HYDEN BLOG: The Semantics of Accolades

by frank Hyden, MMATorch contributor

Amanda Nunes
Amanda Nunes (photo credit Mark J. Rebilas © USA Today Sports)

NOTE- There were no events this past weekend so I’m going to delve into a little sports talk debate and sports philosophy that I believe in that may or may not be of interest to you.

UFC Women’s Featherweight and Bantamweight Champion Amanda Nunes recently proclaimed herself to be the best fighter in the UFC, men included. I have no problem with her saying that, whether or not you agree that she’s best, you have to agree that she’s at least in the conversation. Marloes Coenen also recently said that we should drop the “W” from WMMA, which apparently some people say. I don’t know anyone who has ever said WMMA to me (if they have, I’ve forgotten about it) but if they did, I would just look at them weird and ask them what the hell they’re talking about.

To call it Women’s Mixed Martial Arts is just odd, it sounds like the beginning to the “story” of some B-grade porno. It’s Mixed Martial Arts, it’s MMA. I get on Twitter a fair amount and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve ever seen someone say WMMA there, so this smacks of your typical “solution looking for a problem” scenario, but there is something here. I don’t think it happens very often but I do think it’s worth getting rid of the rare occasions it does happen. So I think Coenen has a point.

I myself am guilty of putting “UFC Women’s Featherweight or Bantamweight Champion” in my rundowns of shows, while I don’t also put “UFC Men’s Featherweight or Bantamweight Champion” in there. Maybe that’s a little wrong, and maybe I’ll try to not do that anymore if I remember, but to be honest, I would give the side eye to anyone who would actually complain about something so small and insignificant.

I do understand where people come from with this type of thinking, though. Last year, John McEnroe made waves when he said that Serena Williams would be ranked in the 700’s on the men’s tour and he insisted on saying she was the best female tennis player of all time, rather than saying she’s the best tennis player period. To be clear, he’s right. Now, I don’t know enough about tennis to say whether Serena would be ranked in the 700’s or 500’s or 400’s, or whatever. However, I do know enough about tennis to say that she would be ranked no higher than in the 300’s on the men’s tour. I know this because Serena herself has said such things.

So, McEnroe is right that she would be ranked low. However, I do think he’s being pedantic when he insists on saying she’s the best female player ever rather than best ever. To relate this back to MMA, I don’t say that I think Fedor Emelianenko is the best fighter ever because he’s a heavyweight, I say that because I think he’s proven that over time in his fights. I also think Demetrious Johnson has to be in that conversation. In combat sports, I don’t ever factor weight into things. That’s why there are weight classes. Yeah, an average heavyweight is going to beat a great featherweight more often than not, and possibly every time. That doesn’t mean that the heavyweight in question is a great fighter, though. No one would argue that Generic Heavyweight A is one of the best ever because he could beat Max Holloway or Tony Ferguson or Khabib Nurmagomedov.

I don’t take weight into account when looking at a fighter’s resume. I don’t take gender into account either. In individual sports, you play (or fight) who you’re matched up against. What measures your greatness is how you play (or fight) against your opponents. This is why I don’t like to compare players or fighters from different eras. Those who came before are the reason why athletes today are as good as they are. Not just because they learn the most effective techniques and training methods, but because it also gives them something to shoot for. It would be ridiculous to grab a fighter from twenty years ago and put them against today’s top fighters and expect them to win as they did in their era. You judge them against what they did in their era, against who they fought.

Yeah, we all know that there’s no realistic scenario in which a female fighter is going to beat a male fighter. It’s just not going to happen. I could list a number of reasons but it’s just not. That’s not the point, though. That doesn’t determine the list of best ever. It would be absurd to say that the best fighters are the ones who would win against a lower weight class or a different gender. You might as well say that this person would win if groin strikes and eye pokes are allowed or this person would win if they wrapped their hands in barbed wire. You’re judged by who you fight.

I understand both sides, and I do agree to an extent with both sides, however, I would lean more towards the side of needing to specify the size or gender of the person is a bit much. I’ve never been a fan of the “pound for pound” label, I think it’s overly specific. What’s next, Best Fighter over 40? Best Fighter under 22? Best red-headed fighter? It could go on and on. I think a simple “Best Fighter” list with ten or five names on it is a better way to go. I’ll probably try in the future to not include the “Women’s” part of the championship title when I’m discussing a champ, though I don’t think it’s a big deal if I forget and still do.

You could argue that what I just said is overly pedantic as well, and you might be right, but there were no events this past weekend so I needed something to talk about this week. I did warn you at the beginning, as well.


Comments and suggestions can be emailed to me at hydenfrank@gmail.com and you can follow me on Twitter at @hydenfrank

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