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April 2016: Can Combat Sports Survive without Nationalities?

Combat sports are a business. It thrives on competition, the thrill of the fight, rivalries, upsets, comebacks and hero worship. But it also thrives on patriotism and national pride. What would combat sports be if these borders did not exist?

Where Does This Come From?

Since the dawn of human civilization, tribes have invaded others, countries have attacked and occupied one another and in some cases have even tried to erase entire cultures. Sometimes deep hatred still exists between certain nations and this hatred can be exploited in many ways.

What I like about combat sports is that it allows those who want to fight an outlet for their aggression in a civilized manner. If you want to fight, learn how to do it properly and test yourself in a controlled environment with established rules and medical staff present against someone of similar abilities. Respect, sportsmanship and the spirit of fair play is normally adhered to by both sides, but there is also an obvious play on these nationalistic tendencies of the feeble-minded.

A Typical Fight Card

Most kickboxing, MMA, Muay Thai and other fighting sport cards, at least in Europe, play heavily on national pride. It’s not uncommon for a local fight promotion to match up all of their local fighters against foreigners. In title bouts, it’s often the tradition to play the national anthem of both fighters’ countries before the fight. We see fighters coming down to the cage / ring proudly displaying their country’s flag, we see attractive ring girls standing on the entrance way or in the ring provocatively exhibiting the national colors of each participant and on nearly every fight card and press release, we see the country of each fighter listed next to their name.


I’ve also seen entire fight cards titled after “This country versus That country” or something similar, trying to draw on the “us versus them” patriotic mindset. Images of Sylvester Stallone versus the evil Russian in Rocky IV come to mind as well as Jean-Claude Van Damme versus the diabolical Thai fighter in Kickboxer.


Professional wrestling has exploited this the most with Hulk Hogan in the 80’s, the “Real American” taking on a host of evil foreigners including The Iron Sheik, Nikolai Volkoff and Yokozuna. Although in recent years, this has faded away.


Why Be Patriotic At All?

What exactly are people proud of anyway? Have you ever stopped to think what you’re so proud of? Pride can be defined as “a feeling or deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one's own achievements”. I mean, what have you actually achieved? I’m reminded of a quote from American comedian George Carlin who once said:

“I could never understand ethnic or national pride, because to me, pride should be reserved for something you achieve or attain on your own, not something that happens on accident of birth. Being Irish isn’t a skill, it’s a fu*king genetic accident”.



As someone who has been living in a different country for over 15 years, I’ve come to question what it really means to be patriotic. When I left the USA in 2005 and came to Poland, I wasn’t necessarily the biggest patriot in the country, but finding myself in a new land which I did not understand, I found that my patriotism doubled, even tripled. As time went by that patriotism faded and now I find myself having lost my sense of Americanism and at the same time, I have no sense of national pride for Poland either.

A Sport without Borders

So, could combat sports actually exist without national pride and patriotism or would it cripple it from a business perspective? Actually, I don’t think it would change things much. It might even be better off without it. There are so many other ways to build interest in a fight besides “a guy from this country versus a guy from that country”. In fact, making patriotic distinctions between fighters only really appeals to the lowest common denominator.

Take the UFC for example. The highest grossing fights in the history of the company are not based on country versus country fights. Brock Lesnar versus Frank Mir at UFC 100, Ronda Rousey versus Holly Holm at UFC 193 and Conor McGregor versus Nate Diaz at UFC 196 had nothing to do with patriotism or country versus country. The fact that Conor McGregor is Irish had nothing to do with it. People were interested in all of these fights for much different reasons. The same goes for boxing. Take 2015’s “Fight of the Century” between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. Did the highest grossing PPV in history have anything to do with the fact that Mayweather is from the USA and Pacquiao is from the Philippines? I doubt it.


Don’t Feed The Trolls

Most of the time there is no malice intended in these “country versus country” events. It’s just a friendly, professional sporting competition between athletes of different nations. However, you can see very easily how quickly fans can turn it into something that it isn’t. More often than not when fighters of different backgrounds are fighting, the comments on the Youtube video or on Facebook or other social networking sites are plagued with racial, ethnic or religious slurs.

There seems to be a disturbing trend and growing nationalistic / racist movement in Poland and other parts of the world since the mass of refugees has found their way to Europe and it’s not only whites hating other races. It goes in many directions. It’s very easy to sit at home and hate a whole group of people. But when you step in the ring with just one individual, you earn their respect, regardless of what background they are from.

I think this can be true of our individual encounters with people in our daily lives. When you meet someone face to face and get to know them, it’s easy to make exceptions to our blanket prejudice of their race / nationality / religion.


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