Trash Talking In MMA
Trash talking has been a part of combat sport for over a century. Whilst not wanting to spend too long on Boxing in an MMA article, John L. Sullivan, the former Heavyweight king declared he could “lick any son of a bitch alive” in the bare-knuckle era; whilst Jack Johnson’s baiting of his white detractors in the early 20th century enhanced his own fame and public persona.
In most people’s eyes, the undisputed king of trash talk will always be Muhammad Ali. Then known as Cassius Clay, Ali, stunned the boxing world by dethroning the supposedly unbeatable Sonny Liston, and following up on his promise to “whup the big ugly bear”. Ali’s rhyming and calling of his round of victory have been an inspiration to many contemporary trash talkers, including the likes of Chael Sonnen, and man of the hour Conor McGregor.
Real trash talk in MMA came as early as the aftermath of UFC 6, as Don Frye attempted to goad then UFC Superfight champion Ken Shamrock into a fight with a slew of personal insults including accusing Shamrock of leaving his wife for a teenage girl, and claiming Ken’s father, Bob, and brother, Frank, would be in Frye’s corner rather than in Ken’s.
Frye, a famously dry and witty wisecracker riled the notoriously hot-headed Shamrock and even innovated the press conference brawl, seen most recently with Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones. The two would eventually meet, and Shamrock’s temper got the better of him, allowing the underdog Frye to clinch a split decision win at the aptly named ‘Pride: Bad Blood’ event in 2002.
Ken Shamrock vs Tito Ortiz Trash Talk
Shamrock would also be one of the main victims of the man that would take trash talk in MMA to the next level, Tito Ortiz. Then known as ‘The Huntington Beach Bad Boy’, Ortiz would feud with Randy Couture, Chuck Liddell and even Dana White during his long UFC tenure. Famous though they all are, it is his run-ins with Shamrock that have cemented his legacy as a fight seller.
Riling Shamrock after taunting and soundly defeating Ken’s training partner Guy Mezger, the two would begin a three year period of regular bad-mouthing before meeting in the Octagon, when Tito would dominate Shamrock and stop him in his stool at the end of the third round, thus (briefly) ending their vendetta.
It would be reignited after UFC 51 when Ortiz grabbed the microphone and told Shamrock “I will make you remember that I am Rick James and you ARE my bitch”, A play on the famous Chappelle Show sketch at the time. The two would be matched as coaches on
The Ultimate Fighter season 3, and Ortiz would stop him twice more in 2006. Further episodes with Rashad Evans, and a season opposite Chuck Liddell on TUF followed before his departure from the UFC, but if his tenure in Bellator is anything to go by, age has not mellowed the man now nicknamed ‘The People’s Champion’.
Another highly popular fighter that has used his mouth to enhance his career is Nick Diaz. The no-nonsense Diaz has embarked upon trash-talking wars with the likes of KJ Noons, whom he enjoyed a long, cross-promotional rivalry with; Joe Riggs where Diaz’s constant trash-talking from build-up to aftermath led to the two brawling in a Las Vegas hospital; and Diego Sanchez, who was infuriated after the Stockton native accused ‘The Nightmare’, a former Ultimate Fighter winner, of getting an easy path to the big leagues.
Georges St Pierre vs Nick Diaz
It was his feud with Georges St. Pierre though that will stick in most people’s memory. Talking his way into a much-mooted title fight with the Canadian by taunting his opponent’s pampered lifestyle and attempted to rile the champion by suggesting GSP “overcame the technical aspect by being stronger and more explosive” and that he didn’t show “real skill level”. Whilst GSP’s temperament allowed him to rise above the trash talk, Diaz’s exclamation of “Where you at Georges?!” will live in MMA memory forever.
Others, such as the hilarious Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson, motor-mouthed Josh Koscheck and even GSP himself https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EjZbq-05oRI have also indulged in pre-fight promotion, but this story cannot be told without one man; Chael P. Sonnen. Although always having had a penchant for promotion, Sonnen’s trash talk kicked into gear in the build-up to UFC 117.
In a period that will live long in the memory for all in the sport, Sonnen’s constant baiting of Middleweight champion Anderson Silva, Brazilian MMA and the country of Brazil as a whole increased the attention the fight garnered tenfold. Sonnen embraced the role of the heel and created ‘The American Gangster’, and lived up to his claims of being willing to fight any man, anywhere, anytime.
Sonnen picked fights with anyone from Rampage to Arianny Celeste, from Jon Jones to Jose Canseco, and his exploits even saw a website created dedicated solely to his quotes. Sonnen drew inspiration from the likes of Muhammad Ali, Ric Flair and Gorgeous George, and himself has inspired an evolution of trash talk in MMA. Ireland’s own Conor McGregor has taken the baton and run with it.
Conor McGregor’s Trash Talk
McGregor’s particular brand of smack talk has driven leading contenders such as Cole Miller, Diego Brandao and most recently Dustin Poirier to ire. ‘The Notorious’ has used his promotional talent in conjunction with his ability inside the Octagon to fast-track his way to leading contender status, as well as a new contract worth $75k for the fight and the win.
Despite its near-symbiotic relationship with sport, trash talk maintains an ability to shock the masses. In MMA, it has enlarged the pockets of fighters and promoters as well as increased interest for the casual fan. Though it undeniably also remains a delicate, and difficult art form. The ability of a McGregor or a Sonnen, geniuses at combining wit, humour and aggression all in one interview is something that not everyone has the means or ability to copy.
It is their uncanny skill on the microphone, closer to what has been seen in Pro Wrestling than MMA that has made them so popular, and gained them so many headlines. Despite any claims from martial arts traditionalists to be above the gimmicks and attention chasing, you would be hard-pressed to find an MMA fan who isn’t captivated by a silver tongue.
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