Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sherdog.com, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company, Evolve Media.
Even after 17 years of watching mixed martial arts obsessively and over a decade of covering it professionally, it's still hard for me to wrap my head around a big fight week sometimes. Case in point, a listener rang into “Cheap Seats” this past Monday and asked me if the hype around UFC 202 (Online Betting) felt “big enough” at that point in time. Even though I was quick to point out that even the grandest Ultimate Fighting Championship events don't hit their promotional stride until Wednesday or Thursday, I knew exactly what he meant.
August is traditionally a leaner time for the UFC and ticket sales for 202 have been slow compared to the first Nate Diaz-Conor McGregor showdown at UFC 196 in March. It's possible the event doesn't hit a million pay-per-view buys. Yes, UFC 202 will be a financial success and spectacle for Zuffa regardless but what if that classic big fight hype never came and a classic rematch fell short of perhaps unfairly lofty expectations?
And then, Wednesday, in Las Vegas' Copperfield Theater, boys threw bottles. More accurately, grown men -- your UFC 202 headliners, the men responsible for 2016's hottest MMA rivalry and their respective crews -- threw bottles. And energy drink cans and coffee cups. They threw everything; it was outstanding. Fight week was here.
Maybe it's a growing cynicism, maybe it's folks finally growing up and accepting MMA for the freakshow it is, but I'm quite enthused to see nearly the whole MMA world embrace the Diaz-McGregor bottle shootout for what it was: two dudes who hate each other, about to fight for millions of dollars, completely freaking out in a way beneficial to getting attention and making money. I can't say with certainty that their antics will ensure another 100,000 PPV buys, but the stunt obviously didn't hurt.
TSN's Sportscentre here in Canada gave the incident considerable play on the overnight and morning editions, and ESPN in America got in on the act, too: while taping the Sherdog Radio Network Roundtable for UFC 202 on Wednesday evening, we needed to break briefly as co-panelist Brett Okamoto of ESPN was whisked away to do an on-camera spot for “The Worldwide Leader in Sports” on the bottle-throwing lunacy. Most importantly, did it make WorldStarHipHop? Yes it did, over 320,000 views and climbing as of Thursday morning. If people weren't talking about Diaz-McGregor 2, they are now and all it took was a few bottles, cans and cups combined with delightfully poor judgment.
As I said, I'm thrilled that people have if not outright celebrated the incident, have at least tolerated it. Is it chaotic, anarchic and immature? Yes. But was this really dangerous in any way? Only if you're a truly literal “Think of the children!” type who agonizes over a bottle of water killing a child at a UFC press event. Yes, I know Nick Diaz was quick to whip his phone out to say McGregor dinged some kids with bottles. But on the serious tip, no one got hurt, largely in part due to UFC public relations hitter Dave Sholler finding a more dignified way to insert himself into a public meltdown than when Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier threw him through a curtain, bear hugging McGregor and running him off the dais. Another memetic Dave Sholler moment during a UFC PR car crash? This is a categorical positive.
There is sober and rational ways to evaluate the general positive worth of an event like this. Ask yourself a few questions: is the event staged or is it spontaneous and legitimate? Did anyone do something truly awful? Did anyone actually get hurt? Will it result in negative media coverage? Will it help the fight itself make money?
All checks on the side of bottle tossing. The event was certainly spontaneous and legitimate, no one yelled out anything homophobic or misogynistic like Mike Tyson during his media blowups (although McGregor did call Diaz and his crew “eses”), no one got punched or soccer kicked in a fracas, it's only netted positive attention and potential PPV buys. By all accounts thus far, UFC Bottle Toss 2016 was a rousing success.
When it comes to these sorts of MMA crew confrontations, the worst of things tend to come in post-fight situations. When wins and losses have just been decided, fighters and their teams still have much higher adrenaline flowing than press conference day, you get really potentially hazardous situations. This is when you get John Marsh bouncing a water bottle off of a cabbage-patching Wesley Correira after he beat “Tank” David Abbott at UFC 45 and starting a brawl. This is how you end up with the Chute Boxe-Hammer House brawl after Mark Coleman broke Mauricio Rua's arm in Pride. This is how you end up with the Nashville brawl live on CBS with the Cesar Gracie crew stomping “Mayhem” Jason Miller. The post-fight tensions in MMA tend to produce the more vicious, streetfight-style instances of chaos with both much greater potential for physical harm and tut-tutting media coverage.
And honestly, this isn't even just your average outgrowth of misplaced rage, like many pre-fight prizefighting dust-ups. What makes Diaz and McGregor throwing bottles like idiots so good is that it comes from the heart, it's a slice of both men. When McGregor exercised his promotional privilege and sauntered into the press conference late, all it took was a look from Nick Diaz to his younger brother on the stage. You knew that once Nick send that brotherly mindshape to Nate that the younger Diaz wasn't going to sit there and get punked by a guy he just humiliated in five months ago.
“F--k your whole team,” Diaz said, middle fingers up, leaving the dais. Then, just before him and his team hit the exits, with the Irishman antagonizing them from the stage, they started firing bottles and it was on. It wasn't a scripted, agreed-upon “We'll face off and then I'll push you” deal, it wasn't the boxing-style pre-fight melee where one guy just snaps and fires a cross at his opponent in a suit. Nate Diaz was just being Nate Diaz, refusing to let any man try to punk him, especially in front of an audience. McGregor revels in trying to publicly punk people. I won't say bottles had to fly, but it was hardly the worst of options.
It's a beautiful moment because it's the Diaz-McGregor feud in microcosm. Diaz wasn't supposed to be here in the first place and McGregor still treats him this way, despite Diaz styling on him at UFC 196; this is the sort of fundamental social slight that a Diaz brother will not stand for, let alone having their homies called “crackhead eses.” On the other hand, whether or not he's already tapped him once, McGregor is everything the Diaz brothers hate. Hell, Nick claims that he's “the original McGregor.”
The Diaz brothers operate in a realm beyond having chips on their shoulders and bordering on outright paranoia. In their world, no one trains as hard and no one is as hard as them, but it's the system -- from their own promoters who slight them, to the regulators who bust them for smoking pot, to the judges who rob them -- that are around every corner, trying to stop them from buying a house or copping a Cadillac for their mother. Nick Diaz may take the brunt of the regulatory punishment, but it's still Nate who Dana White said wasn't “a needle mover” despite of being one of the UFC's most organically popular roster fighters. It's still Nate who seized the biggest moment of his or his brother's careers, cashed in and now McGregor is going to show up to the press conference late? Somebody had to throw something.
All is well that ends well. If there wasn't hype for UFC 202 before this, there is now. If you forgot that Nate Diaz and Conor McGregor is a legitimate rivalry between two unique and disparate fighters with every reason to hate each other, this was your reminder. The children are safe and maybe, if the parties involved are lucky, they'll sell those last tickets getting stale and chalk up some more PPV buys.
And, if you're still not convinced, here's Jake Shields attempting to hurl a venti-sized Starbucks cup. I rest my case.
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