Sports have long been built on amazing rivalries. Lakers-Celtics, Red Sox-Yankees, the list goes on but lately there’s been a void in genuine sports animosity.
Gone are the days of the Pistons and Celtics pushing the line of physicality on the court and being unapologetic post-game. The feeling fans had when seeing the Yanks and Sox clear the benches after Pedro Martinez took a swing at a charging old coach is a distant memory. Now teams/players workout before games and go to the club together afterwards, i.e. LeBron James and his group of NBA friends.
The WWE has been very open about being in a ‘PG Era’ of programming, compared to their late 90’s ‘Attitude Era,’ but what fans don’t realize is that all other sports have followed suit.
The NBA has really put the hammer down since the ‘Malice in the Palace,’ the NFL changed countless targeting rules due to concussions and the NHL has even discussed cutting back fighting. Boxing, one of the world’s most aggressive sports, is void of any legit rivalries. In fact, their biggest rivalry in 20 years, Mayweather-Pacquiao, was booked because Floyd invited Manny to his hotel room in Miami. There were zero negative emotions and money was the catalyst behind their fight.
The management behind these sports are putting money and safety above competition, and rightfully so, but it’s the players/fighters job to keep rivalries alive. They’ve fallen into the same overly cautious, endorsement driven, cycle as their bosses.
Remember when Barkley and other NBA players would fight yearly? The days Tyson expressed he’d eat his opponents kids and meant it? The times when even tennis players and golfers had rivalries so vicious you felt the heat between them after every major tournament?
Those days are gone, in part due to the above mentioned corporate mandated ‘PG era,’ but there’s a rivalry in the UFC that provides fans small taste of those emotions.
“Hey P*ssy are you still there?” – Jon Jones
That’s a quote of genuine dislike and hatred between two men, one of the highest levels of disrespect. A statement that was made nearly two years ago and gave the world a long-awaited taste of what a rivalry truly is.
Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones have since made their rivalry, and hatred of each other, very public and have gone back and forth on several occasions.
After losing the first fight to Jon Jones, Daniel Cormier cried backstage. Jon waste little time reminding DC of that moment. After that same fight, Jon tested positive for cocaine, a fact DC points out whenever possible.
The feud has grown to a point that it has consumed both men’s careers.
When Jon Jones was stripped of his title in May of 2015 he had to watch Cormier dominate “his” division and be proclaimed the undisputed champion. Cormier doesn’t back down from that namesake and carries himself as the best 205 pounder in the world.
At the UFC: Unstoppable press conference Jon Jones and Cormier put their feelings on front street once again.
These two face-off once again at UFC 197 in April but the true spectacle is what happens between then and now.
Look beyond the funny verbal jabs and the theatrics. These two men have given fans a 2-year window into their true characters. It’s a script Vince McMahon and the WWE would love to write-up but can’t.
The throwback notions of good vs evil, or right vs wrong, don’t apply in true rivalries. Case in point, Jon Jones who is coming off a suspension for a hit and run, losing all his sponsorships and having the UFC strip him of his title, was cheered heavily at that press conference. Daniel Cormier who is the smiling television analyst and hard-working champion was booed. A man with no legal troubles and no history of drug habits could barely speak over the noise from the crowd.
Does it not remind you of Ali taunting Joe Frazier outside of his gym?
Ali swarmed by admirers, despite his rough around the edges persona and religious/political views, and Frazier standing alone as the quiet competitor.
Fans crave these genuine rivalries. They don’t care about the fighters personal lives or beliefs outside of the ring or cage. They create alliances due to the actions within the arena and align with who their eyes and hearts say are the true champions.
That is why Jon Jones can return to an overwhelming chorus of cheers. Fans want to see the best compete, fans want to see greatness. Jon represents a historically great fighter and Cormier is his antagonist.
Cormier is the person trying to strip fans of telling their grandkids that they saw the best MMA fighter of all time compete, a loss for Jones knocks him down from that pedestal, and fans love history above morality.
These are why rivalries, true and honest rivalries, are needed in sports. It blurs lines that outside of a sporting event would be unacceptable. It provides fans with the escape they crave from normality and the rules of society. The biggest and best competitor gets cheered, the lesser booed, such a simple premise.
Jones vs Cormier have brought that lost aspect back to sports and in today’s era there’s no telling when fans will get to see that again.