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Elliot Worsell Headshot

Bad Blood Donors: Feuds In MMA and Boxing

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Character arcs are vital components to the success of any story. Find character, develop character, introduce character to conflict and then, by the end of act three, the character should have changed, for better or worse, as a result of aforementioned conflict. Writers of books, films, plays and television spend weeks, months and years moulding characters to fit through this tunnel into the hearts of their audience and only a select few perfect it by the time the end credits roll and spectators stumble over stray popcorn en route to the exit doors.

For fight promoters, however, the job is made a little easier. After all, by their very nature, combat sports promote and advocate conflict. Act two is a non-issue. Of far greater interest is what happens at both acts one and three. Can a promoter pair or create two interesting and engaging characters, the kind that will appeal to both ardent fight fans and those peering through binoculars on the periphery? Will the fight be sold purely on the promise of action, or are these two characters such that they can carry the event on their personalities and, even better, some semblance of rivalry or hatred? While the first task is to match fighters with personality and purpose, the next step is getting them to immensely dislike one another, hopefully to the point where the eventual conflict -- the fight itself -- provides the ultimate sense of resolution for both the participants and the fans. That's the real killer storyline.

Last Saturday night in Columbus, Ohio, female bantamweights 'Rowdy' Ronda Rousey and Miesha 'Takedown' Tate competed for the Strikeforce world title. Now, I'd seen other female MMA fights in the past, but, to use Wesley Snipes' Hendrix theory in 'White Men Can't Jump', this was the first female fight I'd truly, properly watched. This was the first one I'd cared about and actively followed in the weeks leading up to it.

The headliner, televised live on Showtime, was the biggest women's MMA clash since Gina Carano, pin-up and powerhouse, decided to traipse off and spar the likes of Steven Soderbergh in Hollywood, and it found deserved prominence for a number of reasons. Both Rousey and Tate are skilful fighters in the upper echelons of the pound-for-pound debate, and both are good-looking, no doubt magnetising certain desires of MMA's predominantly male fan base. Finally, both girls spent months on end firing insults at one another, and the bout carried genuine ill-feeling, motivated by contrasting personalities, beliefs and attitudes towards the sport in which they make a living and strive to improve. Rousey played the unproven braggart to Tate's all-knowing, all-conquering champion, and the dynamic worked better than any other fight between males this year. It worked for me.

Rather than pretty poses or moves, what grabbed me more than anything else was the clarity of their personalities and the legitimacy of their feud. In the weeks and months leading up to the fight, Rousey and Tate became more than just two throwaway names scribbled on a fight card with a versus abbreviation in between them. They pulled themselves up from the page, introduced themselves to the watching world and then proceeded to first charm and then shock a captivated audience with considered and clever trash talk, the kind many of their male peers struggle to replicate. Rousey promised all she was the architect, and that the inspiration to spark a dispute was one born from a need to put women's MMA on the map, while Tate rolled with the punches to begin with, before snapping when the 'Rowdy' one dared insult her boyfriend, fellow pro Bryan Caraway. The blue touch paper was lit and eventually the fight became more about hooks than looks.

The eventual victor was judo specialist Rousey, a former Olympic bronze medallist at the 2008 games, who will now presumably fill Carano's shoes and shepherd the female game across a treacherous bridge of uncertainty. Weight-classes are shallow and superstars are few and far between, but in Rousey the sport has a switched on torchbearer with a firm grasp of the hip toss, and an even better grasp of media relations and the need to create characters and conflict the public care about. On Saturday night, Rousey's conflict with Tate meant something to me and, I'm sure, many others, and not for any reasons pertaining to pigtails and derrieres.

The Men

Burly boxers David Haye and Dereck Chisora will never be able to sell fights based on the twinkle in their eye, but, like MMA's leading ladies, do both clearly hate each other. A few weeks on from their impromptu brawl at a Munich press conference, this so-called black eye for boxing has, in time, thankfully transformed into a faded yellow. Hysterics put to one side, the postmortem now simply reveals a preventable image of two fighters allowed to get far too close to one another. What transpired from there was as inevitable as it was ugly and wrong.

At the time, the media, concerned carers with careers, reacted in the only way they could -- disgrace, outrage, stone the lot of them -- but have since had time to reassess and recount laundry lists of previous prizefighting misdemeanours and, all of a sudden, Dave and Del's tripod tiff no longer appears to be the hanging offence many first claimed it to be.

That's not to say there was no wrongdoing committed that mad weekend in Munich. Quite the contrary, the only thing right about it was Chisora's gallant 36-minute effort in the face of WBC world heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko. Regrettably, that counted for little once the beaten challenger licked his wounds and pursued further scraps -- either immediately or down the line -- with Vitali, Wladimir and then Haye. In light of his incredibly brave challenge, the whole storyline was pathetically tragic.

Only in combat sports can a fight settle a fight, though, and with this in mind, who wants to see Dave and Del do it for real this summer, gloves 'n' all? A show of hands, perhaps? I'd hazard a guess that many, including a large portion of those who lambasted the 'hooligans' in the aftermath, would now sheepishly drop their bottles of lemonade and raise a hand. The guilt would hurt, no doubt, but many of us will come to realise that boxing's tendency to shock and teeter on the edge of chaos is all part of its curious appeal. Although us fans boast of appreciating the finer aspects of the sweet science, we also yearn for sheer carnage, heavy blows and blood, as well as a clinical and devastating knockout at a bout's conclusion. It's hard to admit at times, but it's the truth.

Moreover, when inhaling deeply as two highly-charged fighters move nose-to-nose at a press conference, a small part of us hopes the beef boils over and sparks a scuffle at the dais, if to only further the pair's intensity and violence on fight night. We've seen it before, we'll see it again and, when all is said and done, for better or worse, Haye and Chisora are now inextricably linked household names, the kind that boxing has done its very best to phase out in recent years, through the proliferation of titles, the greed of promoters and the shortsightedness of television channels.

Away from the bizarrely high moral standards of the boxing bubble, the casuals and the clueless are discussing the pair, presumably with a view to one day seeing them settle their squabble in a ring. They feel something towards the characters and the conflict, not necessarily fondness, but something, at least. Yes, perhaps it's wrong, and perhaps these insensitive souls care little about the reputation of the noble art, yet ask yourself this -- what causes more long-term damage to boxing's long-term health; two fighters fighting at an inopportune moment, or years of regulated mismatches between blank faces competing for indecipherable titles? Believe me, I'd have loved for somebody to tap me on the shoulder and discuss, in glowing terms, the recent Nathan Cleverly world title fight, but it never happened.

Don't get too concerned or excited, though. Haye and Chisora will never share another darkened room together, let alone a ring. Haye has already appeased his low-reward 'grudge match' cravings against a fellow Londoner, and look how that turned out. Nobody's claiming Audley Harrison to be any kind of career-defining fight. Sure, the story might have made sense at the time, but, like De Palma's 'Scarface', seems somewhat dated and silly in hindsight. One senses February's Munich massacre will be looked upon in the same way given time.

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