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Tap Out, You Jerk

July 13, 2010

If you were to take a poll of MMA fans asking them who the biggest prick in the business was, I’d be willing to bet that Brock Lesnar, Tito Ortiz, and Rampage Jackson would not even register in comparison the number of votes that Shinya Aoki would get.  The DREAM lightweight champion has now seriously maimed two of the last three guys he has fought.  Last New Year’s Eve, Aoki grappled Mizuto Hirota into a hammerlock — a hold that cops use, where the opponent’s arm is held behind his back and his hand is forced upwards towards the neck — and then proceeded to break his arm when Hirota refused to tap.  Not only did he snap the cat’s arm, he then proceeded to get up and flip him the bird several times, presumably screaming obscenities at him all the while.  Yeesh.  Asked later whether he was remorseful about the grisly way he ended the fight, Aoki responded:

“I don’t regret anything about the fight,” Aoki told 5thRound.com through his interpreter. “Broken arms, they happen during a fight so the referee should have stopped that before it happened.

“[I don’t] regret it because it happened during the fight.”

About this time is when everybody goes, “Geez, that guy is a prick!”  But wait!  It gets better.  Last weekend at Dream.15, Aoki once again got his opponent, Tatsuya Kawajiri, in a compromising position via an Achilles lock, and, well, I’ll let Aoki tell you what happened:

“When I caught him and tried to submit him, I heard a loud crackle sound. He did not tap so I thought ‘Ok, this match just became a death-fight’ and I was going to destroy his leg,” Aoki told SportsNavi (translated by MiddleEasy). “I knew Kawajiri never taps so I could not win without breaking his bone.

“I was hoping for an open-fracture.”

Before you give your inevitable, “Somebody needs to kick that guy’s ass” assessment of Aoki’s behavior, know that Gilbert Melendez already did just that in April.  Yeah, I was rooting for Melendez too.  Let’s consider, however, this question that for some reason nobody has asked: why the hell aren’t these Japanese cats tapping?  Especially strange is this Kawajiri fellow — he knew that Aoki would break his bones if he didn’t tap because he had already done it just six months ago to Hirota, and still he refused to concede.  Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on your dumb ass for getting your leg broken.

I actually see this as a more philosophical question when it comes to submission fighting: does a guy who’s caught in a position that will seriously injure him have a responsibility to tap out if he can’t get out of it?  You could certainly make the argument that if a fighter refuses to tap, then he is in effect daring the other guy to inflict permanent damage on him that could threaten his career.  When Matt Hughes fought Royce Gracie back in 2006, Hughes caught Gracie in an armbar in the first round to which Gracie refused to tap out.  Hughes relinquished the hold for reasons that are still unclear: either Hughes was too good of a guy to willingly break the arm of the UFC legend, or he couldn’t get enough leverage on Gracie to actually fracture his arm and was forced to give up the hold.  Either way, Gracie took all the pressure normally reserved for the fighter in trouble and put it all on Hughes: he basically said, “You can either knowingly break my arm, seriously injuring me and threatening my career as a fighter, or you can let it go and risk losing the fight.”

Indeed, the Gracies have a distinguished history of refusing to tap out.  When Eddie Bravo submitted Royler Gracie via triangle choke at the 2003 ADCC, it was the first time any Gracie had ever tapped out in a fight… ever.  Renzo Gracie has stated that his proudest moment in MMA was his refusal to tap out to Kazushi Sakuraba’s kimura, a moment that resulted in Gracie’s leaving the ring with his arm in a sling.  Royce himself said last year that he would never ever ever tap in a fight for any reason.  Apparently this sentiment has been adopted by a lot of Japanese folks — tapping out is apparently a yellow-bellied thing to do, so you’re a real man or something if you just let yourself get disfigured.

Fair enough.  It certainly is ballsy to essentially challenge someone’s willingness to maim you when they’ve got you in a position to do just exactly that, but it strikes me as pretty stupid also.  As I said before, testing whether or not a guy who has you in an armbar has the chutzpah to go on and break your arm puts all the pressure on the cat with the dominant position — not the pressure of the fight, but the ethical question of whether or not the guy wants to end your career.  Tapping out exists for a reason: you’re supposed to tap out so you can continue to fight professionally even if a guy gets you in a position where he can injure you.  If you don’t tap, then your in effect making the guy be the prick that he might not necessarily want to be.

Maybe that’s why Shinya Aoki gets pissed off at guys who won’t tap.  Maybe that’s why he wanted to fracture Kawajiri’s leg even worse than he did.  I’m not going to defend Aoki’s antics post-fight against Hirota, but I will defend his severely injuring both of these guys.  Those cats forced him to break their limbs.  He may have not wanted to do that going in, but they didn’t give him a shot not to be an asshole because they refused to tap because of some misplaced sense of cojones.  Hell, maybe Aoki also is sending a message to the cats he fights in the future: if you refuse to tap when you fight me, I will cripple you.  Perhaps that’ll be enough incentive for the next guy to give up when his bones are at the point of cracking in two.

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