"I don't talk," Benson Henderson yelled out towards the crowd and the media rows. "I do it in here. You guys get it?"
According to multiple reports at Saturday's UFC on Fox event, Henderson had a message for reporters and observers in general after successfully defending his lightweight title with a dominating unanimous decision win over Nate Diaz.
Unfortunately there is much that the viewing public, often led by fickle media members, do not "get" about guys like Henderson and sport fighting. While we don't know precisely what had "Bendo" so worked up after his fight, it is likely that frustration over being called a "point fighter" and "decision fighter" recently fueled some of that fire.
Henderson has become a legitimate phenomenon over the past few years, first earning the WEC lightweight belt, then climbing his way to the top of the UFC mountain after losing the now-defunct organization's belt in their final event. He has not lost in the UFC but many have pointed out the fact that none of his UFC wins have come by way of submission or knockout as evidence of his being a fighter who "plays it safe."
The accusative tag is one that longtime welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre has also been labeled with. When writers call someone a "point fighter," or one that "plays it safe," the implication is that he or she does not try hard for the finish during competition. Guys like St. Pierre and Henderson, the idea goes, are capable of finishing any and all opponents if they simply will it. That they often fight to and win decisions is supposed to be wholesale proof that they do not fight hard enough.
This line of lazy thinking often replaces actual fight analysis and is, of course, ludicrous. When Clay Guida or Nate Diaz somehow manages to hold on to their consciousnesses after being dropped by brutal punches delivered from Henderson, it isn't for lack of effort from him. Similarly, when Dan Hardy has his elbow nearly bowed while locked into an arm bar by St. Pierre but refuses to give up or when Jon Fitch simply will not quit despite taking one of the most hellacious beatings in UFC history at the hands of the Canadian, it isn't the champion's "fault" that the fights go to decision.
Henderson in particular must feel like he's in the Twilight Zone when commentators accuse him of "playing it safe." The UFC's lightweight champion is as reckless as they come.
Henderson is a perpetual motion machine, only taking big swings at his opponents and leaping around the cage in pursuit of a finish. But for some that isn't enough.
Some observers seem to have taken the whole "MMA fighters are modern-day gladiators" metaphor too literally. Fighters are brave combatants, to be sure. Unlike actual ancient gladiators, however, they are not slaves forced to fight to the death for society's collective titillation. They are, in fact, athletes in a free society.
At this point in their careers, UFC champions like Henderson and St. Pierre are always fighting equally tough, well-conditioned athletes. Opponents that do not just wilt under pressure. Often, the only things separating Henderson or St-Pierre from their conquered foes are superior skill and strategy. So yes, sometimes competitions are close in MMA. Sometimes they go the distance. In other sports, that isn't considered a bad thing in and of itself.
What is a last-second winning shot or walk-off home run, after all, if not barely winning? In basketball and baseball it is celebrated. In MMA, among some members of the media who usually don't understand the techniques they are watching during fights it is increasingly flippantly dismissed as the result of some type of character flaw in fighters.
The truth is that fight observers who only sum up complex contests and fight careers by listing the most superficial and least-telling statistics only embarrass themselves by revealing how little they know about the sport they cover.
Henderson has said that he does not care how he wins, just that he does. Good.
All great champions have had that same mentality. Henderson doesn't cheat to win, he works tirelessly in the gym and it shows in the frantic pace he pushes in all of his fights.
Winning any way you can is the same thing as putting victory over everything. That is certainly something to celebrate in competitors. Winning isn't everything, it is the only thing -- one of modern sports' best competitive minds once said.
Those fighters who embody that ethic should get the same type of respect that Coach Vince Lombardi got for being singularly focused on winning. Not winning in style, just winning.
As for the media that covers the fights, it would behoove us to begin learning more about what it takes to do what amazing athletes and competitors like Benson Henderson, Georges St. Pierre and the rest do. It will only help us provide better analysis for our readers and viewers.
Do a sit up, take a punch, spend time in the gym with them. Or if we're too scared to do these things, at least use our imaginations to attempt empathy for the challenges fighters face in the ring.
Whatever it takes. Please, fight media, just stop playing it so safe.
Elias Cepeda has covered boxing and MMA since 2005 and is a voting member of the Yahoo! Sports MMA Pound for Pound Rankings panel. Follow Elias on twitter @EliasCepeda
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