Occasionally, people get badly bitten by karma, and MMA fighter Drew “The Honorable” Chatman is one such person. In March 2018 he’d just won his first professional bout, defeating Irvins Ayala. But unfortunately, the delight of victory was quickly transformed into dismay after Chatman made a dreadful mistake.
Before this particular incident, though, Chatman’s amateur record was actually very impressive. Indeed, he had won all seven of his previous bouts, five of them by knockout or technical knockout.
To be fair, Ayala had a good fighting pedigree, too. The man known as “Conan the Barbarian” had won all four of his amateur fights and was clearly in good shape. So it seemed that Chatman and Ayala were set to have an interesting fight, as the two competitors were fairly evenly matched.
For both fighters, then, the Legacy Fighting Alliance 36 competition was supposed to be their professional breakthrough moment. The battle itself was to be a preliminary match-up and would take place before the other bouts between more established MMA fighters. For example, Corey Turner, Taylor Johnson and Ricky Simon were all on the main card.
Ultimately, it was the Ricky Simon title defense against challenger Vinicius Zani that spectators had paid to see. As it turned out, though, it took the champion a mere 59 seconds to defeat his opponent. A thunderous combination of hooks put paid to Zani’s attempt at the championship belt.
So Chatman and Ayala’s match-up had initially attracted less attention – but that didn’t prevent Chatman’s huge mistake from going viral. Even people who don’t watch MMA or know much about it saw the headlines on sites as major as the BBC. Subsequently, Chatman became internet-famous for all the wrong reasons.
The fight itself started in earnest. Despite Chatman being slightly more experienced, Ayala held his own before successfully sweeping the leg. With this, he managed to knock Chatman onto the mat, putting his opponent in a compromised position.
Now that the advantage was his, Ayala made his move and tried to land a “hammerfist” punch on his prone opponent. However, as he dove onto Chatman, he hit his head on the fighter’s knee, knocking himself out in surprising fashion.
Chatman was on his back and seemingly didn’t know that Ayala had been knocked out. So he threw a couple of punches to Ayala’s head, apparently not realizing the situation. However, it eventually dawned on him that his opponent was unconscious – and he had likely won the fight.
“I threw a kick, he tripped me, and as he came down, I moved my knee in a certain position, and he had hit his chin to my knee,” Chatman said in a subsequent interview with MMA Fighting. “At that moment, it happened so fast that my instincts just kicked in, and I started punching.”
He continued, “As he fell down to the floor, it was almost like I couldn’t believe he was out, because it happened really quick. My natural reaction was just to get up.” However, this was when Chatman, excited with his victory, made a terrible error in judgement.
Leaping up from the ground, Chatman planted both feet on the prone Ayala’s back. Then he performed a celebratory front flip, using his opponent’s unconscious body as a springboard. The reaction from the referee was immediate, and Chatman was taken to the edge of the ring.
Chatman later explained, “Normally, I celebrate my fights. If you see all my amateur fights, I’m doing flips, I’m doing cartwheels or whatever the case may be. I didn’t think before I did it. I just jumped and did a flip. So it was almost like subconsciously I did what I normally [would do].”
It might have been in character, done in the heat of the moment, but the referee wasn’t so forgiving. In fact, in light of Chatman’s behavior, the ref disqualified him on the spot. Furthermore, he awarded victory to Ayala, who was just coming around from his knockout.
Chatman might have had a little smile on his face immediately after the flip, but he was chastened by the reaction. Additionally, he was quick to admit that what he had done was wrong. Among other infractions, he had technically struck Ayala after the bell, an action that MMA guidelines expressly forbid.
As part of his broad contrition, Chatman said, “I want to apologize to Irvins Ayala. He was a good opponent. And he brought the fight to me. And he had a lot of heart. It was not a good move on my part as a martial artist.”
Chatman continued, “I’m not gonna play the victim here, because when you look at it the real victim here is Irvins Ayala. Let’s just be real. He showed up, he fought. It was an unfortunate mishap, but it did not have to end that way. All this publicity, all this media, the reality is I was wrong, and I ain’t trying to gain no fame off of this.”
Chatman has said that the worst part about the event was not the 90-day suspension or the docking of prize money. It was that he had brought the sport into disrepute. Indeed, representative of MMA or not, the strangeness of the event meant that the clip of Chatman’s actions has circulated widely.
Due to its nature as an intense combat sport, some often decry MMA as dangerous. Events such as Chatman’s flip only serve to prove their point that it is all about machismo and violence. This particularly frustrates the young fighter.
Chatman said, “I know that after this happened, a lot of MMA guys might be upset, because I’m giving them a bad name for people who are not even familiar with mixed marital arts. Someone who doesn’t even watch mixed martial arts might turn on the television and see this and then think, ‘This is how these cage fighters are.’”