A young woman tenses herself and stares straight ahead. The camera focuses in on her. Suddenly, she gets hit hard across the face. She stumbles forward like a tranquillized calf, falls forward onto her forehead, then backwards, unconscious.
Wow, Woohoooo, she has gone down like a decapitated chicken.” The commentators are gleeful. The judges make noises and whoops like the judges of the NBA Slam Dunk contest. “Fantastic technique. Wow. Geez. I’m gonna need smelling salts, never mind her. She’s gonna have one helluva hangover.”
The boundaries of legalised thuggery are disappearing. Fast. The latest addition to the ‘Just shy of attacking each other with knives’ genre, is the Power Slap League. Two people face each other. The ‘victims’ stand perfectly still, hands by their side, looking straight ahead. Their opponents then slap them on the face as hard as they can. Often, they are knocked out.
In this world, brain damage is funny. There are doctors present, who rush in and cradle the unconscious person’s head, make sure he or she doesn’t swallow their tongue, and put on an oxygen mask. This way, the promoter and commentators can say things like, “The most important thing in our sport is the welfare of these young men and women.”
In response to criticism of the brutality of this new ‘sport’ by many people, including prominent neurosurgeons, Dana White, the promoter who has become a billionaire on the back of legalised thuggery, said they “need to get educated on this subject.” Sniggering at reporters, he said, “If you don’t f**king like it, don’t f**king watch it. Nobody’s asking you to watch this. Oh, you’re disgusted by it? Go watch The Voice.”
Another of the billionaire’s playgrounds is cage fighting. I watched a fight between two women, The Karate Hottie (Michelle Waterson) who boasts in her biog that she has “beaten up some of my opponents so badly, they have actually shat themselves during the fight”, and Felice Herrig. I presume Felice is unimpressed by the Karate Hottie’s CV. After all, as the anchor gleefully reminded viewers, “Felice famously made Justine Kish soil the octagon during their UFC fight in 2017.” And I thought beating the shit out of someone was a metaphor.
It is an animalistic dystopia, where violence and rage have free rein. Like soccer hooliganism, or attacks on refugees, or dog fighting or drug wars, with all the same inhumane language and thuggery. “Your da smells like shit,” Conor McGregor told Khabib Nurmagomedov before their fight. McGregor smashed up the bus carrying Nurmagomedov away from a press conference, like football hooligans going on the rampage or attacking a refugee hotel. Inside the bus, as the glass shatters in on them, Nurmagomedov says, “I will f**king kill him.” As the commentator aptly put it before the fight, “Here we go everyone. Khabib, a man who has wrestled with bears since childhood, against McGregor, the Irish gorilla.”
After all, these are not human beings to be respected and protected. They are animals, a bear and a gorilla. Millions watched. Millions thrilled to the awfulness of it, the savagery. Me too. I sat there to the grim finale, worrying McGregor might be seriously injured or even killed.
There’s the thing. Something deep in us thrills to violence. By the end of the 19th century, public executions were the main spectator sport in England. Sky Sports would have loved it. RTÉ couldn’t have afforded it. ‘Sky Judgment Day. A super Sunday triple bill. Only €29.99.’
At Tyburn in London, seats in the grandstand overlooking the gallows were expensive and highly sought after. The Sheriff of London watched the executions with invited guests in a corporate box where you could hobnob with the executioner. When Henry Fauntleroy, gentleman fraudster, was hanged at Newgate in 1824, the crowd was estimated at 100,000. If a smart promoter like Bob Arum had been alive then, he’d have hired Michael Buffer to bellow “Lets get ready to haaaaaaaaaaaaaaang …”
The professional violent sports lobby reacts violently to criticism. They say: ‘The fighters want to do it. It is their escape from the ghetto. Their means of expression.’ This is of course true. It is equally true that many young men from ghettos around the world choose drug dealing and assassination of opponents as their escape from the ghetto and means of expression.
If an entrepreneurial millionaire started ‘Ultimate Combat’, a ‘sport’ where the fighters use knives and fight to the death, he’d have a deluge of applicants. Young men all over the world sign up to fight in armies for the minimum wage. Why not have a go at real money?
It worked in Ancient Rome. The new sport would sweep the planet. We’d be glued to our screens. The fans would get pissed and go wild like the crowd at the darts. The PPVs would break all records. Young men would die. And young women. But it would be a price worth paying since they “died playing the sport they loved.” In answer to any criticism, the promoter would say, “If you don’t like it, don’t f**king watch it … go and watch Strictly or Bake Off.”
Extreme violence is being normalised. What used to be the preserve of dark video games played in basements is now mainstream. A respectable veil has been drawn over this savagery, using the conventional language of sports punditry and the trappings of any normal sport. As Liam Neeson said about UFC a few weeks ago, “Why don’t they just grab a beer bottle and hit the other guy over the head?”
Why not legitimise dog fighting? Call it the UDFC (Ultimate Dog Fighting Championship). Have vets there and veterinary assistants, so Dana White could say, “The primary concern of all of us at UDFC is the welfare of the animals.” The commentators would just do their normal thing:
Bob: Bill, that was a superb contest between two true warrior dogs. It is only a pity that one of them had to lose.
Bill: Bob, the two trainers are embracing in the cage. This is an example of true sportsmanship for the millions of viewers watching at home. It is hard not to feel proud of this great sport when you see things like this happen.
Bob: Let me interrupt you Bill, we’re hearing some very sad news. Princess, the loser, who we saw defecating on the octagon during the final round of this great fight, has had to be put down. Our thoughts and prayers are with her and her backroom team on this very sad occasion.
Bill: Bob, can I just echo those words. It is a great consolation that Princess died doing what she loved.
Dehumanising people, watching their blood spill, watching them knocked unconscious, watching them attack each other with everything they have, is thrilling. The audiences in Ancient Rome went wild when the winner thrust his sword through the heart of the loser. The world went wild for Conor McGregor, a multi-millionaire on his way to billionaire status, a hero to younger generations from Ballyfermot to Bogota.
Lynching, hanging, gentlemanly duels to the death, burning ‘witches’ at the stake and all the rest of it used to be commonplace. The reason laws were developed to stop all of this was to protect people against our base instincts. Against our rages and violence and prejudices and murderous intents. Violent pro sport is out of control. It is time to ban all of it. Human beings have to be protected from our worst selves. And it doesn’t get much worse than this.