By Zach Arnold | January 6, 2012
An introduction, courtesy of our friend Beau Dure on the general theme at hand:
MMA — like all sports — has to watch its image. The challenges in MMA are unique in the sense that we still have grumpy old sports editors and corporate sponsors who don’t want to deal with the sport. But they’re not unique in the sense that any sport can be stereotyped. Browse any sports site and read the comments about people who think the NBA is populated by “thugs.” Look at the damage control baseball has had to do in the wake of its drug scandals and labor strife.
MMA has unique ties to pro wrestling, particularly in Japan but also in the USA with crossovers such as Brock Lesnar and Bobby Lashley. But MMA and wrestling are a volatile mix. Handle with care.
Here’s the needed background information on this video clip so you can get a summary as to what the context of the discussion is. Hint: The firestarter for this discussion is CM Punk and Convict Chael Sonnen being bestest buddiess in Chicago.
Here’s our summary of some of what was said in the video clip.
“For me, it’s like I’m constantly, it’s like to borrow the words of Bill Hicks, it’s like
fucking gnats on a camping trip. I just can’t get rid of it. We can debate about whether it’s got merits or not. I think that’s sort of a fruitless debate. I personally think it’s gutter theatre mixed with, you know, steroid-infused acrobatics. That’s me. But others obviously have a different take. If you like it, it’s not a matter of whether you like it. It’s a question about having ownership over it. People are like, you know, there are reporters out there who like MMA and who like pro-wrestling and they don’t get the influence… ‘what’s wrong with pro-wrestling?’ Here’s a little litmus test — if you were dating a chick who was totally out of your league or even in your league but you really coveted her and she asked you what your interests are, are you really going to say ‘pro-wrestling’? Like, ‘my interests are… uh… pro-wrestling! I’m super interested in pro-wrestling.’ You’ll never get laid! You’d never get laid. And, you know, it’s a stupid litmus test but it’s explanatory on a level of cultural acceptance…
“The pro-wrestling fans who are MMA fans (as well), they never ask themselves ‘is this appropriate?’ Because you have to admit, at some level, some measure of equivocation between MMA and pro-wrestling would be unhealthy for either parties and it seems to me that there is never any moment where when there’s crossover they pause to question whether that’s appropriate… ever. You never see them ever say to themselves, ‘well, hang on a second… do we really want this? OK, it’s OK this time.’ Now, obviously again, we’re talking about a situation that pretty much on its face is… um… not that big a deal. But have you ever seen that impulse, that trigger mechanism where pro-wrestling fans among themselves ever ask if there’s a healthy infuse… and the answer is no because if you view both things as virtuous and if you view both things as unproblematic, you’re not in a position to question whether or not this is appropriate for audiences unlike yourself. And I can tell you, I can tell you… you have to ask yourself, partly it’s MMA’s violence that mainstream sponsors haven’t come along but I can tell you sports fans are not stupid. They’re not stupid. They recognize and they like pro-wrestling, too. It’s not about liking pro-wrestling. It’s about the context in which they enjoy it and I don’t think they like it in the context in which they enjoy sports. And this whole part about moving to Fox, this whole part about growing the UFC to the next level… you can’t do that on the backs of pro-wrestling fans. They’ve got them already, they’re not going anywhere. Now, you can spike them here and there for like a Brock Lesnar event or, you know, for Chael Sonnen, you can spike them. But you pretty much got the ones you’re pretty much going to get. The next level, and frankly the more lucrative level in terms of sponsors and in terms of the right kinds of demos, are sports fans. Now, will the CM Punk thing help attract them? Maybe there’s an argument to be made that it could. I tend to think it won’t effect it either way. But, you know, if you’re never asking yourself and not just any kind of influence here, you know, not just pro-wrestling influence, any kind of influence, is this the appropriate kind of influence that we want? I think those are important questions, especially for a sport that is still peaking (or) some phase of transition.
