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UFC Can Do No Wrong

So, you grew up on Jean Claude Van Damme and Stephen Segal (before he became a bloated caricature of himself standing in Anderson Silva’s corner), kicking the snot out of the bad guys in a way that your father’s Rocky Balboa never could have imagined and now you find yourself in the 18 to 24 year old demographic and hungry for more? Chances are you made the easy slide from movie goer to Mixed Martial Art fan quicker than you can say Tyler Durden. 

Call it what you will: Mixed Martial Arts, Ultimate Fighting, Attack of the Terminally Testosteroned. It all ends up the same with some guy kicking the bejesus out of another for fame and glory. What ever happened to the kinder, gentler days of toe-to-toe slugfests that coined such phrases as “toe the line” and “Hey, did you see Boom Boom Mancini kill that guy in the ring?” Boxing was an evolution of man’s violent tendency to raid, pillage, and plunder; a tightly regulated venue for us to vicariously partake in senseless, bloody mayhem, safe in the knowledge that genitals will stay in tact and eyeballs will, for now, remain in their current location. It was a true love story of art imitating life. Two athletes would act out war; confined by ropes, refs, and a strict point system. Recently however, with the rise of MMA, we see the different story of life imitating art. From Enter the Dragon to the insane anarcho-terrorism of Fight Club, a growing base has devolved back into the brutality of true war. It’s an ends of the means that even the movie industry couldn’t have predicted. Although Hollywood has always known that the masses are still enamored with the Roman Coliseum and the spectacle of gore, they never knew the feeding frenzy would distill into made for TV bloodsport. 

In comparison, there is really little wonder why MMA is toppling the world of boxing. In boxing, young fighters are discovered and nurtured by agents. The lucky few go on to wait in line to get a shot at moving further up the ladder. Again, if fate smiles upon you, you may get a shot at the top. Well, if you’re really lucky, you get hooked up with a great promoter and manage your winnings better than Leon Spinx (I think he literally became a janitor when his career ended).  Mixed Martial Arts, on the other hand, broke into the mainstream in the days of reality television. No longer content to follow the rise of the hometown favorite, viewers were able to watch the spectacle of tournament style fights. Don’t want to sit through ten rounds of carefully placed punches? You can always tune in to watch a parade of guys quickly dispatch each other with surgical precision. Sometimes it looks like a roadhouse brawl, sometimes a Hollywood plot device where even the ancient Egyptians knew martial arts (The Mummy movies! I’m not alone here, am I?) but the images keep changing as the crowd is allowed to work themselves into a froth a la “professional” wrestling. Wrestling, however dubious as it is, provided years as a proving ground for real fights. It’s the perfect storm of over the top fans, blood, and brawling that is quickly earning MMA the sponsorship it needs to be a real, legitimate, powerhouse. 

For those corporate sponsors early to jump onboard with MMA, the benefits are tangible. The demographic that follow the sport are the biggest spenders out there. Want to sell beer, burgers, and Harley’s? Investing in MMA is the biggest bang for the buck. Early reluctance by some sponsors to get on the bandwagon has resulted in premium ad space for those daring enough to cash in on uber machismo; and why not? Again, look to the wrestling model. If it doesn’t hurt your company’s credibility to invest advertisement dollars in a fake sporting event, why draw a shameful line at legitimate martial arts? 

At the end of the day, if the coliseum were still open for business, we would not only watch it, but it would garner more advertisement dollars per minute than the Super Bowl. Ask me for proof? Sit there with a straight face and tell me you haven’t watched a match, a youtube clip of one, or at least a Jackass episode. It’s what the Germans call Schadenfreude and it’s the delicious joy we take in the misfortune, or in this case, pummeling of another. Think of it as slipping on a banana, over and over again. Corporate America is coming around, though, and as the economy rebounds and frees up advertising budgets, audiences will reap the benefits of over-funded venues as well as the evils that come with the mainstream:  overpriced tickets, corporate control, and the fight for new celebrity endorsements.

I recently read an article by a “blogger” and “alleged MMA guru” stating how the UFC made a horrible mistake with their recent UFC 117 card. The “expert” ranted and raved at how the 117 card (of majority US based fighters vs. Brazilian fighters) was a terrible marketing decision, simply due to the fact that it excluded the rest the of the world. Really? Unless I ate a retard and egg sandwich for breakfast, those two countries are where the best fighters hail from!

I’ll admit that wasn’t to enthused to watch this card. Looking at the card up and down, I really only wanted to see the Fitch v. Alves matchup, but the fact is that it is MMA and anything can happen at anytime, which makes it a no fail marketing machine. People will tune in to watch a fighter “shock the world” if you may. Chael almost did it….despite people growing to hate him over the past month through his “smack talk”….but hey, he is doing exactly what a fighter is supposed to do to get us to order that PPV….and he did.

So, let’s not overanalyze the UFC or MMA in general. The fact of the matter is that people are going to keep watching and keep paying top dollar to do so. I know I will be watching along with the millions of others who are as well….despite cameos from MC Hammer or a sodium infused Seagal.

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