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MMA fighter Robin Black wonders what makes an MMA expert an expert

Robin Black has started an interesting debate on his new blog, Ramblings from Robin, over on The Fight Network website and I have to say the subject hits close to home. The musician and professional MMA fighter, who also happens to be a friend and someone I used to train alongside, brings up the question of what separates an MMA expert from all the keyboard warriors with an opinion and an attitude and lots of bandwidth.

It’s an important question, especially considering that to the casual observer there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of difference between the two. How do you tell good opinion from bad? It’s not like there are belt rankings for MMA journalists (and I use that term – journalist – with trepidation, because I wouldn’t consider many of the folks out there writing about MMA as journalists).

Now, there are guys like Joe Rogan, who is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt and who has trained and competed in martial arts and who, as Robin says, “basically created the modern mold of the MMA analyst.” If anyone takes Rogan’s opinions on fights less-seriously than they deserve, it’s because he’s also a pot-smoking stand-up comic and sitcom actor. Doesn’t make it right, doesn’t make his insights less valuable, it just clouds people’s perception of him sometimes.

On the other end of the spectrum are the cage potatoes who have never picked up a boxing glove or put on a gi or done anything more strenuous than tearing open a bag of Doritos and firing up Call of Duty – but they’ve watched a few fights so they must know what they’re talking about. That doesn’t mean you have to train in order to be knowledgeable about fighting, but it certainly helps.

Somewhere in the middle are guys like me. I’m a journalist, first and foremost, have been for almost as long as the UFC’s been around, and I got my start on the sports beat (the very first story I ever wrote was about a training partner of mine who won the Canadian heavyweight kickboxing title).  I’ve also trained in martial arts – karate, muay Thai, boxing, brazilian jiu-jitsu – at least as long as that, although I’d never consider myself an expert on any of them. Still, I think it does give me a little bit of insight. Just a little.

Same goes for Robin Black. He’s been in the cage, knows what it’s like to hit and be hit. He knows the toll that training takes, he understands how strategy can go out the window in the heat of battle. And he knows how to express himself without resorting to name-calling and general douchebaggery. That’s about as strong a base for being an MMA commentator as I can think of.

That doesn’t mean that he or I won’t express an unpopular opinion. It’s fight talk, after all, and a large part of that consists of opinion based on – I hope – thoughtful consideration of the facts, fighters’ strengths and weaknesses and records and those intangibles that spring up around every bout. It’s not like we’re 12 years old and arguing whether Silver Surfer would beat Dr. Strange (for the record, he would). And it also doesn’t mean we won’t occasionally shoot from the hip only to realize later that maybe we jumped to a conclusion or that our opinions can’t be swayed by a convincing counter-argument. Again, that’s the nature of fight talk.

And, as Robin points out, MMA fight talk is still evolving, just like the sport itself. Right now, there are a lot of voices who all sound like they know what they’re talking about. Give us a few years and those who really do know what they’re talking about – and those who definitely don’t – will become a lot more evident.

Oh, and Robin – welcome to the blogosphere. It can get ugly in here sometimes, kind of like the early days of the UFC, so keep your hands up and your chin down and always shoot straight.


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