The latest repackaging of gladiatorial entertainment
Gladiator - A person, usually a professional combatant, a captive, or a slave, trained to entertain the public by engaging in mortal combat with another person or a wild animal in the ancient Roman arena. (Dictionary.com)
Ultimate fighting has repackaged itself into “cage fighting”, which keeps the cage but adds 31 fouls (including “timidity” and “throwing in the towel” – think of it as “the fight must go on”), a technical name (mixed martial arts, or MMA) and a new marketing face which strives to simultaneously re-invoke the pugilistic appetites of the old ultimate fighting crowd while tempting the tastes of sport spectators with priorities on safety and decorum. The scrappy streetfighting evocation has been suffused by the dignity of martial arts. The terms have been changed: ultimate fighting is now cage fighting, and the UFC is now a MMA organization.
The pitch of pitting different fighting styles -- boxer vs. karate guy, wrestler vs. jiu-jitsu, etc. -- is intellectually interesting. Is a sport a sport outside its own world? And just the mention of bona fide, formalized disciplines sends out a soothing signal.
Yet there is still enough allowed to prompt the American Medical Association to call cage fighting medically and morally wrong -- again: the AMA is calling a “sport” morally wrong. Yikes!
The industry leader (Please folks, let’s remember this is an industry.) is the Ultimate Fighting Championship – not a particular event, as the name suggests, but an organization gearing successive events toward recognizing a single champion (male). The UFC began in 1993. Initially, events were conducted by the Semaphore Entertainment Group (SEG) in association with WOW Promotions, headed by Art Davie and Rorion Gracie. The UFC is currently based in Las Vegas. It is owned and operated by casino operators Frank Ferttita III and Lorenzo Ferttita under the name Zuffa, LLC.
Senator John McCain, a former Naval Academy boxer, called UF “human cockfighting'' and led a successful campaign to ban it throughout the nation. By the end of the ‘90s, UF was driven underground, into the risky arena of illicit events and onto the sovereign immunity of Indian reservations.
The UFC reinvented itself in 2001, outlining weight classes, time limits, and adding the list of 31 fouls. No longer would a man hold his opponent in lockdown and grind his fingers into an open cut, or push his thumb into his eye socket.
Currently, cage fighting is sanctioned in 20 states including UF fan stronghold California (Ahnold signed it into California law but did not attend a fight at the Arnold Classic). But the UFC doesn’t necessarily need to gain the approval of the other 30 governors; it has found its arena on cable, pay-per-view and yes, reality television. The UFC struck cable television deals with Fox Sports Net and Spike TV. Fights can now be seen in the U.S., Britain, Canada, Japan and Brazil.
Since its reinvention, the UFC has held two events in Southern California, and claims the draw was about 32,000 combined, with one third of the crowd female.
More federations have taken root and are struggling to cast their own distinctions, including Strikeforce, which not only allows women, but has marketed the most visible female champions right into the mainstream media.
Boxing vs. MMA
Some suggest that this form of fighting is attracting fans because boxing isn’t marketed as well as it used to be. (See Mark Emmons, Mercury News, June 8) But there has been no study, even unscientific, to survey whether there is any fan overlap. The activism of Senator McCain would indicate there is no given connection here, and another former boxer on the Hill, Senator Harry Reid, isn’t facing any trouble from going to see cage fighting. I am a boxing enthusiast who has always gotten a bad taste in my mouth from cage fighting, much as I try to open my mind to it. I certainly respect the athletes, and am a solid Gina Carano fan.
MMA's appeal isn't hard to figure out – it’s as old as mankind, inherent, primal, more prominent in some than others. It’s the spectacle of brutality, the rush of the fatal fight. Bloodsport. The Romans are the poster race, but it would be absurd to think of them as unique. MMA claims its roots in the first Olympics - pancration. So at first blush, it's easy to expect pugilists to jump from boxing to MMA, but it's not always the case. I don't think the decline of boxing and the rise of MMA can just be written off to the complexities of marketing appeal. I think there's something much deeper to explore.
The most immediate thing is availability. If you're young and a fighter in the U.S. today, MMA is likely the most available venue to you. If you box, you can make a lot more money and shoot for the Olympics. But if you're an MMA fighter, you're riding the populist wave.
But I'm a boxing fan, and lately, I feel like a dinosaur. I just don't get what all the kids are into these days.
Also see MMA is on CBS, and not everyone is happy
UFC on Wikipedia