Deep Waters: Loving the hurting game – MMA’s violence paradox

Brian Stann (L) and Wanderlei Silva (R) during their 2013 instant classic battle.

Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Deep Waters is the podcast where FOXSports writer Elias Cepeda and co-hosts Kirik Jenness and Sam Sheridan dive into interesting and controversial topics from the iight world and elsewhere.

Sheridan is a best-selling book author and screenwriter. Jenness is the official records keeper for the sport of mixed martial arts, and the founder of The Underground, as well as an MMA coach.

Both Sam and Kirik are also fighters, and two of the most thoughtful people in the fight world. More importantly, they’re great at letting Elias know when it’s time to quiet down and listen up.

On this week’s Deep Waters podcast, co-hosts Kirik Jenness, Sam Sheridan, and yours truly talk about the paradox of these fight sports that we love so much. On the one hand, in addition to being flat-out fascinating to watch, sports like MMA, boxing have enriched and sometimes saved lives.

On the other, they are part of brutal businesses and usually take a serious physical and mental toll on their participants. 

"The goal of other sports is to score points, and touchdowns, whereas in fighting the only thing you’re after is damage. So, what else is there going to be?" Sam asked.

"It’s the issue that we all struggle with…how safe can you make something that’s about damage? It’s not an easy thing to reconcile."

Kirik agreed, but still liked MMA’s safety record in comparison to many other, much more dangerous sports. "It’s bad for you, and I love it," he said.

"I don’t think there is any reconciliation in the end. It’s a hurting game. People are trying to hurt each other and they get hurt. If you look at it in that context it’s sort of impossible to think about, but if you think about it in a wider sporting context, to me at least, it becomes a lot more palatable."

If we appreciate what goes into sports like MMA and don’t merely watch them for titillation, we can recognize the humanity of the fighters and learn a great deal about what does and does not work in real life self-defense. In modern society, examples of realness can be hard to come by, and MMA provides that.

"There’s not too many things you can look at outside of nature and think, Sweet Jesus, this is actual reality," Kirik continued.

"That does have a lot of power, in and of itself."

So does actually learning how to fight by training martial arts, according to Sheridan. "It’s like a virgin and sex," he said.

"People who have never been in fights have a mystical idea of what might happen in a fight."

Though learning to fight is a good life skill, and the instinct to struggle against another person may be human nature, but Sam says that there’s a big difference between fair sport fighting and warring.

"I’ve been involved in discussions and arguments where people say that war is a part of human nature that we can never get rid of. I disagree," he explained.

"War is an institution. Aggression and struggle and fighting, and wanting to wrestle and beat people up, that’s human nature, sure. But war is something else. I don’t think you’re going to get aggression out of human nature, but I do think that war is not an integral part of human nature."

In fact, Sheridan and Jenness hold the belief that if more of us knew trained and fought, and had the experience of getting our butts kicked in the gym regularly, not only would we become better, more compassionate sports fans, but society may also just be less prone to war.

"No question," Sheridan said. 

"Let the two generals fights (laughs). You guys work it out."

As for the experience that fight training gives you, Sheridan says that it changed his life. "You know what it’s like to get your ass kicked and you have respect for people that do it. It’s valuable," he concluded.

"The perspective it gives you. I think of how little I understood before I did the little bit of fighting that I did and how much it taught me – it’s amazing how much I learned."

Long-time warriors like Wanderlei Silva (L) and Chuck Liddell (R) have likely done untold amounts of damage to themselves after decades of training and fighting.