Trash talk has been a huge part of combat sports for decades now, but it’s only very recently that it’s started to make it’s way into the BJJ world. The idea of winning the mental battle before the physical one is a tale as old as time and has long been an important part of warfare. It’s not hard to see then why combat sports competitors would talk negatively about their opponent’s skills and praise their own, in an attempt to tip the scales in their favor once the match started. Muhammad Ali was one of the most successful early proponents and ever since his antics earned him a massive level of fame, thousands of competitors have tried to emulate him.
Is Trash Talk Actually Good for the Growth of BJJ?
Many BJJ and MMA fans will point to trash talk as one of the defining characteristics of the most popular fighters. It’s hard to argue against the fact that modern competitors like Conor McGregor and Gordon Ryan have benefited from their willingness to take on future opponents verbally in the public eye. Especially in the age of social media, the ability to generate short clips that will get people excited to watch your next fight is incredible valuable. It’s not as if a willingness to engage in trash talk is universally beloved though, there are many who would criticize anyone who strays from the path of the traditional respectful martial artist.
How Can it Benefit Grapplers?
While combat sports should in essence be about determining who the better competitor is, it’s undeniable that there’s also a certain element of personality at play. Fans will have favorite BJJ competitors for reasons outside of what they’re capable of doing in competition, and trash talk can often amplify that. The concept is pretty simple really, say something funny and people will like you. Not only will more people watch you, but promotions will want to book you because it means more people watch their event. Likewise, other grapplers will want to face you because they may get paid more thanks to the event generating more income from your presence.
Where is the Line?
It’s easy to get lost in the moment though, and for every competitor who’s cut a brilliant promo, there’s another one who’s veered off a cliff and into bigoted comments or personal attacks. There’s no hard and fast rules about what might be off-limits and what is fair game, but there’s always a backlash when that invisible line is crossed. Criticizing an opponent’s past performances or skills is always acceptable and there are many who see no issue in bringing up issues that the opponent themselves have caused like run-ins with the law or infidelity. Those kinds of comments aren’t a million miles away from some of the worst elements of trash talk though, where competitors are verbally attacking family members who have nothing to do with BJJ or MMA.
Is Trash Talk Necessary in BJJ?
There are countless examples of competitors in both MMA and BJJ that are far more popular than their record would indicate, purely because fans enjoy watching their trash talk before the match. On the other hand, there’s also plenty of competitors who have tried hard to make it work and failed pretty quickly. The fact is that simply insulting an opponent or proclaiming yourself the greatest on the planet isn’t enough, you have to be clever, it has to be genuine, and you still need to deliver the results at least some of the time. If you’re not able to do all of that, it’s far better to take the stoic approach that Georges St-Pierre or Demian Maia employed.
Nobody should feel as though they have to use trash talk to build hype for an MMA fight or BJJ match. It isn’t a necessity at all, but if it’s something that you’re comfortable with then it can definitely have a positive impact on both your competitive opportunities and your bank balance. Anyone who does walk that path should be careful not to go too far though, for fear of running their career into the ground just as quickly as they built it. As for the sport itself, trash talk doesn’t need to be shoehorned into every match between elite grapplers who simply can’t do it. It is clear though that having a few who are great on the mic and willing to engage in it helps raise the amount of money in the sport for everyone else as well.
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