Stigmas can be impossible to break. It’s a truth those involved with mixed martial arts know well, having spent years trying to overcome the barbaric tag often assigned the sport.
The title bout of UFC 116 tonight at the MGM Grand Garden between Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin should feature MMA at its finest form, two conditioned athletes fighting for a heavyweight belt in the sport’s leading organization.
This is MMA at its best.
This is what makes the Ultimate Fighting Championship so compelling.
It is worlds away from tales such as the ones recently reported about Jason Sindelar and Jarrod Wyatt.
Heard of either?
If so, it probably had nothing to do with MMA, other than the fact any story reported on them led with the fact they fight in the discipline.
Sindelar was released from a Las Vegas jail last week after being arrested in connection with the beating death of a former UNLV football player in a Strip hotel room. Prosecutors didn’t file a criminal complaint. Sindelar has walked for now.
His professional resume seems to begin and end with a fight in North Dakota in 2008 and four amateur fights. It’s about as extensive as a debit receipt for some candy.
He supposedly has continued training in Las Vegas, but for now, calling him an MMA fighter is like calling your mailman the Postmaster General.
Yet that is the level to which he has been described by many.
The same goes for Wyatt, an extremely disturbed man whose murder charge was upheld by a California judge late last month.
It has been reported Wyatt was under the influence of psychedelic drugs when he allegedly cut the heart out of his victim’s chest, cut off the tongue and removed a majority of the face.
That victim was his sparring partner.
Wyatt’s professional record is listed at 1-0. Translation: It appears Wyatt has more Hannibal Lecter in him than any traits of an MMA champion.
Look. Mixed martial arts has had its own demons to slay. It has battled drug use among some of its best athletes, a steroids mess that threatened to destroy much of the positive strides the sport had made.
The world of MMA has had its good days and great days and bad days and awful days.
Like all sports.
“It’s ridiculous, though, when the sport is shown in a negative way because of the actions of a few guys not known by anyone,” said Shawn Tompkins, a trainer at TapouT Training Center in Las Vegas who has worked with all levels of fighters. “Just because you’re wearing MMA gloves and hitting a bag doesn’t make you a fighter.
“MMA, especially the UFC, has gone Hollywood in the mainstream media. Fighters walk the red carpet now and are featured in movies. There is a lot of glamour attached to the sport now, and I think that attracts all kinds of people to it. They think it’s cool to be known as an MMA fighter, but so few guys really are at that elite level.”
It makes a card like tonight’s all the better.
Lesnar-Carwin has earned much of the pre-116 hype, and deservedly so. Lesnar might be more appreciative of his standing today after suffering through a serious illness that put his fighting career in doubt, but you have to hope the guy who in January ripped the Canadian health care system and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals while stating his support for the National Rifle Association and all things Republican still can emerge at any second.
Drama sells, and Lesnar can provide it.
Carwin is another good story, a two-time Division II All-America linebacker who works as a full-time engineer, unbeaten in 12 fights who paints himself as an average guy but is far from it in the octagon.
So, too, is middleweight Chris Leben, who will fight Yoshihiro Akiyama in the co-main event just two weeks after knocking out Aaron Simpson at the Palms. Leben was asked to replace the injured Wanderlei Silva and obliged.
These are the stories that make MMA captivating. Real fighters. Real champions. Real contenders. This kind of card.
Stigmas can be impossible to break. It becomes tougher when guys who claim to be professionals are accused of doing horrible things and described first as MMA fighters.
“It’s wrong when a few people can give all of us in the sport working so hard a bad name,” Tompkins said. “But then you have a fight like Lesnar-Carwin, and everyone can see for themselves how great the sport really is at its highest level.”
That’s the hope for tonight, anyway.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618.