Super fights are when two greats in any combat sport finally meet for a clash of the best. With the recently announced Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquaio fight, this era’s biggest super fight, the world is starting to receive the clashes they’ve always wanted.
In Mixed Martial Arts the same can be the said, especially amongst its athletes of color. Recently, Anderson “The Spider” Silva faced off against the MMA renegade Nick Diaz at UFC 183 to high expectations and relatively low performance within the Octagon.
When Daniel Cormier faced off against Jon Jones at UFC 182 it was a battle that fans clamored for as Cormier quickly rose up the ranks defeating MMA legends in the process. But despite his success, it wasn't until an over the top brawl erupted at their press conference that the interest outside of the UFC’s core base of fans was aroused. Jon Jones is the most dominant Light Heavyweight champion in UFC history and has two brothers in the NFL, one of which, Chandler Jones, just won a Super Bowl ring with the Patriots.
So when black MMA fighters Muhammad “King Mo” Lawal (14W-4L-1NC) faces off against Cheick Kongo (22W-9L-2Draw) tonight at Bellator: The British Invasion why is it a certainty that the majority of fight fans of color, and people of color in general, won’t care?
Now just to be clear, most MMA diehards will give me and Bellator much flack for calling this a Super Fight. However, the two fighters are in fact among the most well-known fighters of color and have the credentials for this fight to be amazing. Lawal is the former Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion, a belt he wrested from a fan favorite Gegard Mousasi back in 2010. Lawal is currently on a two fight win streak with both wins coming via TKO finish.
Kongo, a physical phenom, had a lengthy UFC career from 2006-2013 accumulating a record of 11-6 defeating standouts like Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, Shawn Jordan, Matt Mitrione and Pat Barry, against whom he scored a knockout of the night and year award from the UFC. He also won Comeback of the Year from the World MMA Awards, and since entering Bellator Kongo is 4-1 with his only loss coming to champ Vitaly Minakov at Bellator 115 for the Heavyweight Title.
So why will this event go over the heads of casual MMA fans of color, or be missed entirely by people of color in general?
“I think that the fans aren’t really into Mo vs. Kongo because although they are (MMA) vets in the game, neither has really been able to gain a following let’s say like Rampage Jackson,” said Ron Foster, MMA manager and matchmaker who is African-American and lives in Germany. “Jackson was a UFC champion once and has key wins over the biggest names in the sport while also venturing outside of MMA into movies.”
So do black MMA fighters need to take a cue from the book of Mayweather and beef up their self-promotion? The most successful person in MMA to don a cocksure persona and breathe braggadocio is Chael Sonnen, who many say talked his way into title fights against Anderson Silva and Jon Jones back-to-back. “The Gangster from West Lynn (Oregon)” is one of the sports biggest stars and a talking head on Fox Sports 1 MMA broadcasts purely based on popularity and his comedic spontaneity.
The answer is yes, but that is not all.
“I personally think they could get a following by getting involved with more than MMA; I’m not sure how much they do for their own communities,” said Foster. “Kids know where to play basketball and football but where can they learn mixed martial arts or Brazilian Jiu Jitsu? For a lot of the inner city youth it’s a sport they no little or nothing about or they cant afford the $100 fee or the $150 monthly gym membership so they look elsewhere.”
So there it stands. MMA needs to grasp the fact that economic boundaries will sacrifice a percentage of the fan base, which happen to be people of color who cannot afford to invest in the sport. Fighters of color should view this as an opportunity to embrace the current fan base and turn a blind eye to the potential millions of people that could become eventual fans. Until then King Mo and Cheick Kongo will put on an epic fight tomorrow live and “free” on Spike TV.
And I might be one of the only black men watching it.