MMA gives itself a black eye now and again

Chad Mendes is getting more attention for fights outside the cage than for ones inside of it. Ric Fogel for ESPN.com

Touching gloves before a fight isn’t enough to prove what’s about to go down is civilized. Nor is a postfight embrace, or posing for a picture together -- bloodied and tattered, like Dan Henderson and Mauricio Rua did after UFC 139 -- while the hematomas are still fresh shades of purple.

If anything, these things act as signposts toward the decay of civilization. At least to some people.

Peter Gammons, NESN baseball analyst and former ESPN analyst, recently went on Twitter and wondered publicly: “Can civilization go lower than WWE and or UFC?” He was referring to Ken Shamrock, who allegedly punched two women at a mall in California. Never mind that it’s a loose association between a man’s (pretty public) private life and his onetime occupation -- it still associates.

Gentlemen, fire up your retweets.

Columnist George Will wrote something similar not that long ago in the Washington Post, that MMA is “prizefighting for degenerates.” He was making a reference about the guilt in watching pro football players concuss each other incidentally rather than on purpose, which is how it’s done in MMA and boxing. At least the NFL disguises its brutality, in other words, rather than spotlighting this ... this … this dehumanizing truth. Truth about what? What we find entertaining? Our nature? That last thing will always be met with denial.

Obviously, neither Gammons nor Will can be accused of falling into the UFC’s target demographic of 18-35. They are regally immune to talk of the “fastest-growing sport in the world” even being considered a sport, just like plenty of others. And it won’t be the last time that perukes will catch fire while sneaking glimpses of MMA. In fact, many die-hard fans were squeamish the first time they watched. Just like in a street fight, it takes a minute to adjust to the idea that “somebody might get hurt.” The reality that somebody might get hurt intentionally is a hurdle a lot of people simply won’t clear.

That’s always been the case. It takes all kinds.

But you know what’s indefensible? That MMA practitioners so often give ammunition to detractors, to the point that “associations” are inevitable, and “degenerate” becomes an uncomfortably apt word.

It’s not one incident, or even a few; it’s a symphony. If it’s not Shamrock punching a woman, it’s Brett Rogers assaulting his wife, or Lee Murray robbing a bank, or Quinton Jackson spreeing down the highway eluding police, or War Machine and his nirvana blogs from the clink, or Junie Browning, or Chad Mendes getting arrested for a sucker punch, or Mike Whitehead and Jeremy Jackson, or insensitive tweets from Forrest Griffin or Miguel Torres, and Joe Son -- actually, the less said about Joe Son, the better.

I could go on.

For all the good and respectable things going on in MMA, the cage isn’t big enough to contain its cast of characters at large in the world. Even a ring girl recently got her mug shot made for fighting with a boyfriend. In MMA culture, it's just what happens.

So Gammons and Will are justified. But so is MMA. The UFC happily shakes up the PC world and that’s still part of its niche-y allure. Not everyone can be about convention. In fact, the idea of doing away with civilities once in a while should be a welcome thing. An ideal life isn’t homogeny.

But in a sport already looked upon as a Mad Max dystopia to conventional tastes, it doesn’t help to have so many negative headlines outside the cage. If people want to call you a rogue for fighting, so be it. You have to trust that in the end the art will prevail.

Just beware of the associations that seep in. The last thing you want to do is prove that “prizefighting for degenerates” is a fair statement.