A Black Eye on MMA: American Individualism and Black Champions

A Black Eye on MMA: American Individualism and Black Champions

Do you want to upset a UFC fan? Bring up race.

Of the 63 champions the UFC has had, only 8 have been black men (Kevin Randleman, Maurice Smith, Quinton Jackson, Rashad Evans, Jon Jones, Daniel Cormier, Tyron Woodley, and Demitrious Johnson). You could add two more to that list (Benson Henderson, who is half black/half Korean, and Carlos Newton, who is an Anguilla-born Canadian), but even that only bring us to 6.3% of all champions.

Yet this small number brings with it a lot of ire.

As Ariel Helwani asked on the MMA Beat, “Is there something to that?”

Luke Thomas responded:

Tyron Woodley is from Ferguson, Missouri. Everyone likes to deny that there are racial components to the fight game. The fight game is in fact built on, partly, a racial stratification and what that means for exploiting people’s differences. I don’t know to what extent they are problems in each of those cases [speaking about current champions Tyron Woodley, Daniel Cormier and Demitrious Johnson], but it is hard for me to buy the idea that someone’s racial background in this country, and in countries elsewhere, that that doesn’t affect how fans perceive them. To what extent, we can debate, but that it is there, I think is absolutely incontestable.

Thomas argues that the racial component of the fight game is incontestable, yet a look at any conversation about this topic among fans says something very different.

As this 2007 thread on mmaforums.com captures, many fans think this isn’t worth discussing:

This is a stupid thread, why even bring this up?!?!
The fans arent cheering because of the colour of the fighter, they cheering because they like the fighter.
Both the fights you mentioned Franklin/Silva and Chuck/Page in both cases the white fighters were far more popular and Rampage and Silva were relative unknowns in America. Once the fans get to know the fighters and see how good they are they will be cheering just as loud.

One of the reasons, I believe, that we are able to see the effects of race and mixed martial arts so easily in aggregate but can’t solidly pin down clear examples of it is because this kind of thinking is an example of larger societal issues with race.

In Divided by Color: Racial Politics and Democratic Ideals, authors Kinder and Sander make the following argument:

Animosity toward blacks is expressed today less in the language of inherent, permanent, biological difference, and more in the language of American individualism, which depicts blacks as unwilling to try and too willing to take what they have not earned.

That should sound familiar to anyone following this debate. Tyron Woodley has frequently been derided for being unwilling to fight any opponent, instead choosing to fight opponents who would lead to a title shot. Now that he is champion, many call his decision to challenge former champion Georges St-Pierre something he has not earned.

MMA is the ultimate manifestation of American ideals. Fighters go into the cage by themselves to prove their worth. The trouble comes when this ideology is used to undermine black champions.

The Performative Nature of Everyday Life

The Performative Nature of Everyday Life

Everyday when I wake up I start at zero. I am no one. Then I open my eyes and in floods a rush of questions and observations. The performance begins internally as I go through the various scripts about who I am and what I do.

The next act starts at my closet, where I put on my costume for the day. Every choice I make says something about me.

Once I meet some of the other characters on my way to work, I perform some of my usual lines.

The fun of it all is playing with the characters and not taking it all too seriously.

Adding some flavor to my life

Adding some flavor to my life

Life by itself is absurd. However, as I go through it every day I forget about that and take things too seriously. 

That’s why I occasionally like to add flavor to my life. 

At work, for example, I’ll write my name as Don Omar on nonoffcial forms. 

I walk around and prerend I’m on the Truman show. I try to get people to slip up and admit they are actors. 

When public transportation is delayed, I know someone is going to be REALLY annoyed. I look for who that person is and take joy in their attempt to control the uncontrollable. 

I wear two different socks. 

Just a little flavor in my life keeps things interesting. 

What do you do with 1,000 Radishes?

What do you do with 1,000 Radishes?


My wife and I recently signed up for a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program through her job. Every two weeks we get a full of fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables straight from a local farm.

The only challenge is that sometimes we end up with a lot of an ingredient we’re not sure how to use. Most recently, this was radishes. You can cut up a radish and toss it in a salad. You can…cube them up and use them in a salad. That’s about as far as we got. Ultimately, they went bad in the fridge before we could use them all.

If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s wasted potential. It’s why I got into education. Here’s what I would do differently next time. Continue reading “What do you do with 1,000 Radishes?”

A Ship in the Night

A Ship in the Night

When I was a teenager, I acted with little thought to what the effects of those actions would be. My early twenties were much the same, with more consideration of others as the years went on.

Now that I am knocking on thirty, I’m at a point where I consider all the ramifications of my decisions, particularly the big ones like work and relationships. I’m afraid I’ve slid too far toward this end of things, though, as all of these perspectives is causing paralysis by analysis. Continue reading “A Ship in the Night”

Being Civilized

Being Civilized

In Dominican culture, there is a concept called educedo. Being educado literally translates to being educated, but in its actual usage translates to something closer to being civilized. Dominicans believe that someone who is educedis social, intelligent, warm, courteous, and mannered. To be deemed mal educedis a great offense (and one often lobbed at my by my parents when I interrupted them in conversation with another adult or opened the refrigerator in a house that wasn’t mine.

As an adult, I’ve come to recognize the term educedas being closer to being civilized. I have a contentious relationship with the idea of being civilized, as it is not just a perforative act  of following social norms but also a conforming to the expectations around me despite how I may feel. I see being civilized as both a state of existence and an active signaling from the space around me. I am being civilized in the same way I am being assaulted. It is something done to me.  Continue reading “Being Civilized”

The Tiny Death of a Colleague’s Exit

The Tiny Death of a Colleague’s Exit

I’ve worked at enough places for enough time to have seen people exit under lots of circumstances. I’ve seen people who have been at the organization for years leave to live in a new city. I’ve seen people only last a few months before they voluntarily see their way out. This flotsam and jetsam is a natural part of the work experience.

Every time someone that I’m close to leaves the organization, I experience a small but noticeable sense of loss. In some ways it feels personal, like they are rejecting me or my choice to be there. I recognize intellectually that I have nothing to do with people’s decision to stay or go, but I still emotionally feel the loss.  Continue reading “The Tiny Death of a Colleague’s Exit”