Last month, in an effort to see how MMA’s best and brightest verbal pugilists fared in the outside world, I assembled a panel of experts from the writing world to analyze some of Conor McGregor’s most famous quotes.
It was supposed to be a one-off exercise, but when longtime enemies Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier started sparring on Twitter again at the beginning of April, I was curious to know what my experts might say about a very different kind of MMA trash talk. Individually, they’re both intelligent men who generally express themselves quite well in verbal and tweeted communication. But when these two highly combustible elements come together, something very weird happens in the reaction, and all of that brainpower somehow devolves into pussies, bizarre homoeroticism, and flying footwear.
The pair have been almost equally entertaining and perplexing to people inside the MMA bubble for years now, but how does their vicious UFC Odd Couple vibe play to the uninitiated?
With Jones about to return to the cage against the injured Cormier’s replacement, Ovince Saint Preux, at UFC 197 tomorrow, let’s see what our experts had to say about DC and JJ’s most infamous exchanges.
Rhiannon Don is an academic writing instructor and a person who knows virtually nothing about MMA.
Erik Missio is the editor of two national architectural/engineering magazines and regularly writes about the conversion of technology and parenting for CBC. He has a master’s degree in journalism. While wholly unfamiliar with MMA, he was raised on a steady diet of comic-book super-villain soliloquies and pro-wrestling heel promos.
D-Sisive (aka Derek Christoff) is a 4 time Juno nominated rapper who took kickboxing at Twin Dragons Kung Fu & Kickboxing on St. Clair in Toronto, Ontario for 11 years but quit after deciding he no longer wanted to get kicked in the face. He was an extra in the Billy Blanks masterpiece Balance of Power. It was a non-speaking role, so he only got $150 Canadian.
Scott Sickles is a two-time Writers Guild of America Award winner, a three-time Emmy nominee, an accomplished playwright and theater producer, and, despite achieving a black belt in tae kwon do in his early adolescence, basically a big sissy. He knows nothing about Conor McGregor outside of what he's learned from these quotations and a somewhat jarring Google image search. He wants you to watch General Hospital.
D-S: Ok...so...this is the absolute WORST trash talk exchange I have ever experienced. What makes it sad is these two men are machines - physically. I am terrified of both men. But this...this breaks my heart a little. This puts "Clubber Lang telling Rocky he wants to take a shower with Adrian" on a "Jimmy Kimmel making a Chris Benoit joke at the Flava Flav roast" pedestal.
SS: The arc of these interviews/interactions is fascinating in its paradoxes. The fighters are bitter rivals who trash-talk each other, like they're supposed to, but there's almost a gentle civility to it that's downright literary.
It starts out like a gentle tween romance written round-robin style by two kids who learned everything they know about love and friendship from Judy Blume, then bumps itself up to sports metaphor sex-comedy Jane Austen, then tragically escalates into the forbidden love of the Bronte Sisters, before exploding into the tawdry world of Barbara Cartland romance novels. If there were a UFC/MMA counterpart to Lifetime, everything on it would be based on this.
Onward we go.
1. The Summer of 2013: Three years ago, Jones didn’t take particularly kindly to Cormier’s comments about wanting a title shot. When asked about it, he said the following:
JJ: DC is a guy who really wants to be famous. I don’t think he wants to work hard. I think he just wants to be famous. You can see it in his physique; you can see it in his card. I hate answering questions about him. He’s just not relevant to me. There’s so many great fighters in the light heavyweight division. He’s not even top five in his division… He has short reach, bad cardio, he looked terrible in his last fight. It’s like, I’m not worried about him at all.
And when Cormier was asked about that, he said:
DC: When I hear his quote, it’s like a 16 year old girl. Jon Jones, grow up bud, we’re going to fight regardless of how you feel. And when we do and I’m cutting the line and you might as well pull the guard because I’m taking you down.
RD: This is about the only one of these exchanges where JJ comes off better than DC, because he actually gets into specifics instead of just whining that DC is a wad.
EM: When it comes to trash talk, Jones is OK, but not quite at the level of anaconda-heeled Connor (who I understand is now retired and needs to be hired via Vince McMahon’s mcmillions before I’m done typing this sentence in order to justify next year’s Wrestlemania). I like that he goes after Cormier’s legitimacy—the idea of ‘authenticity’ is such a thing in sports and fighting, where being lazy and wanting to be the best without putting in the work is unforgivable. Jones pushes the idea Cormier is unworthy, a poser, a pretender… quantitatively not in his league in terms of ability. “I hate answering questions about him. He’s just not relevant to me” suggests he gets this all the time; it shows he’s aware Cormier is liked (by MMA press? fans?), but it’s superficial—they’re not the same class and Cormier is beneath Jones, plain and simple.
