Let me preface this by saying that I’m not a UFC fan, and have never watched a match. But being a man and occasionally visiting ESPN, it would be impossible for me not to know who Ronda Rousey is. And I admit I was intrigued as the stories started to mount over the last few months about this absolutely indestructible fighter who has been called by many a once-in-a-lifetime talent. After 12 fights. Dominant fights, granted. But 12, nonetheless.
The fact that she was not only beaten but completely dominated and hospitalized (didn’t watch, but I have an Internet-connected device and a curious mind) just bore out to me the conviction that the more people tell you someone cannot be beaten, the more you need to get ready for that person to fall. Mike Tyson says “hello,” by the way.
But that’s a discussion for another time. The dramatic loss made me think about something that I’ve considered more and more as time as gone on. Because I used to be a fight fan. I was a kid back when you could actually see a big-name fighter compete on network television (even if it was usually tape-delayed). I missed the Ali-Foreman-Frazier heyday, but I remember closely following Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran, Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns, listening on the radio (yes… that’s how we had to keep up with stuff back then!) to find out what happened. One of my favorite books to read was one that told the history of the heavyweight boxing championship; i found the personal stories and narratives fascinating – even found myself rooting for people and fights from long before I was even born. To this day, “Cinderella Man” is one of my favorite movies of all time.
I absolutely understand the appeal of prize fighting. It is the ultimate competition; the one time that a person goes into a one-on-one competition knowing that all that matters is finding a way to physically dominate someone else. No win is more of a personal triumph, no loss is more of a devastating failure. It appeals to our most primal nature. It gets us fired up and gives us a taste of a danger that most of us will never know.
So I get it. Which is why I can say with all confidence that as a Christian, I have no business watching it.
So many Christians I know love the pay-per-view events, as I used to enjoy them. But a nagging question kept coming up as I drifted away from the sport: when exactly did Jesus say we could take a time-out from Christianity? Because Jesus was very clear about how we ought to treat people in our lives:
You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. ’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. (Matthew 5:38-39 ESVST)
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. ’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matthew 5:43-46 ESVST)
So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12 ESVST)
The argument goes, “well sure, but this is a sport. Those guys don’t really hate each other, and they really aren’t trying to do anything bad to them. They just want to win the fight.”
Except that “win the fight” means “put the other guy on his back, unconscious.” It means causing physical pain and trauma, potentially damaging them permanently and even in some cases accidentally killing them. No, it’s not just like football. I can root for a team to win without wishing physical harm on the other team. And no football wins are evaluated based on how many players have to leave the field on a cart.
I’ve seen the post-fight hugs, the concern for the other fighter’s welfare, and I have no doubt those are genuine. I don’t for a minute believe that all fighters go into a fight really desiring to seriously injure an opponent. But they’re more than willing to do it. And if a man or woman can honestly stand across the ring from someone, waiting for that bell to ring, and not want more than anything to see that person slumped in their corner broken and bleeding, well… you’re a lot stronger mentally than I am. And there are a whole lot of fight experts who would say that you’re probably going to get beat a lot.
Because fighters are fueled by anger. By rage. Sometimes even by hatred. The whole premise of the pre-fight weigh-in is to put two fighters together and show that they cannot wait to lay into each other. If they actually get into it for the cameras, that’s even better. How many times do we see fighters come out of weigh-ins or press conference talking about how their opponent insulted them or angered them somehow, and they’re going to pay for it when the bell rings? There’s a reason that happens: because people fight a lot harder against people that they don’t like.
Fighting requires you to be everything that a Christian is not – at least for a brief period of time.
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:19-21 ESVST)
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self- control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23 ESVST)
I don’t know about you, but I read Galatians 5:22 and I feel my pulse slowing, my mind calming, my spirit being refreshed. The last thing I want to do after reading that is to go punch someone. So why would I adopt or embrace a sport that requires me to completely cast aside my Christian convictions, even for a few minutes?
And are we any better when all we do is watch? “Hey, I’m not the one fighting!” No, but when we sit in the seats, aren’t we really worse? Because fight fans aren’t there to see a nice bloodless fight where no one gets hurt, no one gets knocked out. In fact, the more violent and bloody the fight, the better the fight is judged to be.
Floyd Mayweather beat Manny Paquiao earlier this year in the biggest pay-per-view event of all time. The result: the world yawned. Fight fans complained about what most of them considered a boring fight. Why? Because no one got knocked out. No one got hurt. Very rarely was anyone even hit that hard. Mayweather just boxed, played defense and won a 12-round decision.
We don’t want boxing technicians. We want Mike Tyson knocking someone through the ropes. (And part of us hopes he climbs out after the guy, grabs a folding metal chair and goes WWE on him.) We could handle Mohammed Ali’s dancing, because we knew that at some point, he was going to unload on the guy who’d been chasing him around the ring.
Watching and claiming innocence isn’t an argument that Christians would ever accept with pornography. So how can we justify an event that turns us into bloodthirsty spectators? As Paul said, “judge for yourselves”.
I’m not going to condemn anyone for enjoying a boxing match or an MMA fight. Like I said, I’ve been there, and I get it. But more and more, I can’t escape the personal conclusion that God wants us to be better than that.