The Great Divide: Was Israel Adesanya’s UFC 253 celebration a breach of sportsmanship?
The Great Divide is a recurring feature here at MMA Fighting in which two of our staff debate a topic in the world of MMA — whether it’s news, a fight, a crazy thing somebody did, a crazy thing somebody didn’t do, or some moral dilemma threatening the very foundation of the sport — and try to figure out a resolution. We’d love for you to join in the discussion in the comments below.
As usual, Israel Adesanya’s latest exploits left everyone talking. And it wasn’t just about his phenomenal performance inside the octagon.
Adesanya made short work of his most hated rival on Saturday at UFC 253 in Abu Dhabi, taking out Paulo Costa in just under nine minutes. The tensions didn’t end when the referee waved off the bout as Adesanya preceded to briefly simulate a sexual act on the fallen Costa before walking over to Costa’s corner and doing the same.
Opinions are split on whether Adesanya went too far with his post-fight celebration, with analyst Dan Hardy calling Adesanya’s moves “crass” and “unnecessary,” while UFC strawweight Angela Hill suggested that those offended by Adesanya’s antics should “lighten up.”
MMA Fighting’s Alexander K. Lee and Jed Meshew are distinctly of two minds on this issue, so in this edition of The Great Divide we sort out just how outraged everyone should be when it comes to how Adesanya conducted himself this past weekend.
A LITTLE CLASS NEVER HURT ANYONE
Lee: As always, when MMA’s most malicious miscreants begin to show their true colors and risk placing an ineradicable stain on this, our most noble of athletic endeavors, it once again falls upon yours truly to ask the question that none of the so-called media dares to ask:
There we all were, enjoying a wholesome family night of martial arts (the mixed variety, no less), when Israel Adesanya rained on the entire parade with his juvenile antics. His performance? Unquestionably fantastic. His mock sex act? Unquestionably questionable.
And make no mistake, that’s what it was. All exaggeration aside, there’s really no other way to describe what Adesanya did other than to say he was humping Costa from behind to further humiliate his vanquished foe. If there was any doubt as to how to interpret his actions, he followed up that move by walking over to Costa’s corner at cageside and literally telling them that he was going to “c*m all over” them and gesturing accordingly.
Even if you’re one of those folks who never gets offended by anything, or you are, but found Adesanya’s subtle miming to be hilarious, there is no way to view this dry-humpery as anything but a total disregard for the gentlemen’s agreement between fighters. And yes, it exists, if tentatively.
Don’t hit someone when they’re offering to touch gloves. Win or lose, stay in the cage for the announcement of the result. Don’t enter the cage with really bad B.O. There are dozens of these rules, and an equal amount of exceptions to these rules, but we have to have them. Otherwise, MMA descends into complete chaos. A segment of the fanbase might believe that we blew past that point the first time one human being ever agreed to punch another human being money, but that’s not the case, otherwise combat sports would never have become a successful business.
The perceived lawlessness of it all is the draw; the rules, regulations, and insistence on the most minimal level of professional courtesy is the glue that keeps everything together.
None of this is to say that Adesanya’s dry-humping is some dam-breaking moment in the history of MMA. We’ve seen worse. But to just point and laugh and pass it off as “boys will be boys” isn’t really helping anyone. Lines have to be drawn, otherwise you end up with – oh, I don’t know, purely hypothetical example – a guy jumping over the cage after a fight and attacking his opponent’s team, creating an incident that overshadows what should otherwise have been a landmark moment in his career. That sort of thing.
Not all bad actions are created equal, but bad is still bad and should be identified as such. I personally take far more umbrage with Colby Covington’s recent comments than anything Adesanya did on Saturday. They’re not equal by any means. However, how much does the limit of our tolerance for one’s actions have to do with our personal feelings for that fighter and what they represent? Covington is rightfully being condemned. Would Adesanya be receiving more scorn were it not for him currently being on the rising side of his career? Or because Costa was supposedly “deserving” of the post-fight treatment based on the pre-fight grudge? That’s a slippery, slippery slope.
Attitudes and personalities sell fights as much, if not more so, than skill and ability. That’s the reality of this game, and suggesting otherwise is naive. Tito Ortiz’s trademark gravedigger celebration, Michael Bisping spitting at Jorge Rivera’s corner, Chael Sonnen telling Anderson Silva “you absolutely suck,” and Nate Diaz demanding that Conor McGregor fight him for “taking everything I worked for, motherf*cker. Those are just a few examples of some of the most memorable moments in MMA history that are as infamous as they are an indelible part of these fighters’ legends.
I bring those moments up because I believe there’s a breaking point where your extracurricular activities can actively interfere with your purpose, which at the end of the day is to be recognized as both a money-making character and a great fighter. Adesanya has proven the latter, and the former is still a work-in-progress that could easily be derailed if he does the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong opponent.
The last thing I want to see is MMA further devolve into a schoolyard mentality, with over-the-top insults justified by calls of “well, he started it!” or “an eye for an eye.” Fight night was supposed to be where feuds ended, not where they became further inflamed by shenanigans that have nothing to do with the fight itself. People pay to watch you fight, they can watch you talk and strut for free, and if you’re not careful they’ll eventually only choose the second of those two options.
So yes, amusing or not, Adesanya absolutely did Costa and his team wrong (and that’s not even mentioning the uncouth manner in which he punched and kicked Costa several times about the face and head region). That isn’t up for debate. Whether his lack of sportsmanship matters one iota in the grand scheme of things is really up to you.