IT PAYS TO SPEAK ENGLISH IN THE UFC
Você fala inglês?
That’s about as far as my Portuguese goes, but then again, neither my career or potential salary is dependent on my ability to speak a second language. However, could the same be said if I were a current UFC fighter, who doesn’t happen to speak English?
‘The Fight Game’ has never been as simple as just physically beating your opponent on a given night. The wars of words and self promotion have always played an integral part of it as well, especially whenever money is involved, and in the UFC, this pre-competition hype has become an increasingly necessary skill to master, for every fighter who wants to have the most successful career possible. Business-men will tell you that “money, is the only language you have to speak”, but when the significant profits of an organization are generated specifically by an English-Speaking audience, it’s in the interest of the employees to speak that same lingo. And now, never more so than during this ‘McGregor Era’ of: psychological warfare, social media influence, financial gain over merit and every single fighter wanting to tell the Mrs. to “break out the red panties”.
The most prolific non English-speaking casualty of this reality, has to be José Aldo.
The once dominant champion, worthy of both P4P and G.O.A.T consideration, was comfortable in a UFC where fellow ‘unbeatable’ Brazilian champions, like Anderson Silva and Renan Barão, were only really expected to ‘talk’ when the octagon door closed behind them. As the sport has grown and evolved, that unanimity no longer exists and opinions that given in another language, now tend to fall on a majority of deaf ears. Just remember how one-sided that ‘World Media Tour’ for his McGregor fight was:
starting off in Portuguese-speaking Rio de Janeiro, but then the next seven cities (in four different countries) catered solely to English-speaking audiences, and subjugated the champion to a ‘verbal-punching bag’ starring role in ‘The McGregor Show’.
Imagine yourself, being forced to speak at packed stadiums and appear on numerous television shows, watched by millions… but you had to do it in Russia (for example):
With every single ‘performance’, your Russian-speaking opponent gains more momentum, and becomes more outlandish, as the Russian-speaking crowds in front of you are lapping it up; laughing, cheering, shouting… and all the while, you haven’t got a clue what’s going on, until you’ve waited for your translator to try and explain to you what’s been said to create such a hysteria.
Then eventually, when it’s finally your turn to reply in English: no one there is actually listening to what you are saying (because it’s not in Russian) and they are instead waiting in turn for the translator to speak to them afterwards. However poignant and cutting your replies may be in your own English language: there’s no guarantee that they’ll hold the same resonance once translated into Russian, and even if they are translated correctly (which doesn’t always happen), they will still be delivered in the translator’s monotone, uninspiring voice on your behalf.
So now, after his 13 seconds against McGregor, one of the best ever UFC fighters is effectively sidelined from competition, with only an interim belt (which he’s refusing to defend) to comfort him, whilst waiting for the, ever unlikely, Featherweight return of the official champion. Currently, his inability to enter the English-speaking Hype Market is not only affecting the progression of his career, but by losing his belt to possibly the greatest verbal assassin that the UFC has ever seen, unfortunately, it would seem as if his entire legacy has been completely forgotten about by the majority of ‘fans’.
Jacaré Souza is another victim of the “não fala Inglês” handicap this year.
Having only ever lost to Yoel Romero in the UFC (who was yet to return from a USADA suspension he received after that fight) Souza was the logical replacement to challenge Luke Rockhold for the Middleweight Belt at UFC 199 after Chris Weidman had to pull out of that rematch.
But “An alligator don’t speak English!” as Rockhold put it.
Preferring an “Easy fight” that the fans would pay to see instead, Rockhold “chose” Michael Bisping: The British ‘King of Banter’, who could ‘sell pants to a nudist’ before Souza’s translator had even a chance explained to him why the guy was naked in the first place.
Then, even though Bisping hadn’t read the script that night, left-hooking himself a #AndNew, Souza’s efforts to stay active and relevant, with a first round TKO of Vitor Belfort, counted for little in securing himself a title shot once again. Especially when the seven-year-old (English-speaking) beef between Bisping and Hendo had already captured the attention of both the fans and the eye of the UFC’s Finance Department.
Another more recent example, could also be John Lineker.
Even if he hadn’t shot himself in the foot by missing weight yet again at FN96 and had beaten Dodson in some spectacular highlight-reel fashion: in hindsight now, it’s hard to think that anybody else other than Cody Garbrandt, was going to get the next crack at the Bantamweight Belt of Dominick Cruz. In his post-fight speech, Lineker clearly called out the champ in Portuguese, but it was silenced by the intense English narrative built up between The Dominator and No Love, which effectively monopolized to attention of the fans.
Don’t forget that the UFC is an organization that has even gone as far as to subtitle some British, Irish and Australian fighters with thick regional accents, to ensure the American audiences are able to understand them… even though they are speaking in the same English mother tongue!
Having personally lived in foreign countries for the majority of my adult life, I understand the frustrations of not being able to communicate effectively with the people around me. However, my annoyance at being served a ham sandwich, when I thought I’d asked for chicken, pails in insignificance to a UFC fighter: missing out on a zero added to their pay, not being able to get a title shot or receiving less backing from the fans as a result of not being able to effectively communicate directly with them.
To sum up, as a modern UFC fighter already tackles a subjective rankings system, ever under threat of being leapfrogged by a potential ‘Money Fight’ competitor behind them, words can prove to be just as effective as punches during their unguaranteed climb to the top. In the same way as a fighter can benefit from being able to draw upon a wealthy arsenal of strikes during the physical combat side of the sport, it now seems increasingly more important to hone their ‘verbal assault’ skillset at the same time.
And, like it or not, the most powerful UFC strikes, in the fight to generate interest and self-promote, are delivered in The English Language.