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Big Difference Between MMA Fan, Fighter Psychology

Photo Courtesy of AP

A few days out from his scheduled bout with Joseph Duffy, Dustin Poirier got word that the fight had been cancelled.

Duffy had suffered a concussion during a last-minute sparring session, and he would no longer be able to take part in the UFC Fight Night 76 main event. Imagine being a promoter with tons of money invested into an event, and one of your feature fighters backs out at the last minute. Cancelling the event entirely would cost every cent invested.

So you make a desperate attempt to work around the injury.

Irish lightweight Norman Parke called in and agreed to step in as a late replace for Duffy against Poirier. He was already fighting on the card anyway, and he saw the bout as an opportunity to test his skills against one of the best fighters in the lightweight division.

Now put yourself into Poirier’s shoes. You had trained weeks for a particular style of opponent, and the promotion offers you completely different opponent a few days out from the scheduled bout.

Would you take that fight?

Poirier quickly declined the offer to fight Parke, and the UFC was forced to promote the featherweight tilt between Patrick Holohan and Louis Smolka as the main attraction. His fight with Duffy has now been rescheduled for UFC 195 in January.

Since turning down the fight, Poirier has been receiving a lot of criticism from fans. Some have accused him of ducking Parke, while others have denounced him for refusing to step up and save the flailing fight night card.

When speaking with Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour, Poirier claimed he’d be “broke” and “brain dead” if he made decisions based off what fans think:

“If I would have thought like fans think, I’d be broke and brain dead and fighting everybody every weekend. Hey, I’m a prizefighter and the prize wasn’t right. So we came back home and we’ll see what happens next. It’s that simple. I was there to hold up my end of the bargain. Norman Parke was there trying to save his career.”

A common misconception in fighting is that an athlete must take every fight that comes his or her way. If you turn down any fight, you’re typically deemed a coward or selfish. Former UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones was villainized for months for turning down a fight with Chael Sonnen with less than two weeks’ notice, when he was originally slated to fight Dan Henderson. The UFC 151 pay-per-view card was subsequently cancelled.

But none of that was Jones’ fault. He signed a contract to fight Henderson, and Henderson had to bow out of the contest at the last minute due to injury. Like Poirier, Jones fulfilled his end of the deal. He showed up to the fight ready to compete. His opponent did not.

Judgement is unchanging in this world. People watch and analyze everything you do, and rarely are outside circumstances ever taken into account. If Poirier would have taken the fight with Parke and lost, the same fans encouraging him to step up would be criticizing him for failing to come away with the win.

This doesn’t mean every fighter turns down fights. UFC interim featherweight champion Conor McGregor hardly gets enough credit for agreeing to fight Chad Mendes, one of the best featherweight fighters on the planet, on two weeks’ notice. It was a great risk that paid off huge for McGregor, who earned a second-round knockout and got his blockbuster showdown with Jose Aldo pushed back to December.

But it was McGregor’s decision to take that risk. He gave Mendes the opportunity of a lifetime to cut in line and potentially earn third shot at Aldo. Fighters should be celebrated for taking risks, but at the same time, they shouldn’t be ridiculed for making smart career decisions.

Imagine being a football team in the NFL and the opponent gets switched on you right before game day. You’ve spent all week game planning for a particular team, and at the last minute, you’re forced to game plan against a completely different opponent. That would be a harsh culture to deal with in any locker room.

Fan psychology is to see a good fight — no matter the cost. Fighters, on the other hand, have to carefully consider their progression through the ranks. Business comes before entertainment. Parke was on a two-fight losing streak, while Poirier was a former featherweight contender coming off an impressive lightweight debut.

Just ask yourself. What did Poirier really have to gain from accepting the fight with Parke?

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