Some athletes like to wear their faith on their sleeve. It’s hard to look at any sports page or website that mentions New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow without some connection to his religious faith.
In football it’s commonplace for group prayers to take place before or after games, and you rarely see a game go by in baseball or football where a player doesn’t make the sign of a cross, or points to the sky after a big play.
In the MMA world, religion has crossed over fairly often, especially in post-fight speeches where competitors call out to their religious or spiritual figures, thanking them or paying tribute in some way. In interviews, fighters often talk about their faith because it is something very important to them, near and dear to their everyday lives. So why not cross it over into their professional lives?
It was during season two of The Ultimate Fighter reality show when former UFC and current Bellator fighter Seth Petruzelli saw where faith and fighting came head to head. He fell hard on one side of the spectrum, while many of his housemates came down on the other.
“The first time it actually came up was in season 2 of The Ultimate Fighter in the house. Marcus Davis, he’s a pretty hardcore Christian and a lot of the guys in the house were the same way, especially with Matt Hughes being one of the coaches. There’s a scene actually in The Ultimate Fighter house where me and Matt kind of get into an argument for about 15 minutes or so about the bible, and obviously I think the bible is a bunch of BS, and that obviously struck a nerve with him,” Petruzelli explained to MMAWeekly.com.
See, Petruzelli is not one of the fighters who talk about God during interviews or post fight speeches. He’s actually a staunch atheist who is speaking out for his personal beliefs or lack thereof after seeing the subject permeate so thoroughly into MMA.
The argument during his time in The Ultimate Fighter house boiled over somewhat because his beliefs did not mesh with Hughes or many of the other fighters, and it’s hard for those kinds of things not to cause a rift.
“We kind of had an argument back and forth, with me coming out on top obviously cause you can’t argue with science. Science trumps faith in all aspects of everything. But they had group bible sessions in the house and I just kind of had a little dialogue obviously with Marcus Davis too about it, all kinds of stuff in the bible,” Petruzelli explained.
“I love Marcus to death and he can have his own views, but it just blows my mind that people can be that out of the loop with reality, and to believe in things like that when common sense just says not to.”
There’s no doubt that Petruzelli’s statements are going to be met generally in one of two ways. Either people are going to blast him for making such harsh statements about religion and religious followers or there are going to be those that agree with him and support his “coming out” about his own belief structure.
That’s where the old saying comes from that you never talk religion or politics amongst friends.
Petruzelli doesn’t subscribe to that theory because he believes that if other fighters are going to speak out about their devotion to a deity, he has the same right to speak out about his lack of belief.
“Faith to me is intellectual bankruptcy,” said Petruzelli. “I have faith in my fighting ability because there’s facts to back it up and that I can fight. Blind faith? Like I said, it’s intellectual bankruptcy, it’s a cop out. Tim Minchin has a great quote about this. ‘Science adjusts its views on what is observed, and faith is the denial of observation so that belief can be preserved.’
“To me, I think it just makes the people feel better. It makes them feel like they’re appeasing some higher life form or some higher God or whatever, but I think it’s something internal. It makes themselves feel better that they’re thanking somebody else for their victory, and for what they put themselves through.”
It’s apparent where Petruzelli falls in the religion in sports argument, but what about the fact that he does fight, compete, and train in MMA, where so many fighters carry religious beliefs and speak out about them regularly?
As Petruzelli explains it, go back to his stint on the second season of The Ultimate Fighter once again and revisit that conversation with Marcus Davis. Sure, Davis and Petruzelli differ greatly on their religious ideals, but it doesn’t mean they can’t still be friends, even if they disagree with each other so greatly on this particular subject.
“We post on each other’s Facebook walls all the time. He posts his right-wing Republican stuff, and I post my liberal agenda on his. We get into some friendly conversations on Facebook all the time, but of course he’s still my friend. Even though he thinks I’m damned and I’m going to Hell, we are still friends,” Petruzelli stated.
“My main training partner, my jiu-jitsu instructor, he’s super religious. I mean, he wears a cross on his gi, but I have a ton of people like that and obviously we get along and we’ll talk about it if it comes up. It’s like that saying, you don’t talk about religion or politics with your friends and it’s really like that, but I think it should be talked about. I don’t think it should be hush-hush. I think people should discuss their views and why they think the way they think about it, and debate about it. I think that’s how learning occurs.”
Petruzelli knows that the subject of religion is a touchy one, much like politics, and there’s a reason so many athletes avoid talking about it even when directly asked about their views.
NBA legend Michael Jordan was famously panned for not supporting a Democratic political candidate in the early 90's and reportedly said the reason he didn’t speak out about the matter was because “Republicans buy shoes, too.”
Nobody wants to be offensive, or be offended for that matter, and that includes Petruzelli, but he’s not keeping quiet when so many others loudly profess their faith every chance they get.
Petruzelli’s goal is like every fighter. To go out and win, make a paycheck, and appease his fans, and ultimately show that just because he’s religious or not religious, it doesn’t change the kind of person that he is on the inside or out.
“Of course I’m always worried about losing fans. I don’t want to offend anybody. I love all my fans and I hope I don’t lose anybody just because of my beliefs. I don’t feel like that represents me as a person,” said Petruzelli.
“I’m still a nice person. Just because I’m not Christian, I mean, I still donate to charities. I still rescued my dog. I’m still a nice person. It doesn’t change me as a person or my personality. I’m still me; it’s just what I believe.”