Most often, the things we read concerning MMA fighters come from an outsider’s perspective looking into their lives. We take the information that is put out there and it gets filtered through the prism of public opinion and a writer’s deadline. I often wonder what it must be like to be on the receiving end of so much scrutiny, even though we are all aware that promotion is a part of a fighter’s job.

Some MMA websites simply hunt for traffic with attention-grabbing topics and equally unprofessional media types freely offer criticism—without a second thought of it being based on fact. This behavior ignores any concern for the responsibility or tact that comes with free speech. With the availability of social media becoming an ever-present part of human evolution, that kind of amateur approach is, admittedly, an all too easy carousel to ride. So I asked a few of the fighters I have interviewed recently what they think about the many faces looking into their fishbowl.

As someone who came into being part of the sport as simply a fan and graduated to writing weekly assignments on various topics and fighters in MMA, I wonder if not having actually trained or fought MMA is some sort of sin, and if professional fighters would be more open to criticism from people that actually have that experience.

Politically outspoken UFC lightweight Jacob Volkmann would like to see some people put their money where their mouth is, yet understands how opinions work.

“Critics. If they’re going to be critics, yes,” said Volkmann to whether MMA media should fight or train. “But who cares? You can have an opinion just like I have an opinion about politics. I’ve never been in politics. Same thing.”

UFC welterweight C.B. Dollaway gets that people in media might not have had first-hand experience in his realm, and he sees that as something that would inhibit them from being able to cover MMA with a full potential of understanding.

“Yeah, but obviously if they are a fighter themselves they can understand it better,” said Dollaway. “Not every football analyst was a football player, but the good ones or the great ones usually were.  [Those like] John Madden were coaches and players themselves, and I definitely believe it helps.”

Two of the fighters I spoke to, Volkmann and UFC middleweight Mike Stumpf, said that they barely even keep up with MMA media coverage, seeing as how they are usually in the middle of training when the media comes knocking for their thoughts on upcoming fights. Or, in the case of Stumpf, some fighter are just not concerned with it.

“I honestly couldn’t tell you a whole lot about the MMA media. I’ve only been dealing with a small handful of them,” said Stumpf. “I don’t know enough to have an opinion I guess.”

At the time of my conversation with Stumpf, he had only had one fight—a loss—in the UFC, and he was more focused on being worthy of consideration than actively seeking it. One would assume that a young fighter would strongly desire attention for himself, but that wasn’t the case for Stumpf. When consumers are fed a constant diet of catchy news and quotes, perhaps we sometimes forget the self-motivating factors that drive athletes.

“No, I don’t care about the attention,” Stumpf admitted. “[If] I keep fighting and I start winning, then it’s going to happen. I’m just fighting because I enjoy the competition, and that’s why I’m doing it. I don’t do it for the fame or for the recognition or anything like that. I love to compete and I love to train. That’s where my heart is.

“Other people’s opinion, that’s their opinion, not mine. Anyone can say what they want.”

Volkmann similarly doesn’t follow MMA media or news often, but in his case it’s due to having a busy schedule. I asked if he followed any podcasts or blogs to get a feel of people’s opinions, but Volkmann, a family man with three children, tends to consume his information the old fashioned way, through television and newspapers.

“No, no. I mostly read it on the paper or watch it on the news,” he admitted. “20/20 or 60 Minutes or something like that. I don’t really get to watch too much TV. I get to watch a lot of Spongebob and Curious George and stuff like that. Stuff for kids.”

Dollaway, a TUF 7 alum, is a full-time professional fighter, and he feels that any time taken away from working in the gym is something that should be respected.

“I’m taking the time out of my day to do it—I could be training—instead I’m doing an interview. I don’t want to be criticized for it,” he said.

Volkmann echoes that annoyance when he sees the things he said in an interview manipulated to fit a more attractive read.

“Certain ones do, yeah,” said Volkmann of MMA media doing a good job in general. “There’s a few out there that like to put stories up and mess what you say up. I don’t think you guys [at The MMA Corner] have done that. Not yet anyway. I’ve had to get on a few guys cases about putting a story out to try and spice it up a little bit, and it really irritates the crap out of me.

“Other people go off it. I get calls from people complaining about what I said and I never said that. They do a decent job, I think, overall. There’s only a few bad apples out there.”

The sites that write their stories secondhand, using content from the major MMA websites, was the biggest annoyance that Volkmann could think of within the media. He understands that public relations, such as using Twitter, is something that he should be a part of more often, but he’d rather spend his time with family or working on his chiropractic business. For the people who are at the wheel in discussing his career when he is away, Volkmann would like to see a more credible effort to back up what is being offered.

“You have other sites out there that use the bigger sites to write stories off of—does that make sense?” Volkmann asked. “They’re not really calling the person up. They’re just reading what the other sites have written and they’re writing their own stories. Like, c’mon, you’re too lazy to call somebody?”

For Dollaway, anyone that thrives off of sensationalism for personal gain or uses a fighter’s name or image to get attention for themselves isn’t really here for the sport of MMA.

“I just feel like some sites have their favorites and some sites have guys they don’t like, so they are constantly trying to put them down, or make fun of them, or what not, you know, or criticize them,” Dollaway explained. “It kinda turned me off on the MMA media, so there’s only certain ones I wanna deal with now. A lot of times, yeah, you’ll get weird media outlets that aren’t really there for the sport. They’re just trying to get a quick laugh, they’re not taking their job seriously.”

We’ve all seen humorous MMA media content poking fun at fighters. One example are memes using Steven Seagal’s image with text characterizing him as taking credit for anything MMA related. These can be worth a good chuckle and can endear us to MMA’s characters, but we are more likely to see fans or blogs writing obscene jokes or giving overly harsh criticism of fighters.

Sometimes getting through the muck of the myriad of opinions feels like it degrades the culture of the sport into nothing more than a meaningless debate or expostulation. And the availability of social media allows our thoughts to enter into the public realm faster than the fractions of a second it takes for our minds to realize that maybe we shouldn’t put a particular thought out there. That sort of thing occurs in all facets of our world and will never change.

When it comes to the media covering the sport, the credible groups will rise to prominence with solid work and the others will be seen for what they are. Even the satirical media poking fun at fighters and promotions have a place in sports culture, and I would never want that to change. They are even celebrated for breaking the mold of convention. At the end of the day, the individual consuming the media will decide how meaningful it is, whether credible or not.

After speaking with several professional fighters over my time of writing and having gotten a sense of their down-to-earth humanity, it makes it that much harder to approach the sport in any other way than what would be respectful with due merit.

Some people might not understand that most MMA fighters aren’t rich athletes living a life of glory and machismo. They are average folk with families and bills to pay, pursuing a sport they love the same we all do with our own dreams in life. They just happen to have chosen a job that strings them up in the view of the public eye. The yin and the yang that comes with that is as inescapable and open to interpretation as reality itself.

If all the detractors and outsiders, whether media or fan, were held to the same level of criticism, do you think they might think twice about what they put out there?

Photo: Jacob Volkmann (R) delivers a punch (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

About The Author

David Massey
Staff Writer

David Massey studied Humanities and Art History at the University of Central Oklahoma. He first found interest in MMA from the first TUF show and has been hooked ever since. He began posting on mmajunkie then submitting Sunday Junkie entries and that began his interest in writing about MMA. Through twitter David found other MMA enthusiasts and began contributing articles to marqueemma.com. He looks forward to growing as a writer and being a part of the sport he loves.