“You know what?,” Joanna Jedrzejczyk asked Rose Namajunas on the UFC 217 conference call. “I think you have some personal problems. And I will show you what your problem is. You’re never going to become champion.” The tense nature of this conversation could be felt through the phone as Namajunas defelected JJ’s verbal jabs. This exchange sparked a debate commonly talked about in MMA– how far is too far? Trash talking or bullying?
Below, Nick and Jill of the WMMA Ranking’s panel give their takes on the role trash talking plays in MMA.
I don’t suppose the concept of bullying versus fight strategy is an either/or type of thing. There’s nothing clear-cut about it. It’s a murky mess full of fuzzy lines and weak posturing – with only a few gems rising to the surface.
Bullying is clearly not a favorable behavior. On the other hand, the villains of MMA (and life) may argue that it works. Some male fighters are downright brutal to one another, so should we expect the women to be any different? Even lukewarm MMA fans recognize that mental toughness is crucial to the fight game.
It all boils down to context. Factors to consider include the stakes at hand (Is there a champion who feels she needs to market herself and stay relevant? Is someone at risk of being cut and hoping to become more visible? Does it matter?), personalities (Is said trash-talker so kind on a day-to-day basis that name-calling and snide remarks are clearly disingenuous? Can we imagine Holly Holm using vulgarity and making threats during weigh-ins?), content (How extreme is the language? Is it intended to be funny, or frightening? Is it hitting the mark?), timing (Does the delivery take place during a pre-fight interview? Is the recipient dealing with some sort of crisis, such as serious injury or the death of a loved one?, and setting (Does the trash talking involve words exchanged when fighters run into each other at a family restaurant? Are there a few snide comments to share in the hotel gym? Should media be present?).
Obviously it’s all quite nuanced. In my opinion, however, there are some very deep lines in the sand. Some things are – or perhaps should be – off limits. For instance, Ronda Rousey took some verbal jabs regarding her father’s suicide. More recently, Joanna Jedrzejczyk remarked on Rose Namajunas’ mental health. It’s a touchy subject, probably not to be used as fodder for getting under someone’s skin or promoting a fight.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that the lack of any trash talking is sometimes the best mental game in a fighter’s toolbox. I’m sure we all remember how Namajunas seemed to make an impact when standing stone-faced and reciting prayer at UFC 217.
There’s a few things you must consider when analyzing the role of trash talk in MMA.
There’s a lot of contradictions in play when we talk about trash talking among fighters– for example, if someone is talking trash about your personal favorite fighter, you may be quick to point out the wrongdoing and call it bullying. On the contrary, if your favorite fighter is the one doing the trash talk, you may be quick to label it as “psychological warfare.”
Another point to consider is the entertainment value– today’s headlining fights are often driven by “hatred” or “who can make the most noise”– there’s been plenty of times when deserving contenders were passed up for a title shot in favor of a more “sellable” fight. This may not be fair, but it’s true. There’s a certain pressure on fighters to market themselves, create interest, stand out, and play a role. Trash talk isn’t always about genuinely not liking someone as much as it is about furthering one’s own career.
With that being said, there’s a line that shouldn’t be crossed. There’s a difference between playing a “heel” or not liking someone and trash talking– there is a point where it turns into bullying. Two clear examples that come to mind– Bethe Correia’s off-putting comments about Ronda Rousey’s father’s and UFC welterweight Colby Covington’s Twitter comments directed toward the girlfriend and family of Mike Perry.
At times this line may be blurry but it’s the responsibility of the fighter and their management team to make the judgement call. What message do you want to put out? What do you want your young fans looking up to?
What are your thoughts about trash talking and its role in MMA?