Cormier, for his part, goes for the mildly sexist/ageist route, but doesn’t actually refute anything. He’s not even angry—almost collegial. He just says he’ll win with a calm, cocksure defiance that probably made Jones even madder.
D-S: Cormier told Jones "grow up, bud." That makes me really sad. When I was in grade 3, Tommy Gordon proclaimed himself as the strongest kid in school. I disagreed. I didn't think I was. I wasn't a fighter. But I believed Ray Drew was much tougher. I voiced my opinion. Tommy wasn't impressed. Called me "Derek Derek the Big Fat Perek." I was too confused to counter. What's a Perek? Did he mean Parrot? Nothing rhymes with Derek, and he had to strike fast. But a Perek isn't a thing. Regardless...everyone laughed and I felt like shit. I told Tommy "get a life, goof." Not even a chuckle. That's Cormier. A big...fat...Perek.
SS: Now that I think of it, this is less Judy Blume and more Katherine Patterson. What we have in this exchange is pretty much the first few chapters of Bridge to Terabithia with a young man confident that no one can surpass him -- Jones is "the Fastest Kid in the Fifth Grade" -- until Cormier comes along and threatens to smoke him.
What's astounding is that this exchange -- even in its dismissive, diminishing and contentious tones -- is remarkably civilized. It's as though they agreed beforehand that the first person who loses his cool and/or utters a sentence fragments LOSES! And neither is going to give up the grammar war.
2. UFC 178 Media Day in LA: Things took an interesting turn while Jones and Cormier were discussing how they were going to defeat each other in their match.
JJ: It’s going to be intimate,
DC: And passionate,”
JJ: I’m going to make you my wife. You’re going to be Mrs. Jones for the night. I’m going to rub on that big ol’ belly and you’re going to like it.
DC: It’s going to be right in your face. I’m going to put it right on your face. I’m going to smother you with my big ol’ fat belly.
JJ: Am I going to like it?
DC: It’s actually kind of nice.
RD: I was not expecting this! The tone is so different from everything else here. Is UFC slash a thing? This must feature prominently in that. (Then I googled UFC slash fanfic. Learn from my mistakes, kids, and don’t do that, because it will lead you to an article titled 12 Haunting Slash Fictions That Will Ruin Your Childhood. Consider yourself warned.)
EM: Jones does the self-aware, tongue-in-cheek homoerotica pretty well—he comes off as funny, rather than insecure or full of hate. Cormier, too, although maybe a little less comfortable? (He recovers nicely when referring to his “big ol’belly” as “actually kind of nice.”) But he seems so earnest throughout this thing that I really want to like him. He also keeps plugging the PPV, which I get is his job, but that’s still pretty admirable given the context. Anyway, these guys have chemistry. Sure, I believe they’re competitive against each other, but it still feels as if they genuinely like each other. It’s not like this is a blood feud, but I’m guessing that’s the narrative needed?
SS: "Oh yeah, it's nice. My belly is real nice. It is downright gossamer, my friend, my buddy, O pal of mine!"
The video itself is priceless because Jones has that deep, sexy velvety Barry White "Imma make love to you all night, baby" voice and Cormier's voice kind of almost sounds like the voice black comedians use when they're doing impressions of white people.
What's great is that they both get into this exchange -- Jones all in from the get-go and Cormier just deciding "if you can't beat him, join him" and putting a fun spin on it.
It's the beginning of what is clearly a great bromance. It's the "You know how I know you're gay" bit from The 40-Year-Old Virgin. And it's awesome because it's also funny and tender.
To call these innuendoes would be like calling what happened to the Titanic "a maritime hiccup." These two are heading their own Build-A-Bear Workshop of UFC slash. (Bear pun intended.)
It's the crass subtext between Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy and a bond that they both resent and desire is clearly forming.
3. The Infamous “Off Air” Exchange, August 2014
JJ: "Hey pussy, are you still there?"
DC: "I'm here, I'm here. You are just the fakest person. I actually admire that you can actually be this fake, and like, when the TV comes on, how you can just change. It's like you're a chameleon. It's awesome."
JJ: "Hey, listen. I'm a professional. That fact that you're a pussy --
DC: "It's unbelievable. It's unbelievable."
JJ: "The fact that you're a pussy hasn't changed, but I am a professional."
DC: "It's unbelievable how fake you can really be. Like, you are just such a fucking pussy. My god, it is amazing. It is amazing. But, you know, hats off to you. You've got a great P.R. person, they do a great job with training you because you are just terrible. You're the fucking scum of the earth. You are a terrible human being, but you can sure turn it on, huh?"
