Everyone knows that MMA is a brutal sport. Blood, sweat, tears, and determination all play a part. After most matches, the combatants hug it out and put all of their animosities aside. During those moments when the fight is over, and hostilities have ended, the sport seems more like a brotherhood/sisterhood than combat. Even fighters that opposed our favorite fighters may get at least a modicum of respect from us, and sometimes more respect than we care to admit.
But what do we do when fighters that we have admired for their skill and heart in the cage seem to espouse hatred, not for their opponent, but their fellow man? Two recent situations demonstrate the difficulty of admiring fighters only to discover that they either promote or condone bigotry and intolerance.
The first was Bellator flyweight fighter Anastasia Yankova. The popular Russian flyweight had become quite the sensation with her combination of beauty and fury that she arguably became Bellator’s most popular female fighter. But when more of her past came out, it was discovered that her MMA debut was in Russia’s White Rex promotion, a neo-Nazi MMA organization that makes no secret of its political affiliation. Coupled with an Instagram post featuring a seemingly positive view of Adolf Hitler, Yankova has recently had to field more questions about potentially being a fascist than her fighting skills and numerous tattoos
Tattoos are what sparked the most recent controversy involving Andrea “KGB” Lee, who recently made her long-awaited UFC debut.in May. For the last few days, instead of continuing to bask in her unanimous decision victory over Veronica Macedo, she and her husband/trainer Donny Aaron have been on the defensive about some of the tattoos adorning Aaron’s arm. Several of the tattoos are Nazi-inspired, including a swastika and the double “S” of the dreaded SS, one of the most infamous divisions of Hitler’s Nazi army.
Yankova has disavowed any Nazi leanings, and Aaron and Lee have apologized for anyone offended by the pictures showing the tattoos that appeared on social media. Unless either Yankova or Aaron/Lee say or do something else that belies their recent statements, all of this may blow over. It might give sponsors pause. It might cause Scott Coker and Dana White some agita. Otherwise, it may all blow over in a few weeks.
.But what are we supposed to do with all of this? As fans of the sport, we naturally gravitate toward certain fighters. When we find that they either currently or previously align themselves with the worst kind of depravity, how are we supposed to respond? Do we withhold our support? Switch allegiances and hope they lose? Do we forgive them? Is there any reason to think that they need forgiveness?
For most MMA fans, rationalizing errant fighter behavior has meant overlooking failed drug tests, questionable cage behavior, and in the case of fighters like Conor McGregor, general hooliganism. But when someone seems to align themselves with bigotry and genocide, the emotional stakes, in fact, every possible kind of stake, is raised to an unimaginable level.
There are no easy answers. Everyone will have their say and opinion. Sponsors will have their say, promoters will have their say, other fighters will have their say, and the accused will have their chance to continually refute and rebuff the accusations against them. The MMA fans and the media will also have their say.
We can’t be sure what will happen, but what we do know is that this won’t be the last time that our fondness and admiration for certain fighters will be challenged. For observers, that’s the price we pay for being fans of the sport and its combatants. For fighters like Anastasia Yankova and Andrea Lee, that’s the price for being in the spotlight, for making mistakes, and perhaps, for being human.
What are your thoughts on some of the recent controversies surrounding popular fighters?