Artwork by Grimoire
The Romans had a name for extending your middle finger: digitus impudicus, or "the impudent finger." By the time they took the hand signal from the Greeks and added it into their nonverbal lexicon, it was already a symbol of derision and insult, probably for its resemblance to an erect penis. "The gesture became so abhorrent that Augustus Caesar banished an actor from Italy for giving the finger to an audience member who hissed at the actor during a performance," American University professor Ira P. Robbins wrote. A couple of millennia later, the middle finger’s power to offend endures. When you aim the impudent finger at a crowd, don’t be surprised to make a few enemies.
And, as UFC welterweight Matt Brown learned, don't be surprised if a pair of middle fingers makes for a, um, memorable weekend in Brazil. Booked opposite Demian Maia for UFC 198, Brown's trip to Curitiba started auspiciously enough. Brown-Maia occupied the top spot on the Fox Sports 1 broadcast, a vote of confidence that their fight would be good enough to convince a few would-be pay-per-view buyers to part with their cash at the last minute. On a card heavy with Brazil-versus-the-world implications and with a reported 45,000 spectators in attendance, a fight pitting Sao Paolo against Ohio begged for "uh vai morrer" chants to tumble down from the rafters.
The trouble began at Friday's weigh-ins. Brown strode onto the stage as the whole of Arena da Baixada stadium booed him. He scowled and mocked the crowd's hostility, flashing an impudent finger and taking off his pants. He stepped on the scale with his back to the audience. After registering 171 pounds, he threw two middle fingers to the heavens, further enraging his antagonists and channeling that nameless Roman actor. UFC president Dana White—the Augustus Caesar figure in this scenario—was not amused.
When fight day arrived and Brown walked from dressing room to cage, he had to face the same people to whom he gave the bird the day before. He exited the tunnel with his hood up and flanked by a security escort, snaking through a sea of wagging middle fingers. One fan sucker punched him from the stands. Then another. A third grabbed his hood, and Brown spun around and threw a right hand.
Assaulting a fighter as he or she walks through the crowd is a bad look. Your only responsibility as a spectator is to not let your troglodytic tendencies become dangerous. Corny shadowboxing in your seat? You paid for that ticket and those piss-warm beers, so it's your right. Hat theft? A little less tolerable. But reaching out and hitting an athlete before he goes to work, even one who flipped you off in the most general of ways, crosses a line. It's Trump-rally logic. All retribution is deserved.
Anyway, once the fight with Maia started, things got worse for Brown. It was an impressively one-sided bout: again and again Maia clung to Brown's back, threatening rear-naked chokes and calling attention to the difference between the jiu jitsu of Demian Maia and that of everyone else. Outside of a few moments of offense when Maia tired in the third round, Brown was a body that was acted upon. He succumbed to a choke in the last 30 seconds of the fight, Brown's third loss in two years and Maia's fifth straight win.
The chaos didn't even stop on Sunday morning. According to Guilherme Cruz of MMA Fighting, Rodrigo Botti—a former coach of Brown's, who accused the welterweight of assault last year—allegedly attacked Brown in his hotel's lobby, fled, caught a bad one from one of Brown's friends, and pressed charges against said friend.
That's the kind of weekend most of us would rather forget, but Brown took it in stride. In a Facebook post that would have read as sarcasm if it was written by anyone else, Brown wrote, "I would like to send a special thanks to the Brazilian fans for showing such passion for your country and your fighters. I truly enjoyed the experience." After returning home, he added: "I've finally made it back to the US alive and well! Wasn't sure if that was going to happen but here I am!"
He changed his profile picture, too:
Check out these related stories:
The Mixed Martial Arts of Victorian London
Before BJJ, there was Bartitsu.
Jonathan Maicelo: The Last Inca
Peru's up-and-coming boxing star.
Kron Gracie on Jiu-Jitsu, Skateboarding, Older Brothers, and Famous Fathers
The ties that bind are strong.
Joel Tudor on the Art of Surfing, Fighting, and Style
A surf icon helps MMA keep its sense of tradition.
Japan's Karate Kid: Kyoji Horiguchi
Japan's brightest MMA prospect.