JJ: "Thank you."
DC: "God, you fucking ---
DC: "I wish they would let me next door so I could spit in your fucking face."
JJ: "You know I would absolutely kill you if you ever did something like that, right?"
DC: "You could never kill me."
JJ: "Oh, I bet you I could."
DC: "Then you should try, Jon. You really should try, Jon."
JJ: "I would literally kill you if you spit in my face."
DC: "Yeah, let's try that, Jon."
JJ: "Literally kill you."
DC: "Let's try that, Jon."
JJ: "I'm not saying I would fight you. I said I would kill you if you did some silly s**t like that."
DC: "Jon, do you think I'm just going to sit there and let you kill me, Jon? I mean really?”
RD: This is so weird and stilted. I’m glad that JJ is able to distinguish between “fight you” and “kill you”, though. It seems like an important distinction.
EM: This feels like a pro-wrestling-quality worked shoot, where something planned is presented as real. And this isn’t meant as a dig—I liked it. And I’m not insinuating MMA is fake, I just mean this whole aspect feels like the two PR teams behind two guys-who-don’t-actually-hate-each-other-but-still-have-competitive-spirit thought it would add further heat to accidentally leak top-secret footage showing their guys ready to murder each other via post-expectoration execution. But what do I know? HBO’s the Jinx didn’t air until like a year later and that one’s supposedly real.
D-S: These guys are warriors. But the death threat exchange shows they're Twinkie soft. I don't get why Cormier didn't spit in his face. That would have made him a god. Spitting is the worst thing you can do to someone - open hand slap at a close second. Even if Jones did kill him...Cormier would still be the victor. In Grade 10, Louis Morrow kissed Craig Harrison's girlfriend at Jenny Sanders' birthday party. Craig wasn't there. The girlfriend denied it, but there were witnesses. Craig confronted Louis in front of Pizzaville on Eglinton. Louis said nothing. After a minute, he spit in Craig's face. Craig snapped and beat the shit out of Louis. It was bad. Craig came to school in a sling the next morning. But what did everyone talk about? The spit. Not only did Louis win a fight he physically lost...he ended up dating Craig's girl. Apparently they're married and live in Woodbridge. The power of spit. Cormier should have shut up and spit. He'd be a hero. And get the kisses.
SS: I say without irony that this exchange is a little heartbreaking. Cormier seems to feel genuinely betrayed by whatever has come before this. He is HURT! And when he calls Jones out on it, the look on Jones's face is awash in regret!
Cormier's all "You told me you loved me and now I find out you have a crazy wife locked up in your goddamn attic???" And Jones is like "What did you think that noise was?"
This is the greatest quarrel in the history of bromances because clearly on whatever level it was -- as competitors, rivals, showmen, etc. -- these two know that they had a bond, that they could have been spectacular together as friends who pummel the shit out of each other professionally, and Jones's disingenuousness has ruined it... when Jones was just doing what he though was his job.
It's not just the Brontes... it's classic John fucking Hughes! And it kills me!
4. Twitter Exchange, April 4, 2016:
After getting injured and having to back out of his rematch against Jones at UFC 197 , Cormier offered to train his replacement (Ovince Saint Preux) and pay for his expenses. In an interview on the MMA Hour, Jones called Cormier a coward for this offer. He then doubled down on Twitter and they had this exchange. All presented as exactly as they were posted. No, that’s not a typo in Cormier’s tweet. At least not on our part.
JJ: Willing to train OSP and is willing to train for his expenses? You are a sheep in wolves clothing and I see right through you. pussy.
[another Twitter user pointed out that he’d forgotten to tag Cormier in the tweet]
JJ: I put his name at the end forgot to capitalize the P though
DC: Coward is running from the scene of a crime without checking on person you hurt. Coward is refusing to fight Gustafson. Coward is ufc 151
DC: Jon jones I have never been afraid of you or anyone in my entire life. You calling me a coward in insane. Your day will come bitch.
DC: Jones you can’t hurt me, u lunch like a bitch. Ur not winning decision next time. Just don’t get ur dumb ass arrested again. Loser junkie.
DC: O my god jones is cool he took late notice fight, yea I’d fight osp too. Id’ do it on 1 day notice. Harder fight you’d tuck ur tail again.
DC: Remember jones I didn’t call u coward when u moved our 1st fight due to injury hypocrite. That’s biggest word I’ll use when talking to u.
DC: Last tweet. Jon ur dumb! Like really dumb. Get off ur high horse and stop riding the white horse. Junkie , I’m gonna rip ur head off!
JJ: Lol you mad bro?
JJ: Change your tampon, ice your shinsplints and but ready for UFC 200. My practice is starting, I’ll check in later for this answer of yours
JJ: OK stop writing me I’m done with you for the day
RD: This feels so much more genuine than the previous exchange. This is also where I am pretty much forever on team DC. Lunch like a bitch is an incredible metaphor. I’m thinking cucumber infused water, lots of crudités, and laxatives to slip into one’s enemies’ mimosas. I particularly like that the dig at JJ for being too dumb to understand words bigger than hypocrite, especially after the “sheep in wolf’s clothing” comment at the beginning.
EM: There’s so much here I don’t get. Why is Cormier a coward for wanting to train someone else to beat Jones? (Oh snap on Cormier dropping a mention of that hit-and-run reference, though, and calling him a “junkie,” but I’m too lazy to Google what he means.) Does Jones “lunch like a bitch” in that he doesn’t have large meals around noon or is this shots fired against his lunging, munching, or duncing abilities? And why can’t people just write out “you” and “you’re” in tweets when there are clearly still enough characters left, dammit?
D-S: I feel like I'm picking on Cormier. Jones is pretty hideous with his jabs, but Cormier talks shit like he works at Baskin Robbins. Coward is the biggest word he can use? Coward is the weakest insult of all insults. Maybe it was thug centuries ago. Napoleon probably pissed people off with that one. But calling someone a coward is worse than not saying anything at all. Jones isn't far off with the shin splint jab. Are shin splints common in the fight world? And "I'll check in later for your answer" is fantastic. I picture Cormier answering, getting a notification, checking tweet..."stop writing me." Puts phone down. Positions ice on shins. Reads 50 Shades Of Grey. Fin.
Thank god these boys can fight.
SS: If The Remains of the Day was composed about the UFC on Twitter, I would hope it would be nothing like this. And yet...
The fact that Jones, in his initial salvo, calls Cormier a "pussy" and then Tweets a correction that he meant to capitalize "Pussy!" is just proof of the depth these men feel for each other.
OMG! In my day (the 80s) this would be like passing a note to your crush that says "Fine. Ignore me. I hate you and your deep blue eyes." There's still a spark after the breakup but neither can admit it.
[In case anyone's still wondering, I mean this completely platonically, even when their own banter gets super gay.]
What's evident here after the tweet that begins "last tweet" is that the hurt is still genuinely present on both sides. They go from discussing fight etiquette and politics right into playground insults. There's a parent somewhere telling them "He's picking on you because he likes you, sweetheart" and that sentiment inspires a spark of hope that can't be uttered aloud.
The last tweet and a half is again heartbreaking. After a barrage of tampon insults we get "My practice is starting, I'll check in later..." and "OK stop writing me I'm done with you for the day."
What I'm reading is an argument between besties who really hate how much they hate each other right now and they're making an appointment to tell each other once again that they're not speaking.
5. Bonus Analysis: The Shoe Incident
RD: Are we far enough in to the new nostalgia that quoting Austin Powers is cool again? No? Never mind.
EM: Yeah, that press conference scuffle was OK, but I kind of wish the camera work was better to keep track of exactly what went down—the shaky-cam, Paul Greengrass-esque verite doesn’t do much for me. (Unless, of course, the whole thing really was unplanned or unscripted, in which case the chaos is understandable and I have this bridge I can sell you for cheap.) For me, the biggest takeaway of that event is both that it made the Wikipedia entry for shoe-throwing incidents and, indeed, that there is a Wikipedia entry for shoe-throwing incidents.
D-S: Trash talk is important. You need to get into your opponents head. I've heard some amazing slurs outside of the Peel Pub at 2am. But it's always the same. Always death. Always infidelity. Like a Cheaters brawl. But maybe we're dumb. Maybe this is new age strategy. Opposites day. Maybe they're geniuses. Saying the corniest, soft-serve disses to confuse each other. Get them thinking. Or. Maybe not. Probably not. Yeah. Not.
SS: What a finale! It's like Judith Krantz made love to Marlon Perkins's assistant Jim (did I make a Wild Kingdom reference last time? Fuck it. Here's another one) and this clip was their love child!
They face off! They literally touch heads. And then... MAYHEM!!!
Muscular men grappling in passion literally being pulled apart by their allies to keep from destroying one another until one of them savagely removes an article of clothing and hurls it at the other. It's a total bodice-ripper only instead of a bodice it's a shoe! But clothes is clothes...
The good news is they've hit rock bottom. After this, they need to break up forever or make up and be the bros they know in their hearts they were meant to be. But this Gordian Knot of emotions and resentments may be too much to overcome.
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