Thursday, March 8, 2007


By John Walters

"Good Lord, you are an idiot."

"Goodbye, dimwit."

"Nice haircut."

Seems that I touched a nerve (radial? ulnar?) when I blogged about mixed martial arts (the generic term for the Ultimate Fighting Championship series) the other day. Who knew you could upset this many readers on this site without even mentioning how outclassed Notre Dame was in the Sugar Bowl?

For my next blog, I'll be insulting everyone's mother.

Okay, let's go over this, UFC fans. I went back and re-read what I wrote in the "Penultimate Fighting Championship" blog. I'm not sure that I exactly bashed the sport as much as I discussed why it's become so popular. Why it is the MOST POPULAR sport among readers on our site.

I'll be the first to admit that MMA dudes are outstanding, disciplined athletes who are in both peak shape and possess technical skills. And I'll be the first to say that Spencer Fisher ,. the lowest ranked lightweight in our UFC power rankings, would end me in the time it takes you to read this sentence (and that's no knock on your literacy skills).

And, yes, lots of sports have brutality. Was it only a week or so ago that Arena Football League Javan Camon was killed during a game due to a vicious open-field hit? The player who hit him, Cedric Ware, suffered a concussion.

Nobody called for the abolition of football in the wake of that incident.

But I don't recall writing that the UFC should be abolished, or that it's even a fringe sport. My argument wasn't with the action, but with why you find it all so enthralling. C'mon, you have to admit, there's something very Beyond Thunderdome about the entire set-up, from the Octagon venue to the arena's electricity being entirely powered by pig feces. Okay, maybe just one out of the two.

First, UFC fans, you should know: I'm not some 400-pound shlub who's worn an ass-groove in his couch watching sports on TV and hasn't seen his John Thomas in a decade due to all the layers of fat (I haven't seen it all winter because it's been freezing here in New York, but that's a different matter altogether...). Anyway, the point is, I get to the gym or go for a run every day. I appreciate how disciplined these fighters are.

But it was a comment from a reader identifying himself as "Grape Knee High" (Why is it so difficult for commenters to use their actual names? Anonymity is like a sucker-punch on message board forums) that really made me think. Here's what GKH wrote:

And most everyone, no matter what they are willing to admit in a public forum, are mesmerized by two men fighting. That's why a fight in the street catches a crowd. And you may say that you're "above" this kind of lowest common denominator behavior, but you're not. Next time you cheer a big hit that just gave both football players concussions, realize you're not above the rabble. You're just the same as everyone else only you're *pretending* that you're better.

True, I would be mesemerized by watching a fight in the street. And if I see a big hit in a football game, it provides a momentary rush. However, that is not why I watch football and here's how I know this is true. Because, for a full day after January 1st's Fiesta Bowl, I was still smiling over how Boise State beat Oklahoma. The fourth quarter of that game was a complete adrenalin rush, and not because of the big hits (that's part of the game), but rather because of how the Broncos pulled off the victory: those two ballsy 4th-down calls, and that 2-point conversion to win it.

I was there, just a few feet away from Ian Johnson when he crossed the goal line (closer than most OU defenders, in fact) and the moment swept me off my feet. So here's the difference: I genuinely enjoy watching a great football game and while hits are certainly part of that equation, there's also tactics involved that had little do with inflicting pain on your opponent. Nobody got hurt on Boise State's 4th-and-18 hook-and-ladder TD, but it was still a thrill to witness.

In MMA (and boxing, sure) inflicting pain is the object of the game. I realize that I'm far from the first person to make this argument. And that doesn't mean boxing or MMA are not sports (they are to me) or that the fighters are not amazing athletes. They are.

My question to you, if MMA is your favorite sport, is simply what do you love most about it? I'm not asking out of any reason other than curiosity. I know why I love playing football or basketball, and that's a big reason I love watching those sports. And I've even boxed before, so I can appreciate how much concentration is required and how exhausting it is...and how excruciatingly long a 3-minute round can seem.

But I doubt that everyone who watches MMA trains in the martial arts. And if you don't, and if you're still a big fan of the sport, I just really want to know. Why?

Perhaps now is not the best time to confess that I really like No More Kings' "Sweep the Leg" video:

Meanwhile, here is what someone else has written about MMA, or UFC, or whatever you'd like to call it. He wished to remain anonymous--so he's just like most people who comment--but here's his take:

Some will argue that ultimate fighting is as much a sport as boxing. Considering the weak hold that boxing has on the public these days, advocates might wish to consider a different argument, but there is also an important difference between ultimate fighting and the other combat sports. All of those sports require participants to perform within a certain discipline. Boxing, fencing, the martial arts and wrestling all have rules that prohibit certain types of contact.

Thus, these sports measure mastery of the discipline. Ultimate fighting is more akin to a barroom brawl, measuring mastery of nothing but the ability to administer and receive punishment. This is our demons shouting down the better angels of our nature.


No comments: