It was a busy weekend for mixed martial arts fans, with fight cards from the UFC and Bellator going head-to-head and offerings from other organizations like KSW. But if you paid attention to one fight card in particular, you saw some of the best traits that MMA can offer.
An entertaining main card at Bellator 220 on Saturday night was capped with two title fights. In the co-main event, Bellator flyweight champion Ilima Lei-Macfarlane defended her title against Veta Arteaga. Macfarlane was on the defensive from the very beginning of the fight. Her previous title defenses were never in serious jeopardy, but Arteaga was aggressive from the onset and looked like she won at least one of the first two rounds after busting up Macfarlane’s face with strikes and holding her own on the mat with Macfarlane, who is one of the best submission fighters around.
But then, this happened:
— Bellator MMA (@BellatorMMA) April 28, 2019
A hard, slicing elbow from Macfarlane literally split Arteaga’s forehead wide open and caused it to gush blood, which resulted in the fight being called off due to a doctor’s stoppage. In her postfight interview, Macfarlane offered Arteaga an immediate rematch. Which is a tremendous show of sportsmanship on Macfarlane’s part and shows that even in the current MMA landscape, where titles are basically treated as nothing but props and trinkets and deserving contenders are routinely passed over for “money fights,” there is at least one champion who recognizes the responsibility that comes with holding a title.
Many people might argue that Macfarlane wouldn’t be blamed if she didn’t want to fight Arteaga again. Arteaga gave Macfarlane all she could handle through the first two rounds, and a doctor’s stoppage is every bit as valid a way to finish a fight as a knockout or submission. Even I wouldn’t have blamed Macfarlane if she decided her business with Arteaga was done and she wanted to move on to a new opponent.
But with each title defense, Macfarlane wants to prove more and more that she is the best flyweight in the world. Offering Arteaga a rematch and wanting to leave zero doubt as to who is the better fighter is to be lauded on Macfarlane’s part.
The main event displayed another positive aspect that is rarely seen in MMA. Bellator welterweight champion Rory MacDonald defended his title against Jon Fitch as part of the Bellator Welterweight Grand Prix. The fight was ruled a majority draw, but MacDonald kept his title and advanced in the tournament. But the biggest story from that fight is what MacDonald said afterward:
"I don't know if I have that same drive to hurt people anymore." pic.twitter.com/6Iosk6RPID
— DAZN USA (@DAZN_USA) April 28, 2019
MacDonald has become a devoutly religious man and admitted that he isn’t sure if he wants to keep fighting, and cited his faith during the interview as a reason why. We can hope that insensitive, uncaring, ignorant “fans” would not criticize MacDonald for admitting that, but that would probably be asking too much for the majority of the MMA fanbase.
If MacDonald is having a crisis of faith and truly isn’t sure if he wants to continue competing in MMA – which he has done since he was a teenager – that is his decision to make and his alone. It’s always better when an athlete decides he/she had enough and retires on their own terms, instead of hanging around too long and continuing to compete for little more than just money.
MacDonald’s self-awareness and deciding that his fighting career might be at odds with his religious faith are traits that we should expect most, if not all fighters to possess. One of the qualities that makes MMA so unique and special is the diversity of its personalities. There are loud trash talkers like Conor McGregor and Ben Askren. There are ruthless fighters who prefer to let their performance do the talking, like Khabib Nurmagomedov or Kamaru Usman, and there are workmanlike fighters who just do their job and do it very well, like Daniel Cormier, Jon Jones, Max Holloway or Dustin Poirier.
There is room for MMA for fighters of all styles, whether it’s fighting style or how he/she chooses to conduct herself. The way Macfarlane and MacDonald conducted themselves this weekend is how fighters and fans alike should aspire to be every single day, and it makes MMA better for everyone.
Photo Credit: Bellator MMA