It seems only like yesterday that grappling styles were completely remiss from the general (mis)conception of combat. When SEG got together with Rorion Gracie to organize the original UFC back in 1993 no one knew the type of effects it would have on the general public’s view of the Martial Arts and fighting altogether. While the heavy-handed bombers waltzed in the limelight of Joe Public’s awe, the Gracies were set to turn the public conception of the Martial Arts on its ear. While sparking a firestorm that made the general Martial Arts community running in circles, it also spawned what would turn out to be one of the most popular combat sports in recent history. While it took a while for NHB to become MMA, it is now a part of modern culture that can not be denied.
While the wait was long, it has been a highly rewarding process for budding athletes, promoters and fans. Back in the Mid to Late 90’s it was a real chore to find MMA that wasn’t 6 months to 2 years old. You had to go through a myriad set of sources from independent Tape Makers, forum and board trades, and assorted import shops in the hopes of sneaking a peek at the “latest” Rings, Shooto, Pancrase, Pride, IVC or other Alphabet soup promotion. Now a days it is really hard (and even more expensive than before) to attempt to keep up with all of the MMA events that happen. With the UFC, EXC, Bodog, KOtC, RitC, WEC, IFL, WVR, GFC etc, there are a lot of MMA fights to keep tabs on. With each fledgling promotion, the business grows bigger, and the public perception of MMA grows broader. And with that, the level of awareness required about to maintain that perception becomes a much more significant and difficult issue
Why is that something we should be concerned about as fans? Well, let me explain…
Do you remember the time when you first tried talking to your friends about MMA? Do you remember all the weird questions, expressions, responses that made you shake your head in belief (if not create a visceral compulsion to choke them out
) at the time? Do you remember the disparaging remarks of barbarism, “death matches,” and the like? Do you remember being that friend or opponent of MMA (c’mon, we didn’t all jump on the band wagon at the same time)? Well, now that the proverbial “MMA Cat” is out of the bag the same time of perceptions – actually, misconceptions – are not going to disappear any time soon. In fact, it is inevitable that MMA will probably fall into a period where its public perception will get real bad before it gets better. This may happen sooner than you expect.
But the “dark ages” of pay-per-view blackout for the UFC already passed with the new millennia, right? Not quite so. That was simply a period in time that various sporting promoters simply levered cable service against the promotion (the UFC) that would spearhead MMA into the public limelight for a time. The general public did not have an idea that MMA actually existed at all
. Now with the UFC on cable, IFL on broadcast TV, and general exposure in media publications the world over, the public is fully aware of this “fledgling” sport. While that has brought a whole new level of (potential) commercial success to MMA, it has also brought with it a whole new level of scrutiny. Unfortunately dealing with public scrutiny is an exercise in dealing with the impulsive, fickle and taciturn.
If you think the casual chore of educating non-informed fans of MMA of its more intimate details is challenging now, imagine what it will be like when any of the following things happen:
1) The inevitable death of a MMA practitioner in a sanctioned event
. Yeah, we know about Douglas Dedge
and the fact that he died in an unsanctioned event in Russia after deciding to fight against his doctor’s wishes. However, we must be honest in the fact that MMA is a contact sport of the highest intensity. It is not a matter of “if” a fatality occurs; it is a matter of “when.” When it does occur, the public response will not be pretty.
2) The inevitable influx of stupid misconceptions due to MMA movies
. There are a plethora of MMA movies coming down the pipe, covering content over a wide amount of avenues. Some will be more dramatic, some will be centered on the fighting, some the training, and some will try to portray some sort of deeper theme. One thing that I can readily count on is that a tangible level of realism and relativity to MMA as a valid sport will probably be lost
. Looking at “Never Back Down
” as a realistic reflection of current MMA is like looking at “Rocky IV” to get a realistic impression of Russian Boxing competitors in the Mid-80’s. Can you imagine the backlash that will be produced after the local idiot du jour ends up on the evening news for starting or dying in “an underground fighting club?”
3) The inevitable MMA McDojo invasion
. Alright, this has already happened with all of the more valid traditional Martial Arts styles and systems. The set up goes that there is usually 1 guy who claims all sorts of validity and skill who leases out some vacant business space as a place to train. It was almost impossible to find any grappling based places to train back in the early 90’s, now these places have full spreads in the yellow pages. A lot of these places charge highly exorbitant fees. Just like in every valid sector of business, the shysters and snake-oil salesmen will be lurking. When these places start getting put out to judgment before Joe public above and beyond Bullshido.com
the public impression of a lot of people training and a lot of credible training places will falter.
4) The inevitable felony arrest and conviction of a famous MMA competitor
. No, I’m not talking Lee Murray or Krazy Horse level of famous. I am talking about a Randy Couture or Chuck Liddell level of famous. As level-headed and disciplined as Martial Artists tend to be, fame and fortune has an incredible tendency to change people. Many times that change is toward the odd, bizarre, criminal and insane. Again, not that it is an “if” at any given time, I’m sure it is a “when” as far as it happening. It isn’t just confined to fighters either. Could you imagine what would happen if Dana White or the Fertitas end up on TMZ.com caught on film with “unsavory” business partners? You think Microsoft is under a microscope, the UFC would have a live anal probe camera and tracking system in place by comparison.
In the end, regardless of all the PR
offices, marketing machines and exposure the only thing that will keep MMA here and growing is us
, the fans. As hard as we had it before to make a solid case for MMA as a valid sport, it is all too easy for the sport to fall back into a state where we would be looking the same stark conversations and indignant glances in the eye once again. Every sport goes exists in a state of “peaks and valleys.” Things climb and drop in small and big ways. At the astronomical rate that MMA is growing in popularity, it is just as easy for it to fall at the same rate if not faster. I am not writing this as a “Doomsayer.” Rather, I think it is something every MMA fan must consider.
With that, I’m out to practice some break falls. Hit me back with your thoughts folks.