Stephen A. Smith has decided to respond to his critics and address why fans should appreciate his presence in the sport of MMA.
If you were to see Stephen A. Smith’s name in an MMA news outlet’s headline, very little if any good seems to ever come from it. Smith is usually hit with a wave of criticism any time he breathes anything MMA-related, regardless of the take he presents the public with. Most recently, he earned criticism for voicing his displeasure watching female mixed martial artists compete, stating:
“When I think about pugilistic sports, I don’t like seeing women involved in that at all. I just don’t like it,” Smith said on the “Black on the Air” podcast. “I wouldn’t promote legislating laws to prohibit them from doing so, but I don’t want to see women punching each other in the face. I don’t want to see women fighting in the octagon and stuff like that, but that’s just me,” (h/t MMA Junkie).
He also received wide criticism for his take on Donald Cerrone’s loss to Conor McGregor at UFC 246 last year when he stated that it appeared Cerrone gave up and didn’t want to be there. To be fair, Cerrone’s comments after the fact seemed to echo Smith’s remarks and thus give the ESPN personality a sense of vindication on this one. But notwithstanding this moral victory, he has remained a subject of ridicule, eye rolls, and mockery from many journalists and fans alike.
In a recent installment of Smith’s new program, Stephen A’s World, the polarizing media personality decided to set the record straight, apparently to anyone and everyone in the MMA community who has criticized him, by issuing the following statement:
“Let me be crystal clear from the very start. I am a UFC fan. I didn’t grow up a UFC fan, though. I’ll admit that. Because the UFC didn’t exist until 1993. They didn’t blow up until Dana White took it over in the 2000s. So I couldn’t grow up a UFC fan. That wasn’t an option for me. But I am a UFC fan now. What I’m not, though, is a UFC expert nor a UFC insider. I don’t have any tattoos. I don’t own any Tapout shirts, don’t have an Octagon in my basement.
Well, guess what? I’ve never said that I am a UFC expert. Not one time. Feel free. Check the tape. I’m a UFC fan, though, and I’ll say this, the UFC needs me. The UFC needs me and all others out there just like me.”
Smith argues that whether he has millions of viewers or was a no-name off the street, the end result of more people discussing the sport should be desired. In this sense, Smith argues, the UFC needs more than just hardcore fans to talk about it if the company (and sport of MMA as a whole) is going to grow.
“When you’ve got millions being entertained by your sport, not just the experts and the diehards from the damn cradle, that’s how a sport really breaks through. When the average Joe’s and the average Jay’s are watching you, enjoying you, talking and texting about you, that’s where you want to be. That’s the big time, not a niche sport. So yeah, I’m a UFC fan, but I’m no expert, and I’m no insider. Now let me never, ever have to address this nonsense and these lies again, clearly being perpetuated by others. Damn sure wasn’t me.”
It’s difficult to contextualize what prompted this soliloquy or what specific sources of criticism Smith is referring to, but it seems that his thesis is that fans should not want to silence anyone from talking about their sport just because they are not an expert. Additionally, all the “average Joe’s” like him who discuss the sport are a marker of arrival and progress for the sport, not something to reject and denigrate.
Ironically, one thing Smith is often criticized for is his false categorization of “UFC” as a sport, an error he continued to make in this statement. Some have argued that this is a laughable or incredulous mistake by an on-air personality discussing the sport. Then again, Smith would likely chalk this up to his lack of expertise and classify anyone who points this out to be elitist snobs.
Many people no doubt will and already have laughed off the notion that anybody ever said Smith was an expert to begin with, so again, it is unclear what prompted him to issue this statement. But in Smith’s defense, he does host the #1-rated talk show in sports television and is the most followed personality on the biggest sports network, so there is something to be said about the mainstream exposure that is gained from his commentary, regardless of how it is received by the MMA fanbase.
What do you think? Does Stephen A. Smith have a point? Or is he about to just set off another roast session from the MMA community by issuing this rant?