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Black History Month In Focus: MMA’s Underappreciated Champions

This is part of The Shadow League’s yearly Black History Month In Focus series celebrating Black excellence in sports and culture.

On October 7th, 2017 at UFC 216, a historic moment took place in Black history and you might have never known it.

Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson defeated Ray Borg in the fifth round to retain his UFC flyweight title and did so in spectacular fashion. With three minutes and fifteen seconds left in the final round of action, the flyweight kingpin unleashed a suplex-to-armbar, forcing his competitor to tap out of the bout, enabling Johnson to tap into history.

Demetrious Johnson submits Ray Borg UFC 216

Demetrious Johnson does a suplex to a mid air armbar to gain his 11th straight title defense.

With the submission of Ray Borg, Johnson surpassed the record held by Anderson “The Spider” Silva for the most consecutive title defenses in UFC championship history with 11 successful outings. The fact that he took this achievement away from Silva, an Afro-Brazilian, is an even larger testament to the power of melanin inside of the eight-sided cage.

Why these achievements aren’t celebrated with the same fervor by the world at large is in part due to MMA’s culture of dissonance with the black athlete. However, people need to rejoice at the prowess displayed by the men and women of color that decide to risk it all for martial arts glory. 

Jim Kelly:”Hollywood Was Racist Towards Bruce Lee”

Jim Kelly was the real deal when it came to martial arts. A former world champion karate master. He was chosen to play Williams in Enter The Dragon, and this kickstarted his acting career. But it wasn’t that easy for Bruce Lee back in the day, as Jim states.

Remember Jim Kelly? ‘Enter The Dragon’ was my ish too, but today’s martial artists come equipped with like 4-5 combat sports disciplines and would have taken Kelly to school in this current professional fighting climate. 

Johnson has been touted by everyone from UFC commentator and comedian Joe Rogan to UFC President Dana White as the world’s best mixed martial artist. But in the same vein, he doesn’t sell the pay-per-views to move the needle globally.  

That might be your fault. Yeah, I said it, the culpability is on you; not for your possible lack of knowing who Johnson is, but for not forcing the UFC and the world to recognize one of your own as the best in combat’s millennial’s extreme sport of choice. You and I both have heard the recent fodder about MMA being on TV almost all the time now. But as a whole, black MMA fighters aren’t feeling the love the same way that they are in sports like boxing, basketball and football.    

Johnson is not a caricature like a Floyd Mayweather and Adrien Broner. He is consistently dominant and a problem for anyone that enters a locked cage with him. As the best in the sport right now, who but black folks will truly celebrate his accomplishments and that of his peers?

Tyron Woodley is the current UFC welterweight champion and although his reign is shorter than Johnson’s almost six-year title run, it has been impactful in other ways. After a vicious first-round knockout of his American Top Team teammate Robbie Lawler for the welterweight strap back at UFC 201 in 2016, Woodley cemented his dominance with three successful title defenses. However, it was when fellow Ferguson, Missouri native Mike Brown was shot in the back by a police officer while unarmed that the champ really showed the world who he is. 

UFC star Tyron Woodley ‘outraged’ by Ferguson violence

Tyron Woodley a two-time All American wrestler at University of Missouri, who’s also from Ferguson, Missouri, says he is outraged by what happened in his hometown.

Woodley has been an outspoken opponent of police brutality and defender of his town and the State of Missouri, where he wrestled Division I for Mizzou and currently lives. Woodley was also the first UFC champion to use his platform to discuss the racial disparities he has faced as an athlete of color in the UFC system.

From a lack of black representation at the top of the UFC or any mixed martial arts promotion’s executive chart, to fighters of color being more disposable than ever, Woodley let the world know he was not having it. His statements have largely gone on deaf ears in the community from which he claims and as a result, he is one of the most disliked fighters by the main base of MMA fans and supporters. They label him a race-baiter and ‘boo’ loudly when he is shown on camera as a spectator. As a champion in the cage and of the people, he needs us more than ever right now while he is on top and fearless enough to stay there.

With other fighters in the martial arts world like former Strikeforce champion Muhammad “King Mo” Lawal and legendary global martial artists like Dutch kickboxer Rayen Simson and Muay Thai fighter Dorian Price, black don’t crack in MMA. And we the fans owe it to these pioneers to take up their cause when they are willing to risk their lives for glory and the pursuit of black excellence.

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