'He Sawed Off My Hair With a Dull Knife': The Horrific Misogyny of Mixed Martial Arts Culture
She looks indistinguishable from a corpse. In the photos, both of her eyes are swollen shut and black-and-blue. A hospital gown falls back revealing a thigh covered in a yellowing bruise. These horrifying shots were posted to Facebook Monday afternoon by 23-year-old Christy Mack, along with a list of injuries so long it demands a block quote:
My injuries include 18 broken bones around my eyes, my nose is broken in 2 places, I am missing teeth and several more are broken. I am unable to chew, or see out of my left eye. My speech is slurred from my swelling and lack of teeth. I have a fractured rib and severely ruptured liver from a kick to my side. My leg is so badly injured I have not been able to walk on my own. I also attained several lesions from a knife he got from my kitchen. He pushed the knife into me in some areas such as my hand, ear, and head. He also sawed much of my hair off with this dull knife.
This, she says, was the work of her ex-boyfriend and MMA fighter Jon Koppenhaver, aka War Machine, who is now wanted by police. Mack says the attack happened Friday morning, when Koppenhaver showed up unexpectedly at her house and discovered her with a “fully clothed and unarmed” man. “Without a single word spoken, he began beating my friend,” she wrote. “Once he was finished, he sent my friend away and turned his attention to me.” He beat, stabbed and threatened to rape her. She only managed to escape when he went to her kitchen, she believes in search of a sharper knife with which to kill her.
This isn’t the first time Koppenhaver has been accused of assault. As Deadspin reported, “He attacked a former girlfriend at a porn industry party back in 2009, and has served time in jail for a felony assault in 2010, among other arrests.” Mixed martial arts has a long-standing domestic violence problem, too — and that’s the least of it. This case reveals the sport’s link to a brand of toxic masculinity that is evident in the worst examples of current misogyny, including Elliot Rodger’s Santa Barbara massacre, and relatedly, the pickup artist scene, the “manosphere” and resentful “involuntary celibates.”
Let’s begin with domestic violence. Just a few days ago, UFC veteran Josh Grispi was arrested for assault and battery of his wife, who reportedly suffered a broken wrist and concussion. He allegedly trained his pit bull to maul his wife and sent text messages telling her she’s a “whore” whom he’s “goin enjoy choking to death.” This was reportedly followed up by the text, “I don’t joke ur dead when I see u… Literally. I don’t care I’m going to beat u n throw u to buddy [his dog], Ur dead.”
As the blog Bloody Elbow points out, these two recent cases follow a spate of vile domestic violence incidents connected to MMA fighters: “Long-time UFC contender Thiago Silva got cut from the organization after an armed stand-off with Florida police in yet another domestic violence case. Will Chope lost his UFC contract when it was revealed his military discharge came due to domestic violence allegations. Jeremy Stephens got acquitted in his Iowa assault case and managed to stay with the organization. Etc.”
Those are just incidents that happened in the last couple of years. Don’t expect upper management to care: UFC president Dana White once tweeted at Jenna Jameson, who had previously accused ex-boyfriend and former UFC fighter Tito Ortiz of domestic violence, “@jennajameson hey jenna SHUT THE FUCK UP and mind ur biz! @titoortiz put her on a fuckin leash!!!” He’s also infamously filmed a video rant in which he called a female journalist a “fucking dumb bitch” and hurled a homophobic slur.
The sport doesn’t just have a horrific history of domestic violence, but also rape jokes. In 2012, former UFC Heavyweight Champion Rampage Jackson starred in a video titled “How To Pick Up a Gurl – Fast.” It featured him pretending to attempt to rape a woman in a parking garage (“I like this parking lot ’cause my cousin works for the security company, so I know the cameras are gonna be out of service right now”) with the assistance of chloroform (“something to help her relax”), zip ties and a ski mask. When he spots his potential victim he tells the camera, “Just like I like it: tall, blond and skinny — and I hope she got low self-esteem.” The year before, fighter Forrest Griffin tweeted, “Rape is the new missionary.” That same year, Miguel Torres was suspended by the UFC for less than a month after tweeting: “If a rape van was called a surprise van more women wouldn’t mind going for rides in them.”
Wait, where have I heard jokes about rape vans before? Oh right, pickup artist Jeff Allen. MMA has some overlap with the world of pickup artists, which, as I’ve written about before, is pretty darn rape-y on its own. Consider the course “Seduction MMA: The Ultimate Hybrid Pickup Artist System” by pickup artist Gunwitch, who once shot a woman in the face and teaches men to “project animalistic sexuality and escalate physical contact until the woman stops them.”
Koppenhaver himself is a fan of rape jokes — specifically rape jokes targeting the woman now accusing him of rape. Last year he tweeted, “Just raped @ChristyMack She tried to make me wait until ‘after errands’ As if! =p.” He followed up with, “Real men rape. (Their GF’s and wives, not strangers, don’t get your panties in a bunch.)” Oh, just their girlfriends and wives! That’s so much better.
Speaking of Koppenhaver’s views of women, he owns a clothing line called “Alpha Male Shit.” On the brand’s website, I came across a women’s T-shirt reading “I DO ALPHA FEMALE SHIT,” and the product description says, “Strong women are important to the world and they always have been, even back when they had no ‘rights’” (note the scare quotes!). “Women are the gate keepers to the future, THEY select what genes will be spread to the next generation and THAT is much MORE IMPORTANT than any bullshit vote that they may cast on any bullshit ballot! A strong, smart woman is essential to raising strong, smart children and every REAL MAN NEEDS a strong, smart woman to come home to.”
Biological determinism masquerading as enlightenment! This mentality certainly isn’t unique to MMA, but it is remarkably essential to that world. Consider this comment pastor Mark Driscoll made in a documentary about the sport: “I don’t think there is anything purer than two guys in a cage,” he said. “As a pastor and as a Bible teacher, I think that God made men masculine. … Men are made for combat, men are made for conflict, men are made for dominion. … That’s just the way men are made.”
Former cage fighter Matt Morin responded brilliantly to Driscoll in an essay titled “The Confessions of a Cage Fighter: Masculinity, Misogyny, and the Fear of Losing Control.” He writes of that quote, “This is the punch line. This is the work that Driscoll and Dobson think MMA does for their brand of Christian masculinity—it provides the necessary control. It places men back in the driver’s seat of a world that has been careening out of control ever since we allowed our women to remove their head coverings in defiance of an explicit scriptural command.”
That is what defines this kind of toxic masculinity: It’s a violent reaction to feminism and women’s rights. This phenomenon has existed ever since Susan Faludi published Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women in 1991. The underlying mechanics remain the same, but its expressions are ever-changing. MMA fighting, the worship of “alpha male shit,” pickup artistry, rape jokes on Twitter, misogynistic shooting sprees — they are all symptoms of the same disease.