Monday, March 19, 2007

MMA - It's What's for Breakfast

Good lord knows I love a good fight, and I remember the first time I saw a really scary one. It was the first time Riddick Bowe squared off against Andrew Golota in 1996 at Madison Square Garden. I was not physically there (THANK GOD), and it changed from a comedy of errors and hits below the belt into a full blown riot. I was laughing my ass off watching this on HBO. I sincerely wish I could get a tape or a DVD of this fight. The normally stoic ring commentators were crying and about as confused as headless chickens.

Coincidentally in the same year, the Ultimate Fighting Championship was born out of a desire of the Gracie family to show the world its dominance over martial arts with its Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. In the first UFC fights, there were lots of blood, brutal hits, and on occasion a flying tooth. Eleven years later, Boxing is still seen as a viable and highly promotable sport, while there are still states in the US that won't legalize Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). I honestly believe that I will see a Van Damme movie that doesn't suck before I see an MMA fight in NYC. And I like Van Damme.

The UFC has been resurrected in recent years, and foreign promoters like Pride and K-1 are enjoying a growing market in the US. In the past couple of years, the International Fight Leauge (the IFL) has put MMA in the context of team sports - and it has enjoyed growing success. And yet the sad thing is that even though MMA has become increasingly regulated and rules have been enforced globally to protect the fighters long-term careers, it's still perceived as an underground bloodthirsty sport. Kind of like the highlights of a good Hockey game.

Watch a good fight, and instead of seeing a bare-knuckle throwdown, you'll see a couple of tacticians quickly size up their opponents, look for their "tells" or weaknesses, and exploit them. Shit, if Poker can be considered a sport, how long is it gonna take for the New York Times to do have a regular MMA section? I know it will take a while, but there's even another more cynical way to look at MMA. Marketing.

The mats of any fight are loaded with sponsorships from products ranging from beer, tires, major motion pictures, and even Microsoft and other computer/video game hardware/software companies are getting in on a very lucrative market. Watch the highlights of a UFC fight and pay attention to the audience. On top of that, take a look at the size of arenas in Japan that have been host to fights like Pride F/C or K-1 Hero's. Not since the heydays of Queen, Bruce Springsteen, or Kiss has an arena been so filled with energy.

Even if it's going to take a while for MMA to become as viable a sport as boxing in the US, I can wait it out. And let's look at boxing for a moment. Sure boxing is on pay-per-view cable, and sure it makes a lot of money, but can you name more than one current Heavyweight Champion?

Don't worry, I'll wait.

And no fair using the 'net.

The sad reality is that the precious few people give a wet slap off a donkey's ass about boxing anymore. It seems like the one thing that everybody remembers is Mike Tyson making an hors d'oeuvre of Evander Holyfield's ear. Don't get me wrong - I would like to see a good boxing fight, but with the sheer amount of different ways to punish your oppponent, MMA offers a lot more for the viewer than boxing.

As for me, I'm looking forward to watching Chuck "The Iceman" Liddell and Quentin "Rampage" Jackson square off again. And who would have thought that Randy "The Natural" Couture could have given such a resounding ass- whooping in his comeback?

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