Of the top ten most popular sports in America, MMA is viewed as both the gayest and the straightest
The term “super gay” has been buzzing in the MMA community due to Jean-Claude Van Damme’s tribute video to UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St. Pierre. Something similar happened in December 2007 when he kissed and “fondled” Fedor Emelianenko, the baddest man on the planet in those days. Van Damme’s latest video splices scenes of him kicking ass in movies with St. Pierre doing so in the cage and there’s some looped footage of them practicing kicking techniques. But much of the gay talk comes from the prominent featuring of Van Damme helping St. Pierre with a groin stretch. A few Twitter comments:
I thought about putting “super gay” to the side and maybe simply writing about how washed-up martial arts action stars, most notably Steven Seagal, have kept themselves relevant by leeching on to America’s fastest-growing sport. That is, until I came across what Seth Davis, a respectable college basketball analyst for CBS and writer for Sports Illustrated, recently tweeted and then deleted about MMA:
Looking on news sites showing picture of two muscular bloody men in homoerotic fighting pose…. Sorry, I’ll never get this UFC thing. Maybe I’m a prude on this but I’m also a dad. I don’t mind my sons watching boxing, but I wouldn’t want them watching a UFC bout
The quote wasn’t so much a shock to me as it was, like comments by members of the GOP this year on rape and women, the erupted microcosm of how many people actually feel. I thought of the quote “For every spider you see in your house there are countless others you don’t see,” of the palpable political tension when I lived in Tucson that made it seem like the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords was damn-near predictable, was the natural result of hidden tension bursting. Of volcanoes. Of earthquakes. Of how when I was competing in MMA I was deemed gay by some and a typical testosterone-filled womanizer by others. I thought of the days when the cheapest way to watch fights was to go to Hooters and how homophobic MMA comments always swirled there, and, I came to see, in any place that teems with blatant and often stilted heterosexuality. To say I was grateful for Jesse Holland’s response on MMA Mania to Seth Davis’s comment is an understatement. Here’s the gem:
Allow me to translate.
Davis saw [George] St. Pierre, known primarily for his unstoppable wrestling, smothering [Carlos] Condit and working from side control. So what’s the first thing that popped into his head? Gay sex. And that’s something to be condemned in the Davis household, as he would surely fail as a parent if he allowed MMA to convert his children to homosexuality.
It’s all about the prolonged and sustained “grabbing.” None of the other top ten sports have such a thing. Even in American football there’s a distance and then a grab/tackle and then a distance again. Not to mention the athlete’s bodies are totally covered in pads. In MMA the fighters often wear nothing but spandex shorts and the “grabbing,” here-on-out referred to as grappling, can bring the athletes into all sorts of positions, positions most outsiders have only seen or experienced through sex. The guard position, for example, is one of the core positions in any grappling art and therefore in MMA and, as such, it’s the one that generates the majority of gay comments. Yet it’s also a core position in combat training for the U.S. Army (can’t get much straighter than that, right?). Here’s a photo of it from their Flickr account:
Some may chalk this all up to an ignorance about the complexity of grappling and of how ancient wrestling is one of the world’s oldest sports and was done naked so as to ensure nobody could cheat, or of how homophobia will always run rampant where masculine heterosexuality flourishes most, but there’s something else at work here, too. As mixed martial arts becomes more and more mainstream, and it will, the dichotomies and juxtapositions it creates is sure to continue and possibly deepen the conversation about man-to-man contact and, therefore, about male sexuality.