Mixed martial arts, occasionally, hews much closer to the world of professional wrestling than many would like to admit. Within the grapples, strikes, and reversals, the confluence of sports and “sports entertainment” flows more closely than we often let ourselves realize.
That notion might hold particularly true outside the octagon, as a backstage interview during UFC Fight Night at O2 Arena in London turned into something right out of WWE, with the role of the late “Mean” Gene Okerlund being played by ESPN’s Laura Sanko.
Jorge Masvidal, who had just shocked the world with a win over Darren Till by second-round knockout, spoke to Sanko backstage.
And while Sanko started the interview off fairly boilerplate, things quickly went off the rails from there.
Masvidal started out by answering the questions, again following the athlete-media template of platitudes, before he spied fighter Leon Edwards and his entourage walking by to his right.
Masvidal then abandoned the interview, walked up to Edwards, and sucker-punched him right in the face, opening a cut under Edwards’ left eye in the process.
The cause of the dispute stemmed from comments Edwards made about wanting to fight Masvidal.
“I’m doing my interview, and this hooligan comes by, saying stuff like, ‘July, you’ll get your ass kicked in July,'” Masvidal said. “I go, ‘Maybe. Whatever. Maybe I want to kick your ass in April. Maybe I don’t even want to fight you in the Octagon because it’s not worth a training camp, I’ll just fight you right here because you’re a scrub.’ I said, ‘Just say it to my face, like a man. You’re saying it as you walk away. We’re both men.’
“I had my hands back to signal I’m not coming here with problems. But he put his hands up — it’s on video — and walks towards me. Well, where I’m from, you do that, you’re going to punch me in the face. And that’s not going to happen.”
How Masvidal drew the connection between an entourage walking by several meters away and an imminent physical confrontation that Masvidal himself initiated is not abundantly clear, but it apparently made perfect sense to him.
Masvidal, doubling down on this line of thinking, continued.
“I was scared,” he said. “It might not have looked it, because I’m cold-blooded, but I was scared out of my life. I said, ‘This hooligan is here and is going to assault me.’ He shouldn’t have done that and walked towards me like he was going to punch me. I got the first one in. Am I going to be in trouble because I got the first one in?”
Edwards and his team say that they won’t seek criminal charges against Masvidal, according to ESPN, so that may very well answer his question.
“Leon is fine,” his team said in a statement via ESPN. “We will cooperate with the UFC as they investigate the matter.”
UFC president Dana White, torn as always between his penchant for stirring up controversies and his businessman’s instinct for trying to avoid the public perception that MMA is nothing but a “sewer”, submitted to the latter element of his nature by condemning the incident.
“I can’t even believe that this happened. We need to do a much better job of making sure this s— doesn’t happened at any of our events,” said White.
UFC senior vice president David Shaw told reporters he is aware of the incident but has not yet made a decision on any disciplinary actions to be taken toward Masvidal or Edwards.
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