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Tuesday, January 5, 2010
In defense of Shinya Aoki

By Jake Rossen/

I do not envy fighters, who are expected to be barbaric enough to twist and torque each other's limbs until screaming or surgery is imminent but not so barbaric they can't hug afterward. The line between respect and sadism is a mile wide, yet they are expected to navigate it in a matter of moments. Tough gig.

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Occasionally, some deeply disturbing behavior will leak through. We've seen it in B.J. Penn (licking an opponent's blood off his gloves), Renato Sobral (holding on to a choke for a beat too long), and Mike Kyle (hitting after referee intervention).

The postfight adrenaline dump responsible for these actions is also at fault for New Year's display of callousness by Shinya Aoki, who bent Mizuto Hirota's arm until it snapped and then pranced around the ring in glee -- stopping only to hover over Hirota and shove a middle finger in his face.

This is not the kind of footage you hope ends up on SportsCenter.

And yet I suspect that some of us were entertained by it because it broke up the banality of postfight camaraderie: hugging, smiles, hand-raises, back-patting. Aoki did not cause any further harm to Hirota after the fight was called; Aoki's body -- like most fighters -- was racked with endorphins. He was more or less intoxicated. If he spent two or three days reflecting, then traveled to Hirota's hospital room to fling a bedpan at him, I'd be more inclined to assign fault.

The upside for those disturbed or annoyed by Aoki's juvenile reaction is that he's the minority: most fighters are respectful and congratulatory. (Some, like Fedor Emelianenko, appear to have no chemical reaction at all, which is almost equally alarming.) So what if he's a big jerk? It's all part and parcel for this sport's appeal: you can like the villains, or you can wait for someone to kick their ass. In an arena where you can get your face caved in any time, no bad deed goes unpunished for very long. If you think Aoki has got one coming, you'll almost certainly be satisfied.