Thursday, April 12, 2018

Last week former UFC featherweight and lightweight champion Conor McGregor attacked a bus full of fighters, injuring two to the point they couldn’t fight, and entirely missing the intended target, Khabib Nurmagomedov. It wasn’t just that it was gangster, it was as well that it was so not gangster – so like an eight-year-old throwing hand signs yo.

The incident sullied the sport in the opinion of countless millions, as McGregor is the most famous fighter in MMA. For a number professionals in the MMA space, the feeling was, who wants to be involved in a sport where this happens? And it was not entirely the result of McGregor’s personality unraveling.

MMA fans in North America are too largely drawn to terrible behavior. Talk trash and your followers go up. Tackle each other at a media event falling off the podium and PPV buys soar. Throw a bottle at your opponent and you can feel the money coming in. The UFC knows it, and didn’t rein in McGregor to the extent that he should have been, to the extent that he needed. But the UFC is following the money, like every other business. The fans too are part of the problem. If you react to anti-social behavior with interest and excitement rather than with antipathy, then, in a market economy, you get more anti-social behavior. And we did.

I was bummed for days by what happened, but today the sun came out. I am in beautiful Belo Horizonte for Brave CF 11, and had the great fortune to run into Ricardo Liborio, who will be cornering nine-time world BJJ champion Bruno Malfacini on Friday. Liborio is a man of such deep and wonderful character that my faith felt restored.

Then I went to the Brave CF 11 open media workouts at the iconic Mineirão Stadium. There Brave’s chief marketing officer Lucas Carrano did a beautiful thing – he brought in two busloads of underprivileged kids, perhaps 100 in all, to watch the workouts. Feeling their excitement was the cure for suffering through McGregor’s latest sullying of the sport.

Inviting the children was not happenstance, but rather was perfectly in keeping with Brave’s mission. The promotion was founded in 2016 by Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad Al Khalifa of Bahrain; it’s run by Mohammed ‘The Hawk’ Shahid. While most shows’ #1 goal is to make money, Sheikh Khalid holds a deeper understanding of mixed martial arts. This is not surprising, as he fights, too. Rich guys who want to invest in MMA are legion. Men with great resources who also fight are, well, there’s the Sheikh. He sees MMA as a means to promote the development of character and way to bring opportunity to individuals who could use some. And as well he is determined to grow MMA worldwide.

Master Liborio led a demonstration that opened and closed with the traditional bow, and presented a tremendous display of flow rolling, as Malfacine took on a series of opponents, including Libo himself.

Then, before starting own his workout, lightweight Gesias ‘JZ’ Cavalcante, who fights Erivan Pereira on the main card, spoke to the children.

“Kids, I had many problems growing up,” said ‘JZ’. “I grew up in a small neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro and ended up fighting around the world. This is the first time I’m fighting in my country. I want you to believe in your dreams. Appreciate your teachers and your friends and dream big.”

The kids screamed in approval. Luan ‘Miau’ Santiago also addressed the assembled youngsters.

“Guys, you are my support,” he began. “You give me the strength to push through everything. Thank you so much. I promise me and my brother Lucas will give you guys a fight of the year contender on Friday night.”

The brother ‘Miau’ is referencing is his opponent, fellow lightweight contender Lucas ‘Mineiro’ Martins. Rather throwing bottles, or snarls, or hand trucks at his opponent, ‘Miau’ was calling ‘Mineiro’ brother.

That’s the way it is supposed to be. That’s Brave. It’s beautiful.