“Now, I will say again, it’s not that big a deal in and of itself. But, you know, one thing to know is that the UFC insulated themselves. In the main event and co-main event, you have four guys (Rashad Evans, Phil Davis, Chael Sonnen, Mark Munoz) who all wrestled Division I college. You have three of them who are All-Americans and two who are national champions. What do you think I want to talk about when I do radio interviews at sports stations? You think I’m going to mention CM Punk? And more to the point, do you think that guys at 710 ESPN care about CM Punk walking to the ring with Chael Sonnen? They don’t. They want to know what they’re watching is respectable enough to cover. That is the reality. Is this enterprise, despite the fact… ask yourself, with record audiences, with records on PPV, maybe even with a year of decline, some sense of record TV ratings… why is there still so much hesitation? Is it just violence? I don’t think it’s just violence. I think it’s a huge component of it. I think they wonder, is this activity (Mixed Martial Arts), is this worthy enough as an activity despite it’s financial successes to be covered legitimately? And even if you disagree with, you know, mainstream media’s hesitation to get on board, sure would be nice if The New York Times had an MMA blog. Sure would be nice if it wasn’t just The LA Times on the West Coast giving big coverage. Sure would be nice to get a bunch of audiences we don’t really get right now. That’s kind of my point. Every time you see a pro-wrestling influence directly on MMA and you never ask yourself, ‘well, hold on, are we going too far or not?’ In this case we’re not, I don’t think, but if you’re not even having those kinds of questions then you’re not in a proper position to weigh whether or not audiences are being effected in the right way.
“I can take a girl to a Redskins game. Can I take a girl to an MMA match if she thinks this is basically pro-wrestling? Really? I mean… you know, look at the ads the NFL rolls out with now women in jerseys greeting each other at the door with these different kinds of handshakes… they’re making a concerted effort to reach across to get families, women, to get older people, younger people, they want all the demos, they want to be it to be a full affair. if UFC ever wants to share anything like that and, you know, realistically they probably never will but if they want to approach that is making this ‘real pro-wrestling’ the way to do it? I would humbly submit to you that it’s not.
“Don’t like pro-wrestling and you’re a boxing fan? It doesn’t really effect you. But if you’re an MMA fan and you’re like me and you don’t even, you came into this sport not even conceiving of it this way and not enjoying it on those terms and frankly find it distracting… perfect example, this whole Donald Cerrone/Nate Diaz fight. This was a perfectly good fight between top contenders that was ruined for me going into it, I couldn’t even enjoy it properly, because the whole time we had to manufacture some sort of significance around two donks not liking each other at a staged workout. Really? How old are we? And this is reported on in the media ad nauseam! The tones of language devoted to an act of nothingness promoted by each competitor over an act of nothingness completely distracted from what you were going to get any way! If they had never even seen each other before, never even interacted before and just had to face one another, you’d probably would have gotten the exact same fight. You would have gotten the exact same fight and you wouldn’t have had to swallow, ‘he knocked off my cowboy hat! this guy! you don’t have to be from Stockton to be tough!’ Word? Word? You don’t have to be from Stockton to be tough? I didn’t know you could be tough and be from Quezon City.
“There are pretty clear cases to me where we are… it’s a crutch to keep audiences you already have and we don’t really expand the scope of MMA promotion to get audiences that we don’t (have).
“If you’re an MMA fan, you need to ask yourself what it is about the sport that you love, OK? There’s probably a combination of things that you love for anybody. For me, it’s a certain balance of goods. For you, it’s a different one. But you need to have an honest evaluation about what it is where you derive enjoyment. Maybe you derive enjoyment through the entire fight process. Maybe you’re a little more, I don’t know, less sanguine…
“I get labeled incorrectly, I feel like. ‘Oh, you don’t like pre-fight build-up!’ I do like pre-fight build-up. I don’t like pre-fight build-up that is hamfistedly put in front of my face. When Wanderlei (Silva) was fighting Michael Bisping, remember this, and Wanderlei was like, ‘I hate Michael Bisping!” And someone’s like, “Why do you hate Michael Bisping?’ and he goes, ‘I don’t know! I just hate him!’
“I mean, what are we doing? What are we doing?”