All across sports, there are games within games. For example, in baseball, it is very common for a batter to step out of the box just before a pitcher is going to deliver a pitch. It’s an effort by the batter to frustrate the pitcher and get him off of his game. It works both ways, though, considering that a pitcher can frustrate a batter by stepping off the rubber in the same fashion. Naturally, you can’t do anything like this in mixed martial arts, but the biggest way that fighters get into their opponent’s head is by not just trash-talking before the fight, but by going after someone’s personal appearance.

Gray Maynard was able to use this tactic to get Clay Guida to braid his hair in a pseudo-cornrow style for their fight in June of last year. “The Carpenter’s” high endurance level is one of his signatures, but so is his long wavy hair. But, for some reason, Maynard didn’t want to fight Guida unless something was done about his hair. Not once in Guida’s 41 previous fights had his opponent done or said anything about the hair, but “The Bully” lived up to his nickname and was able to bully Guida into braiding his hair. Maynard ended up winning the fight by split decision, but the fact that he was able to get Guida to do something about all that hair shows that he won the psychological battle too.

Recently, Roy Nelson’s UFC 166 opponent, Daniel Cormier, has been vocal about wanting Nelson to shave. Nelson sports a long, bushy beard, and Cormier claims that he is worried about contracting any diseases that may reside within it. The Ultimate Fighter season-10 winner has had his now-trademark beard for several fights. He has also been hearing similar remarks for quite some time. Cormier said the following in reference to talking to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, the overseeing commission for the fight:

“I’m going to request that there’s a rubber band in it and that it comes straight down. Also, I’m going to ask that they put his hair in two parts off to the side. Part it down the middle, part it on the sides. I don’t want it all in my face.”

To some degree, these are logical requests. It wouldn’t be surprising to see this fight hit the mat considering the combined jiu-jitsu and wrestling credentials of the two big men, and it makes sense that the American Kickboxing Academy fighter doesn’t want to have Nelson’s beard in his face or get snagged somewhere while trying to advance position or attempt a submission.

But what is being left out of the conversation is the other beards that exist in the sport. Welterweight No. 1 contender Johny Hendricks grows a big bushy beard before each of his fights. Court McGee has been known to have a large beard on his face as well. There have been plenty of others as well who have shown up with a bush on their face, and at least publicly, we haven’t heard complaints from their opponents, other than Jorge Masvidal.

Since his time on The Ultimate Fighter: Live, Michael Chiesa has been known for his trademark bushy beard. The two met recently, and Masvidal made it clear that he didn’t like “Maverick’s” beard, saying some of the same things that Cormier has said.

But what Masvidal and “DC” have in common is that their timelines are messed up. Nelson’s big bushy beard has been been on his face for his last four fights, making it logical that when signing on to fight against him, Cormier knew the beard was part of the package deal. Letting the ink dry on the fight contract and then making his complaint, frankly, feels backwards.

This is exactly why it has the feel of a game within a game being played by Cormier. “DC” is trying to get into the head of Nelson before their bout next Saturday night. To point out the obvious, “Big Country” will not perform any better or any worse if he was clean shaven or if he had a beard bigger than his current one.

The only way Nelson would shave at this point would be if the commission rules that he has to, which would be shocking to see with just eight days before the fight. If at the end of the day the whole thing was in fact a ploy to try to get inside Nelson’s head, it is a fairly weak attempt. Nelson has already endured criticism for the beard during the build-up for previous fights and hasn’t let it get to him, so why would that change now?

So, for anyone out there who plans on fighting Nelson, here’s a small piece of advice: ask him to agree to shave his beard before signing the fight contract. But be forewarned, the beard is staying.

Photo: Roy Nelson (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

About The Author

Brian McKenna
Staff Writer

Brian McKenna was born and raised in the suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts. A sports nut from as long as he can remember, he came to be a fan of Mixed Martial Arts from a roommate watching The Ultimate Fighter while attending Westfield State College. Brian came to writing by starting his own blog, Four Down Territory, which focuses on Boston based sports, life, and of course MMA.