By Bob Hiller –
Earlier this week, the good Dr. van Voorhis (AKA The Man About Town) requested my take on the rise of MMA. As I owe a great deal to the professor in terms of my theology and career choice (he is a major reason why I am Lutheran pastor), and since I do have thoughts on the subject, but mostly because baseball news is painfully drab this time of year (do you really care to hear my thoughts on the Tulowitzki trade?), I am obliged to answer. Though, truth be told, I will do so wearing cargo pants and flip-flops.
As I have stated before, I believe Mixed-Martial Art (MMA) and the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) are acquired tastes. Just this past Tuesday, as our pastoral translation group sat down at the bar for our weekly Taco Tuesday, we watched replays of some past-fights. In the particular fight we watched, the floor was sloppy with blood oozing from the fighters’ faces. I gaped in amazement as these men, who could barely stand, bled all over each other and on the mat, refusing to tap-out. Then, thankfully, the waitress brought my beer and tacos and I shifted my focus.
Truth be told, I am not a big fan of the MMA/UFC. Watching men and women mercilessly bludgeon each other in the ring is not my cup-of-tea. However, I also recognize there is a great deal of skill that goes into this craft of fighting. On the surface, Ronda Rousey may look like she is doing nothing more than knocking ladies out in a high-profile, schoolyard girl fight. But in reality, like the other fighters, she is a highly trained, exceptionally skilled athlete who is a master of her craft. As much as I’d like to say that it is this eye-for-detail and appreciation of sport that has given rise to the MMA/UFC, I don’t believe that to be the case. In my opinion, people don’t watch Ronda Rousey to appreciate the nuances of combat sports; they just want to watch a girl fight.
Which leads me to why I believe such sports are on the rise in popularity. Let me submit three reasons for discussion and debate. Dear readers, I’d love to get your feedback on this to see where I may be off base, or to hear if you have any other thoughts as to the rise of this sport.
- Impatient Lust for Action– MMA is replacing boxing as the most popular combat sport for the same reasons football has replaced baseball as America’s pastime: more action with less mental investment. Now, I actually think baseball and boxing are full of action. However, if you are not patient enough to learn the nuances or the “science,” you can get lost in the technicalities. It’s the same reason why a freak show like Slipknot would outsell Yo-Yo Ma. You don’t have to think to hear noise. MMA delivers violent fighting in a far less nuanced fashion. Again, I am sure some MMA expert will be quick to point out the nuance and skill that would allow me to appreciate the fighting more. Strategy and skill are certainly there. However, I don’t need to know that to appreciate an MMA fight where such information may be necessary in any given boxing match. Bottom line: MMA requires less of a patient mental investment, less knowledge of the sport, and gives an immediate thrill.
- Outstanding PR– Apart from the NFL, I cannot think of another big-money sport that sells their product better than the MMA. Dana White, president of the UFC, is a master promoter. He frequents as many sports talk shows as he can. He encourages his fighters to be in the public. He makes sure that the best fighters are always fighting each other. Again, to contrast boxing with the MMA, boxing’s big ticket fights don’t actually pack the punch they used to (what happened to Don King?). Gone are the days of Tyson vs. Holyfield or Ali vs. Frasier. Now, the big ticket fights are just lame. Remember Mayweather vs. Pacquiao? Unfortunately I do. Dana White makes sure the best fight the best on a regular basis. Which means the chance of watching a dud of a fight is very small. Some of the fighters have even gained cross-over celebrity status. Ronda Rousey is a household name right now who even has roles in movies like Entourage and The Expendables. White knows that promoting celebrity and giving folks what they want always puts butts in the pews.
- Hulk Hogan, Van Damme, and Mortal Kombat- The entertainment diet for men my age had these three items featured on the menu. I remember being crushed when I learned that the WWF was all acrobatics. I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if there were people who actually fought that way?” Then, I remember watching Van Damme movies like Kickboxer and Bloodsport where guys would travel from all over the world to enter these super-violent fighting matches. Playing Mortal Kombat gave me the opportunity to be Van Damme in a video game (if I recall, he actually starred in the Mortal Kombat movie). All of this is to say, much of my generation’s entertainment diet (the main demographic for MMA, I assume) consisted of a great deal of faux-violence. MMA takes it to the next level by giving me the real deal. I have been desensitized enough so as not to blink at blood pouring out of some dude’s ear. In fact, something in me won’t be satisfied until I see it happen. Since it was these entities that shaped how I was entertained a youth, it only makes sense that I am going to desire to see a greater, more extreme version as an adult.
These are some factors that contribute to MMA’s rise, in my opinion. Someone who is far more intelligent than I am can speak to the rise of organized violence being sold as a sport evidences a general decline in our culture’s standards. But that is way above my paygrade. So, dear reader, what do you think? Why is MMA so popular?
I guess I should point out that I was listening to Sam Cooke at the Copa and drinking lukewarm coffee while throwing this thing together.