Tuesday, March 6, 2007

How to Spot a Newbie

By Kat Amano

It’s Round 1 of the sixth bout, and Erik Owings is my man. He’s a New York Pitbull, a student of Renzo Gracie, and a Brazilian jiu-jitsu extraordinaire.

He gets side mount, then mount, and then, nearly, an armbar. Now he’s wrestling for a choke, and I can feel my heart start to pound. And then, from a few rows back, a voice calls out from the crowd:

“Stand ‘em up! What’re they doing, making out?”

Anyone who knew anything about the ground game could see that Owings was busy grappling his way to a win. Even Terry, my boyfriend, who is pretty new to MMA, was watching in silent awe.

Stand ‘em up?! It’s not like they were just lying there, trying to stall and catch their breath.

I try hard not to be an MMA snob. I want this sport to be open to everyone. I want it to be bigger than football. But it’s kind of like loving an unknown band who is your own little wonderful secret. One day, they make it big and everyone claims to “get” it like you do. Suddenly, it’s not yours anymore.

MMA is different from other sports in that much of the fan base trains. This was particularly true in the beginning, when no one but other fighters really cared about the sport all that much.

But even fans who don’t know how to pull a rear naked choke at least have to know what it looks like – that is, of course, if they want to fully appreciate the fight. As the sport grows and the masses catch on, some of these new fans don’t seem to understand that.

Some of them, like the ones who shouted at the referee, are clearly there for the spectacle. Sure, some guys like the stand-up stuff and some of them like the ground game – but if you know the sport, you relish great moments no matter where they occur.

You can tell the seasoned fans from the newbies pretty quickly: they’re the ones wearing the Tapout shirts, the ones watching the fights like med students observing surgery. The new fans are content with just yelling, getting pumped by the live-fight energy and wanting their own piece of the action.

For example, I couldn’t wait for the Atlanta Superfight: Robbie Lawler versus a Gracie-trained Brazilian, Eduardo Pamplona, for whom this would be the first pro fight in the U.S. But during the bout, a scuffle broke out in the crowd.

I was trying to ignore it – Lawler and Pamplona were fighting from the clinch, and my eyes were glued to the ring. But then I heard some hecklers, sitting to my left, bellowing and guffawing and egging on the crowd fight. I glanced over as security guards approached, and I realized most of my section wasn’t even paying attention to the Superfight. Their eyes were stuck on the amateurs.

I don’t know what they were arguing about, but I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. Lawler and Pamplona were thirty feet away, and these guys were starting a fight? Only an idiot would pick up a guitar during a Jimmy Page solo. Did they think that, in the setting of an IFL event, that their crude, sloppy punches could prove something?

Lawler and Pamplona gave an amazing fight. It’s unfortunate that part of the crowd wasn’t even watching it.

I was thrilled for Terry, and for my stepbrother, Tanner, since this was their first live MMA event and nearly every fight was awesome. Though they are relatively new fans of MMA, they appreciate it on a deeper level than a lot of newbie fans.

Neither of them officially trains, but they’ve both spent time on the mat. Their eyes grew wide with anticipation when anyone escaped from the guard; they quickly caught on to the head-turning you have to perfect on the floor – watch the ring until the ref blocks your view; watch the screen until he gets out of the way.

It’s a shame, then, that a small number of obnoxious fans tried to steal the show away from the fighters.

There’s a learning curve for everyone who becomes interested in any sport, but the intricacies of MMA require a certain patience and attention that seems lacking in some of the new fans. If you just want to watch two guys fight without kicks or ground work, go to a boxing match. If you just want to see some good grappling, go to a jiu-jitsu tournament.

But this is MMA, the most skilled and evolved form of competitive fighting out there. And if you don’t understand how it works, please still come to the fights so you can learn – but until you do, keep in mind the words of Mark Twain: “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”


No comments: