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Philosophy 101 – MMA Media

By Zach Arnold | December 3, 2007

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Update: The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulations responds to media inquiries about the death of Sam Vasquez. Steve Sievert has further comments.

Update II: Luke Thomas responds to comments made by a reader on Fight Opinion. Plus, thoughts from MMA Analyst.

Luke Thomas asks an important question:

Lastly, I would say the relative silence over this matter is startling. Most of the major MMA news and opinion websites are talking about this incident, but not nearly as many as I had expected. I don’t know the motivations for why they’ve chosen to remain silent, but let’s hope it’s not fear of perception. MMA didn’t become popular by rejecting candor and promoting something it wasn’t. Transparency is the key to trust and we must remember that even in times of tragedy.

I think the answer to this question is a little disturbing, but needs to be addressed.

I come from the pro-wrestling world and I make no bones about my background. No apologies. With that said, I find the fan bases for both MMA and pro-wrestling to be eerily similar in many ways in regards to how the fans online react to scandals and hard-hitting stories. In short, there’s a high level of ambivalence and those who do emotionally react to such stories end up getting angry at the writer writing on controversial topics.

Call me cynical, but I don’t think you’re seeing a large outpouring of emotion over the death of Sammy Vasquez from various members of the ‘MMA media’ because it doesn’t serve much of a purpose for said parties to talk about the death. No ‘upside.’

There are two negative classes of reaction to the story so far: 1) Vasquez wasn’t well-known and he fought on a minor league show, therefore somehow his death isn’t important or won’t impact the business (people are thinking this out loud but probably wouldn’t say it publicly) and 2) Until someone ‘famous’ in MMA dies in the ring, MMA deaths can somehow be swept under the rug.

I do feel the need to relay my past experiences writing on controversial topics in relation to the MMA media reaction about Sam Vasquez’s death.

I spent two-plus years covering a yakuza scandal in Japan that has all but destroyed the MMA business in terms of stability. Topics like organized crime, death threats, murders, and tax evasion were important to discuss in relation to the Japanese MMA scene.

And few people online (at the time) cared about that kind of coverage. I would constantly get bombarded with angry commenters who would chew me out and yell at me for ‘sensationalizing’ the news or would somehow blame me ‘for trying to bring down PRIDE.’ The more I covered the scandals in-depth that rocked the Japanese fight scene, the more I realized that people online simply didn’t care about it on an emotional level. All people cared about was the vehicle (in this case, a company) delivering the fights.

I almost felt as if people were completely desensitized or dehumanized in relation to the actions of certain individuals in the business.

“I’m just a fan. I only care about the fights.”

For all of the shots that pro-wrestling fans take online from MMA fans, I really don’t see much of a difference at all between the two parties. How many deaths have pro-wrestling fans had to endure and still continue to support the business? Tons.

MMA fans online are turning out to be the same way. The promoters are the drug kingpins, the fighters are delivering the crack, and the fans are playing the role of addicts. Organized crime in MMA? Who cares. Someone dies on a minor league show? Who cares. An agent gets threatened by a promoter? Who cares. Just pass the crack (which, in the case of MMA fans, are the fights) and shut up. Don’t ruin my buzz.

If you treat MMA fighters as entertainers first and athletes second, it becomes a lot easier to rationalize a person dying. After all, it’s showbiz, right? “The show must go on.”

If you had to press me on how I think the general public would react if a death occurred in UFC, I think the answer would be this… I think a lot of UFC fans would rally around the promoter, similar to bees rallying around the queen bee in a hornet’s nest. It would be a defensive posture, but I think the natural reaction for UFC fans would be to try to protect the company first and ignore any media criticism second. Why? Because the fans want to protect the vehicle (UFC) that delivers the fights they want to see.

As a writer, I’ll always continue to talk about controversial topics in both pro-wrestling and MMA. I just learned from experience that I shouldn’t expect much support or much honest discussion when something important needs to be honestly discussed and openly talked about.

Topics: Media, MMA, Yakuza, Zach Arnold | 15 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

15 Responses to “Philosophy 101 – MMA Media”

  1. Just look at any random Sherdog thread about the Couture ‘scandal,’ if you will. It’s all “Shut up and fight,” or some such bullshit. The athletes might as well be circus elephants.

  2. Michaelthebox says:

    So, umm, what should the media be saying, then?

    This isn’t a smoking gun pointing at something that has to be talked about. We all knew it was a matter of time. Its a dangerous sport. The death occurred at a sanctioned event. It is an individual’s choice to compete. The standards for rules and sanctioning requirements are still being established around the country, and until we know exactly why he died, we can’t analyze any way in which the requirements should be improved. Thomas, in his article, doesn’t give any idea what should be done. It actually boils down to a dozen paragraphs of “We’ve gotta do something! Think of the CHILDREN!”

    Exactly where is the topic of conversation here?

  3. Zach Arnold says:

    Texas is a state that licensed Evander Holyfield at age 44 when New York (a middle of the road commission) wouldn’t. There’s an obvious issue there (regarding regulation and medical checks of each of the state commissions).

    To me, the bigger picture in the media landscape is that I don’t see much desire or appeal to write about topics in this industry that should be talked about.

    Again, I bring up the yakuza scandal as the prime example of this. You’re talking about allegations of organized crime, death threats, potential tax evasion, and everything under the sun. And yet, 8 months after PRIDE is dead, DSE is back in business and various blogs and writers mark out for ‘Yarennoka’ as if its the second coming. The reality is that there should be no support whatsoever for DSE, but there always is. Why? Because people don’t care about who the drug pusher is as long as the addicts are getting their crack.

