered by men that merely wanted to fight, bona fide scrappers. As the sport has progressed, so too has the very nature of its participants. Fighters have evolved both in skill sets and in mentality.
We’ve gone from the likes of: Ken Shamrock, Don Frye, and even “Tank” Abbott. Today, the sport is dominated by professional fighters such as: Georges St-Pierre and Jon “Bones” Jones. This is undoubtedly a marked evolution, which within the traditions of the sports world, has occurred over a relatively short period of time.
The red-blooded scrapper seems to be a dying breed. There are still several left, but in no way does it appear that the population of this type of fighter is doing anything but declining. Perhaps it’s an illusion, but it seems to me that the common post-fight question of “who do want to fight next?” is met with the answer of “I don’t care, I’ll fight anyone” with decreasing frequency in the last several years.
Is that simply a coincidence or a meaningless observation, or is it proof of a fundamental change within the sport? Even one of the sport’s most recognizable scrappers, Nick Diaz, has exhibited portions of the aforementioned shift in mentality. Recently, Diaz’s trainer, Cesar Gracie, spoke on what the future held for Diaz when he returns from his suspension in early 2013 by stating,
“They asked me, (Josh) Koscheck or Demian Maia, I said probably Koscheck, more people have heard of him at 170. They’re both really tough guys though. But ultimately, we want the bigger fights. I could see, maybe, Nick and Hendricks would be interesting. That’s what I’m thinking if they don’t give him GSP, maybe a fight like that.”
While one certainly cannot rely on the words of managers and trainers as an absolutely true representation of a fighter’s sentiments, it does give credence to the change that is taking place. I do not in any way blame fighters for being unwilling to accept certain fights (in the case of Diaz where several fights have been offered, it is necessary to prioritize). After all, it’s their health and livelihood on the line, and as such they need to take the fights that offer the best opportunity to further their career and keep food on the table. Yet, it seems bizarre to me, even if the reasons are perfectly practical, that men who love to fight take so much care in picking fights.
I should note that I am in no way disparaging the crop of modern fighters. They are in my opinion, at the pinnacle of athleticism, and it cannot be denied that stepping foot inside a cage or ring with the intent of fighting takes serious moxie. Call me an MMA relic, but I still like to see fighters that are perfectly satisfied with fighting anyone put in front of them.