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Why do you like mixed martial arts?

I suppose I like football because I played it for seven years when I was a kid.  Baseball grew on me once I was able to buy a beer at the game – there are few better ways to spend a summer afternoon, especially now that the Rockies kick ass.  Basketball was another sport that I gravitated to because of local success (and the need to fill in the months between the Super Bowl and Opening Day) and I’ve always been awestruck seeing people bigger than me skate up and down an ice rink, with sticks in their hand no less, and crash into each other at speeds you couldn’t hope to sprint.  Also, I was saturated in all four by my dad from a young age.  Yes, I have a thing for the Big Four in American sports, and that differentiates me from a lot of MMA fans – but it also means I got into MMA for different reasons than the others.

It helps me understand that MMA will double and double again and still be no better than fifth.  Even though we’re year round as opposed to seasonal, there’s simply no way to compete with a season of 162 or 84 or 82 games with one or two events a month in terms of brand saturation, media coverage and overall cultural impact.  Longevity plays a role, too – and while comparing the growth of the pay of any of the Big Four in it’s first two decades of existence to the UFC’s is like comparing Bush’s economy to Clinton’s, it is more than likely that world-class athletes will always stand to make more money as an offensive lineman or a center fielder or a power forward than they would as a fighter.

But what does this really mean?  Fighting, taking a punch, training mercilessly – these are clearly attributes that are unique to those pursuing a career in MMA.  It normally means an athletic history unconnected to team sports and primarily relegated to individual competition – one-on-one striking, wrestling, judo and jiu-jitsu come to mind.  Nowhere is it written that Georges St Pierre wouldn’t be an amazing second baseman or that Anderson Silva couldn’t play point guard, and I’d put their overall physical ability against the best at either position – their passion, training and skill sets are simply unique to them.  I suppose it’s for these and other reasons that I’m pretty damn puzzled by the recent defenses I’ve read regarding Herschel Walker’s Strikeforce fight.

I was appalled by the signing, the placement and the fight itself.  I said on Jackal Radio that it took a main card slot away from two fighters that had earned it – and it did.  I said in the chat that it was the first fight I’d ever seen stopped due to arm pit strikes – and it was.  And I said that the rumors about Walker/Canseco made the sport look like a carny act – and they did.

I don’t read anyone disputing any of these things.  What I do read are emphases on the eye-drawing impact of the gambit…:

Folks who never talk about MMA in the DC sports media establishment began to talk about it…to me. I started getting emails about Walker, reading columns about him and hearing him discussed on the radio. I started hearing them talk about it even in casual conversation. I got Twittered and Facebooked about it as well. Friends who never watch MMA even asked me about it. In fact, at a bar on a Sunday evening after the bout, I not only heard two patrons talking about the fight, but one asked the other whether they had read the article about his fight on UFC 100, for all its acclaim, never even came close. At least not in DC.

…and a history of freak show fights culminating with this observation:

All of this led, inevitably, to the most grotesque geek show of them all: the idea of pitting disparate styles against one another and mopping up the blood afterward. This is what is slightly ironic about MMA’s current attitude toward the sideshow: As a sport born from a circus atmosphere, it doesn’t leave itself much room for comment.

First to Luke’s piece.  I horrifically mispronounced Shooter McGavin’s name on the radio show (to my eternal displeasure), but I think his response to Happy Gilmore’s potential drawing power remains apt: ‘You know what *else* could draw a crowd? A golfer with an arm growing out of his ass.’  A healthy chunk of the media attention to Walker’s fight centered around not only his age, but his dissociative identity disorder, his getting licensed to fight and the potential for injury.  Tony Kornheiser, a notorious MMA hater that as far as I can tell has never actually participated in an athletic event, said he would watch the fight ‘with one eye closed’ while interviewing Walker.

Yes, those two probably would’ve skipped the card had Herschel not been on it, but does ANYone really think they were converted into fans by the fight?  Is it too much to hope that we keep progressing incrementally, the way we have, and professional sports outlets like ESPN will simply begin to look like fools if they keep ignoring us?  Would Lesnar/Fedor, an actual fight with actual fighters, not have generated more press, more coverage and more viewership than the 500k Walker pulled?  Wouldn’t it have been a more effective argument to those that refuse to give the sport a chance because of it’s checkered public image?  And if even that didn’t work, then why not just say ‘fuck them’ and concentrate on the people that are gettable?

Really, I was very confused until I got to this point in the Sherdog piece:

The danger in criticizing the Herschel Walkers of the combat sports world is that it ignores the basic human interest story. We watch fights because we have an emotional investment in the outcome, and that investment is tenfold if the athletes participating have endeared themselves in other endeavors. If you grew up watching Walker play football, you’re probably going to be intent on seeing him fight. If Jean-Claude Van Damme actually has a muay Thai match — as he’s alleged to have set up for later in the year — he will attract a sizable number of people who can quote “Bloodsport” chapter and verse.

Emphasis added, though unnecessarily.  That’s not why I watch fights.  That’s not why I got into mixed martial arts.  I did it because I love the chess match that ensues in the cage, the weirdness and passion and intelligence of so many of the athletes, the humility and the brashness, the explosive styles and the wet blankets that smother them, and I got into it because I like watching fighting.  I was sad when Nate got his ass kicked, but I’m excited to see what Chael does against Anderson.  I was pulling for Coleman, but Randy continues to amaze.  I never hitch my wagon to any one fighter or waste my time hating another (politics and religious affiliations aside – too many NFL God-Squadders to hold it against them) because of the inherent unpredictability of the sport.  And I love that part of it, too – it makes every fight exciting and every title defense more impressive.  And all of these awesome things I just listed don’t happen in freak show fights involving 47 year old men and guys that I think I’d have a decent chance against in a dark alley after a few shots of whiskey.

These are the kinds of things I want gain a fan base upon – not fleeting interest based on the whimsy of fans of SEC football.

But I don’t know how alone I am here.  I’ve been a man on an island before in my opinions.  I know so many incredibly passionate and educated fans that just can’t give you an unbiased opinion about Wandy or Fedor or anyone named Diaz, Sanchez, Buentello, Huerta or Ortiz.  Am I missing out by focusing on the sport when I watch, and leaving my emotional connection to my dog and my bets?

Hey Ryan, how do we do polls?