    I can just hear Jordan Breen lecturing me, “It’s fightsport,” and telling me to get over it.

  4. Good reading and unfortunately true.

  5. Brandt says:

    I’m actually content with the media exposure that the Vasquez story has gotten so far. Considering we haven’t heard the official autopsy results, we really dont know what exactly caused the death and we should neither glorify or criticize his death. Most men don’t die when they are knocked out in an enviroment where medical personel are immediately available to assist. Unless it has been found that Texas did clear him to fight when he had an obvious pre-existing medical condition, there’s not much to say aside from giving condolences to the family and hoping it never happens again.

    Should be make the medical clearances more strict? Sure. I guess I am interested in knowing exactly what is needed to be cleared for a fight. Anyone?

  6. ttt says:

    let’s not bring in Couture on this one. if he actually “retired” to do good things for other fighters, he would have come out and said how he wanted to help them instead of mentioning it and not saying anything else

    but hopefully this does bring into focus issues regarding fighter help and not sweep this under the rug. with regulation around it’s easy to assume everything is fine when there may be problems. health care is a big concern for these fighters, to make sure that they are in shape and that they have enough money to cover their medical bills

  7. Michaelthebox says:

    I agree that people often don’t want to acknowledge some things that should be acknowledged, such as the generally corrupt nature of a lot of the Japanese promotions.

    I just don’t see where this qualifies. Usually a display of systematic corruption/incompetence is required for people to respond to something. One death isn’t systematic. And while you point out Holyfield getting licensed as evidence of the incompetence of the Texas commission, its unreasonable to expect MMA fans and writers to be familiar with the history of the commission in terms of boxing.

    Another issue is that most MMA fans and writers simply don’t have the expertise to analyze the commission’s medical regulations on their own terms. I’m well educated as fans go, and I wouldn’t have the slightest idea how to approach analyzing the Texas regulations from a medical standpoint, to see whether or not there are any flaws. There aren’t any enormous flaws, or else fighters would be dying left and right.

    I’m forced to ask, why isn’t Luke Thomas doing the hell-raising, rather than complaining that other people aren’t?

  8. Omar says:

    Great article. In some ways, I agree with you and in some ways, I don’t. A few points I would like to make for discussion:

    Why is there no union for fighters? Would this address the points you bring up?

    and also why the focus on Japanese organized crime when the Fertittas made/make their millions in Vegas casinos. Vegas is notorious for organized crime especially in the casino industry. It would seem important to look at our own institutions first before pointing fingers at Japanese institutions.

    Thoughts?

  9. David says:

    Great point you bring up Zach. I love all of your reporting.

    “I almost felt as if people were completely desensitized or dehumanized in relation to the actions of certain individuals in the business.” – I do not think that humans do not care for one another. However, there is no purpose, physically, emotionally, intellectually, for me, or anybody on the internet, to feel sentiment for those we do not know.

    About the business: We, the MMA community need to acknowledge Vasquez’s death in mainstream media because it is important.

  10. karat3 says:

    I like the different perspective your site brings to the news zach, also the new site looks good.

  11. Omar, you’re mistaken.

    In the 1980s, nearly all of the Vegas casinos were taken over by publicly traded companies or large legitimate investors as the FBI prosecuted dozens of mobsters that had been running things.

    They’re as clean as Coca Cola now. Greedy bastards all, but there’s probably not as regulated and orderly an industry as the Vegas casinos in this country. The money involved is too big, and nearly all of the casinos have extensive teams of former FBI agents and other former law enforcement to keep things above board. A culture of corruption is bad for business, CSI plotlines not withstanding.

    That’s not to say that the mobs can’t come back (they were pushed out to a large extent in the 1960s when Howard Hughes bought most of Vegas)…they’re just not there to any significant degree now.

  12. Most of the major MMA sites have covered the tragedy so I suspect that L. Thomas is referring to bloggers and message board posters as being “silent.” This is not surprising because death is a difficult subject to deal with and its not something to take lightly and crack jokes about, which is the usual MO of bloggers. There also hasn’t been anything overly controversial that has come to light that incites outrage from the public so bloggers are choosing to be conservative rather risk saying something insensitive.

    Zach, its also arrogant for you to presume that everyone should prioritize what you personally think is important. People have their own values and motivations for why they follow the sport and if you want more discussion and response, you should write about what people are interested in and not criticize your readership for not being an alarmist on topics that some of us don’t find particulary alarming.

    That tone of self-importance is ultimately makes this a blog and not a news site. I find it funny that anyone would qualify link farming and commentary as “reporting.”

  13. […] reading great reaction posts by likes of Zach Arnold at FightOpinion.com and Luke Thomas of Bloodyelbow.com we felt as though there was certainly enough to talk to about at […]

  14. […] is part of what I stated on Monday: Call me cynical, but I don’t think you’re seeing a large outpouring of emotion over […]

  15. Fred says:

    I think some people are worried about Sam’s death creating problems for the sanctioning of MMA, and that’s blinding the human concern for Sam and his family. Unfortunately, (and paradoxically), it’s going to take a few more deaths before people realize that MMA won’t go back underground because of these tragedies. Then the human concern for these fighters will be the pre-eminent thing again.

    What’s really sad is people reporting Vasquez as the “first death in regulated MMA”, and completely forgetting about American Doug Dedge, who died fighting 9 years ago in a Ukrainian show.

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