Reaction to Floyd Mayweather vs. Tenshin Nasukawa Shines a Spotlight on MMA’s Dirty Little Secret

Floyd Mayweather and Tenshin Nasukawa
Floyd Mayweather and Tenshin Nasukawa Credit: RIZIN FF

We’re insecure, folks. And biased. The MMA community’s reaction to Floyd Mayweather vs. Tenshin Nasukawa proves it. The MMA media’s reaction even more so.

Hear me out. MMA has long been a niche sport, but in recent years, it has dabbled with mainstream success. Recognition on a larger scale. It started, perhaps, with Brock Lesnar, but given he came with a built in WWE fanbase, MMA the sport was secondary. Then along came Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor, and suddenly, ‘real media’ had their eyeballs on the UFC. Oh, half of those suddenly turning their gaze to the fisticuffs in the octagon were blind to the fact that UFC was a promotion, not a sport. But the spotlight was on MMA nonetheless. The multi-billion dollar sale of MMA’s leading promotion cemented that.

Then Rousey left. McGregor dabbled in boxing, came back, and lost. Fans were quick to turn on their icons, angry at some perceived slight or other. Mostly angry because Rousey walked away to “fake” fighting, because McGregor turned his back on the sport for a money fight. The media all too often parroted this, sometimes in lieu of facts and common sense.

Being ignored sucks, right? Plenty of jilted lovers know that. Stalker ex-boyfriends and girlfriends seem to share their disposition with many in the MMA world.

In any case, the MMA community can’t seem to accept it when their favorite sons or daughters leave. Journalists are not immune. And they really don’t like it when outsiders turn up. From Brock Lesnar to CM Punk to James Toney. Maybe it feels like an invasion, or a loss of control. The reaction to the announcement that Floyd Mayweather will be involved in some kind of fight with Tenshin Nasukawa under the RIZIN banner is no different.

In fact, it probably tells you more about the MMA world than any other event this year. More so than Conor McGregor vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov. More so than Bob Sapp winning his first fight in forever. Even our (it would be folly to exclude myself here) reaction to the return of Jon Jones said less about the MMA world as a whole than how we handled the Mayweather vs. Tenshin news.

Maybe there’s just too many MMA elitists, maybe the line between troll and pundit has become blurred. But eyerolling, snark, and squabbling seems to have replaced excitement. And excitement is what something like Floyd vs. Tenshin should bring.

First, let’s state the obvious: there’s no guarantee Mayweather vs. Tenshin will be an MMA fight. In fact, more than likely it won’t be. Here’s your first hint, Tenshin Nasukawa said at Sunday’s press conference announcing the pairing for RIZIN 14 that he’d be content to box Mayweather. The man considered by many to be the best defensive boxer of all time.

Nor is there any certainty it will be a kickboxing fight. At best, fans can probably expect some sort of modified rules contest. At worst, an exhibition boxing match. I’ve actually come to suspect the latter. Because in anything outside boxing, Tenshin’s other-worldly abilities seem just too much for a forty-something Mayweather to overcome.

In boxing? Specifically an exhibition match? That seems more doable.

That, however, is not the issue here. The issue is our reaction. Tenured journalists who should know better immediately screamed farce. Despite Floyd Mayweather appearing live at a press conference in Tokyo, others insinuated the news was somehow fraudulent. Or that the fight announcement was a publicity stunt for a bout that would never happen.

Sadly, far too many man-children have access to a keyboard in this day and age.

I feel it’s time for a little disclaimer here: I once lived in Japan, for just a shade over eighteen months, in my mid-20s. It’s a second home to me, one that I’ve always looked upon fondly. That’s why I enjoy covering promotions from the east, mainly ONE and RIZIN. And while I’m not about to speak for Japanese fight fans, it is doubtful they’re spewing the sort of insanity those in the west are. And it certainly seems like some questionable claims are getting a passing grade because the news is coming out of Japan.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Tenshin Nasukawa Credit: RIZIN FF

Why is it that fans and some pundits are so worked up? Why is the insecurity showing? Because a promotion that is often overlooked, or looked upon as a freakshow, happened to land one of the biggest names in combat sports? Because everyone from CNN to the BBC suddenly gave RIZIN headlines, when MMA media outlets barely recognized that they still exist? Because the finances for landing Mayweather don’t make sense to people with no access to the numbers? There are bad takes, and then there are ignorant ones. We’ve had all of those in the past twenty-four hours or so.

But again, we’re insecure. The story blew up outside our own little echo chamber. An outsider jumped into the mix, and the narrative painted wasn’t one we controlled. And to be fair, we’ve been slighted in the past. Someone pointed out the Pride once booked Mike Tyson to fight Mirko Cro-Cop. Well, sort of.

Thing is, Pride’s inability to get Tyson into their ring doesn’t mean Nobuyuki Sakakibara won’t manage actually get Mayweather into the RIZIN ring. Tyson, after all, had a history of breaching contracts back in the day.

Frankly, the Asian MMA scene has been an afterthought for MMA fans in the west for years, even as ONE Championship, RIZIN FF, ROAD FC and others managed to put together quality cards. The media has been just as guilty, because, well, regurgitating a tweet from Conor McGregor gets more hits than turning the spotlight on Kevin Belingon.

Ultimately, this fight will happen, or it won’t. It will be entertaining, or it won’t. But dismissing it immediately out of the gate is just shining a light on MMA’s dirty little secret: a western bias (did anyone scream ‘the fix is in!’ when CM Punk joined the UFC?), and a boatload of insecurity, that results in the rejection of anything that wasn’t created within our own sphere.