Welcome to the fourth edition of King and Slim, a debate column between writers Anthony Walker and Kristen King that answers a question or two related to a recent or upcoming event. This week, the pair talk about the troubling nature of the recent trash talk between UFC bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo and top contender Aljamain Sterling.
Kristen: Why is the interaction between Henry Cejudo and Aljamain Sterling problematic?
Ant: We are walking a tightrope on lines that don’t belong in sports. In fact they don’t belong in society altogether. I’m certainly not one to shy away from the idea of trash talk. I, like most of us, enjoy it to a certain degree. At its best it adds some drama to the fights and can be very entertaining. The pro wrestling style promotion can be all fun and games. However, some lines shouldn’t be crossed. Both Cejudo and Sterling crossed those lines.
Kristen: It’s easy to acknowledge that both men were wrong. I’m confused by the mentality that you have to pick one side over the other.
I shouldn’t have to say this, but a subject like racism shouldn’t be used as a promotional vehicle. I just want to see Aljamain Sterling challenge Henry Cejudo for the bantamweight title for what the fight itself would look like. All of the extra stuff isn’t doing anything for me. The sensationalistic methods to get attention just seems so unnecessary for this potential match up.
Ok, I do understand why a lot of fighters feel like they have to go this route. I realize we’re in this entertainment era where you have to make your name known, but I’d like to think that that can be done with your fighting.
Creating a character for these purposes has worked for a few people in recent memory as far as drawing attention to themselves is concerned. It’s just such a difference from the Cejudo that won the flyweight belt. He was all about saving the division and now his tune has changed. I don’t need the King of Cringe thing even if it was initially funny.
It got some extra eyes on him and got people talking but now he’s ventured off into less acceptable territory. In addition to past flashes of homophobia, he’s now added racism to the story.
I don’t believe Cejudo is a racist. Perhaps ignorance is partly to blame in his creation of a new insult for Sterling. Even if you’re unaware of the connotation behind that, there are plenty of avenues to educate yourself. Fortunately, someone like Karyn Bryant cared enough about him to let him know the meaning behind his words. For him to flip it around to a game of “whataboutism” and double down on it makes me believe he’s ok with being ignorant. And that’s not ok.
Ant: I think that’s a fair way to look at it. I have a hard time believing that Cejudo is a genuinely racist person and I think he said with less sinister intentions. He was making what he thought was a clever play on words and it sounded funny to him. I can understand that.
But if it’s brought to your attention that those words are offensive and carry more weight than you likely intended, the best thing to do is just respect that. Whether you can relate or not is irrelevant, just acknowledge that you may have crossed a line. Of course Aljo took the other direction and threw in some Mexican stereotypes and that didn’t make this any better.
I also want to make sure I express how incredible that fight is. From a style standpoint it’s fantastic. Both men have been bulldozing their opposition recently and as far as meritocracy is concerned, it’s the right match up. You don’t need this. Adding cultural insensitivity to the commercial doesn’t add any more intrigue to it for me.
Let’s be honest, neither man has really crossed over outside the realm of combat sports notoriety. Chances are if you’re interested in this fight, you’re already in the bubble and probably already appreciate what this could be should it happen. I highly doubt a poorly executed Twitter war is going to line up the casual fans.
I’m more perplexed by the people who are unable to step outside of themselves and consider someone else could be offended. It doesn’t have to relate directly to you and your experience to be valid.
Kristen: Yes! It makes absolutely no sense to completely invalidate another person’s thoughts or emotions just because it hasn’t affected you. When I’m explaining all of what’s happening between them and what’s wrong about it, it’s really that simple.
Cue the three pre-programmed responses. 1) You’re being too sensitive. 2) You’re making it about race. 3) It’s the fight game, get over it. But that’s not the point. Both men are wrong about their approach in drumming up interests. I don’t understand the need for racist tropes being into a fight. If your first response is to defend both men’s behavior citing those three reasons, you’re wrong.
Ant: I agree, but there is history behind it. Fights have been promoted along lines of cultural divisions, racial tensions, and nationalistic pride dating back to Jack Johnson, Joe Louis vs Max Schmeling, etc. It’s almost a standard formula in combat sports that we’re reminded of quite often.
However, you can’t use these sorts of things and then be surprised at the backlash. You can’t play with sensitive topics and then get upset and call people sensitive because they’re responding. It’s such a strange double standard. The idea of calling someone a snowflake but then melting everytime someone is called out on their wrongdoing is incredibly puzzling to me. These things shouldn’t coexist. Needless to say the Clapback Cartel has been very busy lately.
Kristen: The most important thing is that there is always a lesson to be learned. And that applies whether you expected to get that education or not. So if you agree or not, it’s important to hear both sides. But I feel like it should be universally accepted that racism and racist tropes are bad and shouldn’t be a marketing tool.
Apparently that’s too much to ask for because they’ll be locked in a cage with each other. “It’s just the fight game. Why worry about political correctness? This is MMA!”
Ant: I know we’ve said this before and I’m pretty sure this won’t be the last time either. Just because you like sanctioned fights and two unarmed combatants doing bodily harm to one another in the controlled environment of an athletic competition doesn’t mean that the part of your brain that responds to human decency, compassion, and empathy should malfunction. This isn’t a zero sum game. You can be a fight fan without being a trash person.
The predictable stupidity of people is always something to marvel over. If you put a tinge of racism, sexism, homophobia, or any other outdated way of looking at different people, you see a drove of halfwits lose their minds.
Kristen: I don’t know if you saw Aljo’s explanation for his part in this. He said he mentioned tacos and burritos because of some old Cejudo interview. When speaking to someone of Mexican descent, what’s the first thing that’s going to come to your mind?
Ant: Yeah, that’s a deep dive that not many people are going to get. This one seems pretty cut and dry to me: one person says something that can be interpreted as racist so the other person returns fire with something that can be interpreted as racist. That seems like a normal human response. It’s not mature or right, but I think it’s at least somewhat relatable. But maybe everybody should just try to be better.
Kristen: It’s so simple. If you get called out, don’t double down. Just apologize and move on. Talk about something else. Going down this avenue in the name of promotion isn’t the move to make.
Since this conversation took place, both Cejudo and Sterling appear to moved their social media feud in a different direction. We have our fingers crossed that the two will meet in the next bantamweight title fight
Anthony Walker is a native of the Washington DC area that now lives in Los Angeles. His work has been featured on Sherdog and MMA On Point. He is also the proud founder of the #ClapbackCartel. Come get this work.