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Why Do UFC Fighters Stare At Each Other?

So if you’ve never seen a UFC event, or if you’re a new UFC fan, there may be some things about the sport that can confuse you. And one of those things is the staredowns. This is when the two people fighting each other, stare each other down for the media.

So why do UFC fighters stare at each other?

In short, UFC fighters stare each other down as part of their promotion for the fight. However, many fighters also take it as an opportunity to read or intimidate their opponent. For example, after a staredown with Conor McGregor, Jose Aldo said, “I saw fear in his eyes”.

Let’s talk about the history of staredowns, as well as the various antics that can occur during one.

Staredowns For Promotion

So of course, the fighters don’t stare each other down just for fun. The staredowns are a traditional part of the fight game, and have been so for decades.

Apparently Jack Sharkey (left) popularized the staredown, as seen here with Primo Carnera in 1933.
Apparently Jack Sharkey (left) popularized the staredown, as seen here with Primo Carnera in 1933.

Staredowns started to become a regular part of boxing around the 1930s. Apparently, the staredown was first used by heavyweight boxing champion Jack Sharkey, when he stared down his opponent Jack Dempsey, after their weigh-in for their match in 1927. While the story is probably true, I couldn’t find an official source to confirm this.

After that, staredowns became a tradition, almost a mandatory part of the fight. Boxers would weigh in, step off the scale, and wait for their opponent to stare them down. Of course, in modern-day fighting, staredowns are held whenever two fighters are expected to face each other, and often takes place outside the weigh-ins.

While we don’t know the origin of staredowns for boxing, we do know where they started for the UFC. At first, the UFC didn’t have any type of ritual after weigh-ins, and so fighters pretty much just left after weighing in.

One of the first staredowns in UFC history, Tito Ortiz vs Ken Shamrock, with John McCarthy separating them.
One of the first staredowns in UFC history, Tito Ortiz vs Ken Shamrock, with John McCarthy separating them.

But according to an article by FOXSports, that all changed at UFC 40, after a staredown between Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock. There was a legitimate tension between the two fighters, and so after they weighed in, the naturally felt the need to stare each other down, as if ready to fight then and there.

UFC 40 was wildly successful, doubling the typical pay-per-view numbers that the UFC had achieved for an event at the time. From then on, staredowns became common not only after weigh-ins, but at press conferences, world tours, and any other appearances where the two fighters promote the event.

In present day, fighters will even staredown in anticipation of a potential match, such as when TJ Dillashaw and Henry Cejudo would face off with each other, months before their fight was even announced.

This was a staredown held in the TMZ offices between Cejudo (left) and Dillashaw in August, despite their fight not being made official until December.
This was a staredown held in the TMZ offices between Cejudo (left) and Dillashaw in August, despite their fight not being made official until December.

The UFC staredowns are now a mandatory part of every event, usually happening at media day and the ceremonial weigh-ins. They serve to increase the tension between the two opponents before they finally get to face each other inside the Octagon.

Staredowns For Reading The Opponent

While staredowns are a tradition and basically mandatory for UFC fighters, many fighters believe there are advantages they can get from a staredown.

Something you will hear often is fighters saying that they can see something in their opponent’s eyes, such as fear, doubt, worry, etc. For example, welterweight champion Tyron Woodley and his opponent Darren Till faced off at the press conference for promotion of their bout at UFC 228.

When asked by a media member what he saw in Woodley’s eyes, Till responded, “I always tell the truth, no fear, he’s not scared, nothing like that… you know he’s the champion, and respect as the champion, but that doesn’t change anything.”

This is the staredown between Woodley (left) and Darren Till, a fight that Woodley won by submission.
This is the staredown between Woodley (left) and Darren Till, a fight that Woodley won by submission.

However, when asked individually what he saw in Woodley after the press conference, Till added, “I didn’t see no fear in his eyes, but I just sensed a little bit of doubt”.

Of course, this is the calmer approach to the staredown, simply looking into your opponent’s eyes and looking for some type of feeling or emotion. However, there are then those who use the staredown for intimidation.

Take Mike Perry for example. Mike “Platinum” Perry is a brash fighter in the UFC’s welterweight division know for his antics at the staredowns. For example, in his UFC debut, Perry faced South Korean fighter Hyun Gyu Lim.

As his opponent stepped off the scale, Perry extended his hand, as if offering him a handshake. However, when Hyun Gyu Lim reached for his hand, Perry quickly pulled it back and yelled, “Thought you had a friend boy! AAAAHHHHHHH!”. You can see it here.

The Mike Perry vs Hyun Gyu Lim staredown. Guess which one is Mike lol.
The Mike Perry vs Hyun Gyu Lim staredown. Guess which one is Mike lol.

As unhinged and crazy as Perry may have seemed at the staredown, this was actually a smart move by him. His antics brought a lot of attention to his debut, and he capitalized on it by winning by first-round knockout. All in all, pretty entertaining maneuver by Mr. Perry.

Of course, intimidation/promotion tactics during the staredown can obviously backfire. An example of this occurred at the weigh-ins for an MMA fight not held in the UFC, but in a promotion known as Nitro MMA.

Julian Wallace was the Nitro MMA Bantamweight Champion. His opponent was the shorter, unimposing, and all-around nice guy Ben Nguyen. At their face-off, Wallace seemingly tried to intimidate Nguyen by putting his fist in Nguyen’s face, with Nguyen just laughing it off. It was an unnecessarily disrespectful move by Wallace, even if it was only for promotion or an intimidation tactic.

Ben Nguyen (right) knocked out Julian "one more tattoo" Wallace in just 25 seconds.
Ben Nguyen (right) knocked out Julian “one more tattoo” Wallace in just 25 seconds.

Regardless, it didn’t seem to affect Ben. Once the fight started, Ben came out quick, and knocked Wallace out cold in just 25 seconds. The video went viral, and you may have seen it before. You can see it here.

So there are fighters who use the staredown to read their opponent. There’s some that use it for promotion. There are others who use it to intimidate. And finally, there’s those that simply avoid it.

This is the case with light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones. While Jon Jones has had some crazy staredowns in the past (such as this one involving DC) he is known for often not looking at his opponents during them.

This is how Jon Jones' (left) staredowns usually go.
This is how Jon Jones’ (left) staredowns usually go.

Usually, Jones’ opponent will look at him, while Jones simply looks at the crowd, almost as if ignoring his opponent.

Some fighters adhere to a similar pre-fight ritual where they do not look their opponents in the eyes before a fight, such as UFC flyweight Tim Elliott. Though he doesn’t always follow it strictly, he says he tries to avoid eye contact with his opponent because it makes him too amped and emotional.

Conclusion

In conclusion, there are many reasons why fighters stare each other down at the weigh-ins. But here’s a quick summary.

In short, UFC fighters stare each other down at the weigh-ins as part of the build-up and promotion for the fight. Staredowns are part of the weigh-ins since UFC 40, when Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock faced-off due to genuine animosity, as staredowns were not used before then.

I hope this post answered your questions about the staredown ceremony held by fighters in the build-up to their fight. If you enjoyed, consider checking out similar posts on the Martial Arts History page. Thanks for reading!

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