Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Enter the Octagon

By Troy Patterson

Roland Barthes posited that when a professional wrestler enters the ring, he's stepping into a role in a grandiloquent drama of suffering, defeat, and justice: "Even hidden in the most squalid Parisian halls, wrestling partakes of the nature of the great solar spectacles, Greek drama and bullfights: in both, a light without shadow generates an emotion without reserve." For a comparable appreciation of the Ultimate Fighting Championship—the interdisciplinary martial-arts league that broadcasts matches regularly by pay-per-view and, irregularly, on the cable channel Spike—we must turn to that noted semiotician from the great state of Arizona, John McCain: "a cockfight, only we're using human beings." The senator definitely beats Barthes for both pithiness and understatement.

CNBC's Business Nation retrieved McCain's sound bite—from 1995, an era when an elbow to the crown of the head was still a legal UFC move—in a fairly recent, and distinctly promotional, segment. The correspondent went on to note that more young men watched an October bout between Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock on Spike than caught the first game of the 2006 World Series, which is impressive but not entirely apt. I want to know whether more sadists, ages 18 to 34, watched the Ortiz-Shamrock fight than lined up for that month's release of the Reservoir Dogs video game. Which group gets out less? Would they please keep not getting out? What does the rise of the UFC mean for those of us who like our screen violence the old-fashioned way, with the distance of fiction and a semblance of meaning and bullet-riddled Bonnie Parker in the driver's seat? Which channel is Spike again?

It was with a head full of such questions that I turned to some recent episodes of Spike's UFC Unleashed. The commentary team of Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan briskly laid out the laws governing the UFC's eight-sided ring: Matches consist of three five-minute rounds, except for championships, which last five rounds. Anything goes, except for a small handful of things that no longer go, like strikes to the throat and—this is in the rule book—kicking a man when he's down. While judges are said to gauge the fighters' effectiveness at "striking, grappling, aggression, and octagon control," the matches never seem to require decisions. The paramedics see more action than the judges.

(Read More)

No comments: