After winning her second Olympic gold medal in Judo, the conversation surrounding Kayla Harrison's future immediately turned to mixed martial arts. There is an easy correlation given the success bronze-medalist Olympian Ronda Rousey had, becoming a star in the UFC and a dominant women's bantamweight champion.
But Harrison said MMA isn't for her.
“You know, after a match you shake the person’s hand and you give them a hug and you bow to them to show respect, and in MMA it’s not like that,” Harrison said. “I don’t know if I’m cut out for a world where you get fights based on how pretty you are and how much you talk, not necessarily what’s your worth in the ring."
Former UFC lightweight champion and current Bellator MMA contender Benson Henderson agrees with the young Judoka.
"I saw a brief headline but I didn’t read more into that. But along those lines, I do know what she is talking about and I completely agree," Henderson told Sports Illustrated by phone when asked about Harrison's comments. "I’m not as big of a fan of being loud, brash and boisterous just for the sake of selling a fight. I don’t like the people, the guys who feel the need to be Donald Trump and say outlandish things just for the sake of being in the headline, just for the sake of creating a stir and getting their name out there. Saying completely stupid things just so they can get in a headline, I don’t like that. That’s not me, that’s now who I am, that’s not how I go about doing things."
There is a certain amount reality to what Henderson is saying. Success for fighters is often measured by the marketability of their fights, not their fighting ability. Stephen Thompson is on a seven-fight win streak and welterweight champion Tyron Woodley said he'd rather fight Nick Diaz, who is coming off an 18-month suspension, or the coming out of retirement Georges St-Pierre because they're bigger draws, and consequently Woodley would benefit from the financial windfall those opponents would have on pay-per-view figures.
UFC flyweight Demetrious Johnson is a talented fighter, arguably the best fighter in the sport at the moment, but he isn't a trash talker and consequently isn't a big draw despite being on the cusp of breaking the record for most consecutive title defense.
The other issue is the authenticity of the trash talking. In the wake of Conor McGregor, who some think trash talked his way into a title shot and the top spot in the sport, more fighters seem to be inclined to by into the "selling" of fights by building drama. After the UFC 202 press conference on Wednesday when McGregor and Diaz got into an altercation that resulted in water bottles being thrown across a theater, some immediately speculated that it was staged to hype the fight.
Henderson, who fights Patricio Freire at Bellator 160 later this month, isn't a fan of this trend either, fighters acting out to sell fights by trash talking opponents.
"As long as you’re you, be you, do you. But be real," Henderson said, before the UFC 202 press conference. "Us fighters, we see each other behind the scenes backstage, so we know how the person really is. Then when the cameras come on all of a sudden they change their persona, they act loud and this and that. Be you. People know you’re a good guy, a stand up guy, you don’t need to try and sell fights, do this and do that. But I agree with her. I think her statements ring true to me about needing to sell fights, or talk this way.
"Nick and Nate Diaz. We’re different people, we have different personalities. But I have mad respect for them because that is them. That is Nick and Nate being themselves and not putting on a front. Not acting differently when the cameras on than when the cameras off. I got a lot of respect for Nick and Nate for that reason."
Still, Henderson loves the sport and wants people to know that you can be a successful fighter in MMA based on talent and skill without the drama.
"For people looking to get into MMA, they see the circus of what it is sometimes and it turns them off. It turns off potential athletes who could be fighters. It turns them off because they feel they have to act a certain way, they have to talk a certain way. They have to say a bunch of outlandish things," Henderson said. "Hopefully a lot of the athletes, whether it’s judo athletes, wrestling athletes, gold-level boxing athletes thinking about going into MMA, that they realize you don’t have to talk like this. You don’t have to say outlandish things. You can be real, you can be you, you can be true to yourself and still make good money being a professional athlete."