As the MMA sphere picks itself back up following the news of a GOAT’s indiscretions, this article focuses on a more positive element of the MMA spectacle that has drawn so many of us in, the significance of walkout music.

When Zuffa acquired ownership of the UFC from Semaphore Entertainment Group fourteen years ago in January 2001, the company’s leading men wasted no time making changes to the promotion and its operations.

From a production standpoint, we saw revolutionary camera angles and elite lighting fixtures installed to improve the viewer’s experience of MMA, both live and via television. The grand stage with big screens and pyro reminiscent of a professional wrestling event was taken down, providing more seat to meet the rising demand for the sport.

As fighters started emerging from the doldrums of the arena, passing through the crowd enroute to the cage, one aspect of the original entrance format that remained was the walkout song.

Through the medium of music, the dynamic energy and pageantry of a MMA event lives well beyond the in-cage or in-ring fighting. Active competitors sacrifice countless hours and a normal livelihood in exchange for a precious few minutes performing in front of a live crowd. For many of these fighters, the walk-out to the cage offers an extension of that performance, a chance to express themselves before a global audience using a soundtrack as their main communicator.

With examples in tow, here a few motivations behind the selection of walkout music.

 

Brand and Character Building

Many of mixed martial arts’ biggest names look at the sport as both active competitors and business opportunists. Embracing every moment in the spotlight to shape their public perception, the walkout anthem is a huge component of establishing and sustaining their brand over a long period of time.

This topic presented itself in the days before UFC 183, with Dana White insisting that Anderson Silva use his regular walkout song, ‘No Sunshine’ by DMX, on his return to the Octagon after 13 months away. Although Silva had expressed interest in using a new song to celebrate his rehabilitation and return, anyone who had watched Silva’s extensive reign as UFC middleweight champion could understand White’s reasoning.

The sombre beat, wailing guitar effect and interspersed piano melody that supported DMX’s imposing lyrics cast a silence over live crowds, adding to the mysticism surrounding Silva and his borderline inhuman physical capabilities. By the time of Silva’s fight with Stephan Bonner at UFC 153, ‘No Sunshine’ had become a modern day death knell, signalling that the inevitable was about to happen. While recent news has brought Silva’s legacy into question, the subtle significance of his consistent walkout music is undeniable.

For other athletes, the introduction of a walkout song offers an opportunity to respect their culture ahead of a fight.

The UFC’s heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez is perhaps the prime case for this. Embracing his Latin heritage through tattoos and an entrance to Vicente Fernandez’s ‘Los Mandados’, Velasquez positioned himself to headline the promotion’s debut in Mexico at UFC 180, before an injury pulled him from the event.

Competitors like Lyoto Machida and Conor McGregor have also embraced this notion. Machida’s walkout includes the Machida family war song, performed by his father Sensei Yoshizo Machida, while McGregor respects the fighting spirit of his Irish nation using the tones of Sinéad O’Connor from ‘The Foggy Dew’ before The Notorious B.I.G.’s Hypnotize kicks in. Embracing these symbols of familial and national heritage has contributed to each fighter’s respective popularity in their home nation, adding an extra layer of character appeal that endears them to the UFC, sponsors, and fans.

 

Motivation or Relaxation

Other fighters have spoken about their entrance music’s power to regulate emotions.

The day of an event is a tense and nerve-wrecking time for many MMA competitors. Personalities like Brendan Schaub have spoken of emotions like doubt, delusion, fear and excitement that swirl in the air prior to fight time. The walkout anthem, combined with the antics of babysitter Burt Watson, provide a valuable opportunity to dissipate negative emotions, allowing a competitor to focus themselves on the task at hand.

Some talents use an energizing track to motivate them and establish a tempo for the pace they intend to keep once the action commences. Wanderlei Silva’s famous theme ‘Sandstorm’ by Darude springs to mind as one song that set an explosive tone whenever The Axe Murderer walked out.

Speaking to the range of personalities that exist in the sport, there are other fighters who use their music as a tool to supress the adrenaline rush that accompanies performing in front of a capacity crowd. The excessive release of this chemical has prompted the famous adrenaline dump that saps competitors of their energy and negatively affected performance.

Former welterweight title contender Dan Hardy is one athlete who subscribes to this theory. The Outlaw spoke publicly on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast about his transition from Cock Sparrer’s abrasive, yet upbeat ‘England Belongs to Me’ to Woodkid’s ‘Iron’, citing the calming effect of his new choice and its residual ability to enhance his stamina and decision-making when competing.

 

Fight Promotion

If a competitor allows it, entrance music also has a role to play in the wider context of a fight’s promotional narrative. Through the medium of music, a fighter can send an abstract message conveying their emotional state; thought process; contempt for their opponent.

A prime example would be Rashad Evan’s use of Immortal Technique’s ‘Point of No Return’ when facing Chuck Liddell at UFC 88 and Jon Jones at UFC 145 respectively. The sinister lyrics, which reference various brutal acts of suppression over history, provided an unsettling contrast to the jovial antics of Evan’s showboating in early bouts. The song ultimately foreshadowed Evan’s knockout of Liddell. For the long-anticipated fight with Jones, ‘Point of No Return’ carried a different meaning. It signalled the end of months of trash talk and personal animosity as the pair finally arrived to the Octagon, truly the point of no return.

As another example, Jose Aldo’s signature track ‘Run This Town’ by Jay-Z, speaks to his position at the top of the UFC’s featherweight division. Ahead of respective fights with Urijah Faber and Mark Hominick at WEC 48 and UFC 129 the anthem held added significance. Each event took place in the challenger’s home city and by alluding to this fact and his intent to take over, Aldo antagonized his opponents potentially developing a competitive edge before the fights had officially started.

A carefully selected track can build anticipation and suspense for the impending contest, adding to the aura that surrounds many must-see fights. Integral to the show’s atmosphere, the fighter’s mentality and the fan’s entertainment since the sport’s inception, walkout songs continue to benefit the MMA product to this day.