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Trading Shots: Is Jorge Masvidal’s backstage ‘three-piece’ an outrage or just further entertainment?

Jorge Masvidal and Leon Edwards got into it backstage at UFC on ESPN+ 5. Is it the kind of thing that will get them punished or rewarded? And what can we learn about where we’re headed from the UFC’s response to this latest extracurricular scrap? Retired UFC and WEC fighter Danny Downes joins MMA Junkie columnist Ben Fowlkes to discuss in this week’s Trading Shots.

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Downes: Ben, let it be known that, even when he’s officially finished his shift, Jorge Masvidal is still always ready to serve up a “three-piece with a soda” combo. After knocking out Darren Till cold in front of his countrymen at The O2 in London, Masvidal still had a couple of combos to serve.

Masvidal was in the middle of a backstage interview with Laura Sanko when Leon Edwards decided to inject himself into the conversation. Edwards yelled something off camera, and we saw Masvidal walk towards him saying, “Come over here, say that to my face.”

And we all know when you hear someone yell that, it’s not because they want to have a friendly conversation. A scuffle ensued, punches were thrown, and the two were quickly broken up.

What’s your take on this backstage fight – or any of them? They’re certainly good #content. UFC President Dana White gave a brief statement about how he “can’t believe this happened,” and they need to be stopped. But we all know this video will be all over the hype package if and when Masvidal and Edwards are booked to fight. Is this any different from the shoving matches at weigh-ins? Just a solid way to get some cheap heat, right?

Fowlkes: I don’t get the sense that there’s any real outrage brewing over this. Not from the UFC (after all he’s seen, I don’t believe that White can’t believe that something like this could happen), not from fans (two fights for the price of one is a screaming deal, even on ESPN+), and not from media (“three-piece with a soda” is too fun a phrase to ignore). So why is that?

Maybe some of it is our shifting expectations. We’ve seen fighters throw hand trucks and leap into the peanut gallery. We’ve seen fighter managers starting static in the buffet line with old people and kids getting caught in the crossfire. A quick-punch combo backstage between willing professional combatants seems relatively tame compared to all that. It’s like the pushing and shoving that we’ve come to regard as de rigueur, only with the volume cranked up.

Maybe it’s that, just generally, our outrage sensors are already overloaded. People are faking attacks on themselves out here, Danny. Rich kids get body doubles to take the SATs for them. Corruption is a given, and abuse seems inevitable. There are so many things to be angry about at any given time that it’s nearly impossible to keep them all in your head at once.

Stuff like this – sports, fighting, entertainment of one stripe or another – is supposed be a pleasant distraction. We’re here to have fun, dammit. And maybe, if we’re being honest with ourselves, we should admit that we enjoyed watching Masvidal serve up a combo meal.

Question is, if we’ve all (UFC, fans and media alike) decided to let this slide, how can we turn around and get mad if someone goes upside a rival’s head with the interim belt next, pro wrestling-style? What happens when someone catches a steel chair to the spine? If we don’t draw some lines for the sake of decorum and good taste now, do we lose the right to be angry about any future outrage along a similar spectrum?

Downes: It’s indicative of the paradox of our times. As outrage culture foments and makes the slightest grievance a national scandal, more and more things are met with a shrug. We’re simultaneously getting way too mad about small things and not nearly mad enough about big things.

I don’t always embrace “slippery slope” arguments, but you do have a point here. We shouldn’t clutch our pearls at Masvidal serving up a No. 5 meal deal to Edwards, but we should all be aware of how the presentation of the sport is changing.

Those of us who have been following MMA longer than the Conor McGregor era can remember how hard it was to explain it to the average person. One of the biggest obstacles was to try to convince them that it wasn’t a different type of pro wrestling. Now, though, it seems like a new gimmick or scripted promo pops up every day.

Masvidal touched on this topic himself during the media day leading up to the fight. He discussed how all this trash talking is “corny” and “childish.” He said fighters are setting a bad example for children and the next generation of MMA athletes with their conduct. He also took the media to task for highlighting and elevating these cornballs. When asked about his teammate Colby Covington, though, he admitted he wasn’t a fan of his actions, but also wouldn’t fault Covington for “trying to get his money.”

Masvidal contradicted himself in that interview, but didn’t he essentially disprove his point backstage? I’m not saying he’s working an angle. If you call out Masvidal, he’s definitely not the turn-the-other-cheek type. His actions did give him an extra boost, though.

Whether it’s people on social media calling him “the realest” or the inevitable grudge match with Edwards, it seems like the extracurricular activity helped him out a lot. Chances are we’re not going to see him fighting on a Saturday afternoon ESPN+ stream the next time he steps into the octagon. We all learned a lesson yesterday, but wasn’t it a bad one?

Fowlkes: In fairness, what Masvidal argued in favor of was fighters being themselves. And from the way he approached the fight with Till to the way he dealt with Edwards’ attempts to snipe at him after the event, I can’t say that Masvidal was ever anyone but himself during his time in London.

I think you can agree with Masvidal that manufactured beefs and contrived personas are corny and dumb, and yet also admit that genuine animosity will always sell in the fight game. Those two aren’t mutually exclusive.

Seems to me that it was the fakery that Masvidal was objecting to, the stilted formula of it all. I think Masvidal would have reacted the same way to Edwards whether the cameras were on or not. Someone like Covington, on the other hand, seems to only want to play his part when there’s an audience around to make it worthwhile. As if you could take off the MAGA hat and remove the hatred you’ve fomented along with it.

But this is as good a time as any for UFC leadership to ask themselves if this is the product they want to sell. And it is a question worth asking, since there is clearly a market for this stuff. In our outrageous times, maybe it takes outrageous behavior to get our attention. In many ways, attention is the currency of our age. It’s also fleeting and increasingly hard to capture – though, as Masvidal has learned, a good catchphrase sure helps.

Ben Fowlkes is MMAjunkie and USA TODAY’s MMA columnist. Danny Downes, a retired UFC and WEC fighter, is an MMAjunkie contributor who has also written for UFC.com and UFC 360. Follow them on twitter at @benfowlkesMMA and @dannyboydownes.

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