Fighting is in our DNA. This is what Dana White keeps telling the world when questions arise about how far the UFC can go as a mainstream sport. Fighting is in our DNA. By proxy, that means that violence is in our DNA and the headlines today are about violence. The headlines today are about a certain brand of violence, perpetrated by a UFC fighter named Thiago Silva. In fact, no one that knew Silva is really that shocked to learn that Thiago Silva’s temper is as bad as it is, or that Thiago Silva would threaten a gym full of people with a gun.
For years the UFC has projected a white collar image to the world. Sure, the UFC is a violent sport that takes place inside of a cage for all of the world to see, but it’s safe, they insist. Fists fly, blood flows, limbs break and every once in a while the lights will go out in a fighter, but it’s still a sport, a safe sport. It is still regulated, tested, cleaned up, given a layer of a glaze and presented to the world as a legitimate, safe sport full of normal men just doing a job. The educated, well-spoken fighters are the ones that Dana White presents to the world, the Ronda Rouseys, Jon Jones, Rashad Evans and Georges St-Pierres. Those are the fighters that can project the image of a safe, fan-friendly sport to the world.
By projecting that image, though, it also hides what exists beneath that white-washed surface; The sport of MMA is a violent one and it was built by and is inhabited by violent men.
Professional fighting attracts a certain kinds of people to it, as both fans and participants. Over the past few years we’ve seen the rise of the professional athlete in MMA, guys who are naturally gifted athletes and chose professional fighting as a career. For fighters like Thiago Silva, though, fighting wasn’t a follow-up to a collegiate career, fighting was in his blood, it was in his DNA. Thiago Silva’s upbringing was one of violence, poverty and survival, with the horrors of the Brazilian favelas influencing who he would grow up to be. Thiago Silva built a career off of violence, but never had the ability to exist within the world without that violence at his disposal, as this very clearly was not his first outburst.
When you choose to support MMA and the UFC you may be choosing to support those well-educated, white collar fighters that the UFC trots out to the world, but that isn’t all that you are doing. Those fighters might make up the UFC’s public front right now, but the company was built with the outbursts of violent, angry men. When you order PPVs, when you watch UFC on television and when you Tweet or share MMA stories on your Facebook you are also supporting these violent men with their violent lives. You are telling them that you support their lifestyle. This is the dark side of MMA that no one wants to think about or acknowledge. The world of MMA and the UFC isn’t just guys like Rashad Evans, Georges St-Pierre or Jon Jones and whatever mild, working class controversies that they bring with them, it is also guys like Thiago Silva who jam a gun into their wife’s mouth for suspecting her of cheating on him.
MMA is a sport about brutality, about visceral urges, Dana White argues that “fighting is in our DNA” but is quick to condemn someone like Thiago Silva. Isn’t fighting in his DNA? Isn’t he predisposed to drive to a gym with a gun and threatening to go on a killing spree when his temper gets the better of him? You can’t have both worlds, you can’t have the suit-and-tie white collar sport that is safe and fun for the whole family while claiming that it is still brutal and built into our DNA. This is proof of that. Thiago Silva is the embodiment of the darker side of professional fighting and what it takes to be a professional fighter.
To make a sport like MMA work you are going to need violent men and these violent men are not easy to control or channel. Eventually, a violent man is going to give into his violent urges, as violent men can only be contained within a cage for so long before it spills out into the real world. For Thiago Silva his upcoming fight wasn’t enough for him to focus his frustrations and rage upon, the real world became his Octagon and we are all witnesses to it. The UFC will claim that he is an exception while the educated, white collar fighters will wear their suits and talk like the educated men and women that they are, knowing what lies beneath the surface and knowing the kinds of people that they can train with and laugh with at the gym, but wouldn’t invite to a family function out of fear.
Rashad Evans and Jon Jones might be able to handle going to the gym everyday to spar before stepping into the ring looking to knock someone’s head off, then being able to walk away unscathed, but not everyone can. Let someone with a predisposition to violence make a career out of violence and I’m not sure that they’ll be able to handle to real world quite as well as those athletes can. Instead of finding healthy ways to channel their anger and violence, they are simply a stream of violence jutting out of a hose unchecked, which doesn’t exactly leave them fit for a world without violence.
Thiago Silva isn’t the first fighter to find himself in trouble with the law for violent outbursts and he won’t be the last, but as a fan and patron of the sport it is our responsibility to take a long, hard look at what we choose to invest our time in and understand our own culpability at the end of the day. As long as we continue to support the sport of MMA we need to understand that we are not only supporting the professional athletes, but the professional madmen just the same. The UFC was quick to turn their back on Thiago Silva, as will fans, but maybe there is some responsibility to be had for how Thiago Silva turned out. We all gave Thiago Silva a soapbox to stand on but instead of words we wanted to see him hurt people and get hurt. It should come as no shock that with his upbringing he wasn’t equipped for the realities of modern life and turned to violence.
Thiago Silva and violent men prone to violent outbursts are as much a part of the UFC and MMA as the educated, well-spoken professional athletes are. You can’t support the UFC without supporting both sides of the coin; the athlete and the fighter. Thiago Silva isn’t the first and he won’t be the last because, remember, fighting is in their DNA.
Thiago Silva is a monster, but he’s a monster that we and the UFC helped to nurture and grow into what he is today.