MMA: Truly A Sport

It is impossible to disprove the fact that mixed martial arts has become a successful business; as Dana reiterates at least twice a month, “It’s the fastest growing ‘sport’ in history”. Since the debut of The Ultimate Fighter, business has been booming not only for the Ultimate Fighting Championship, but for mixed martial arts as a whole. While there is no denying that, one question has been lingering in the minds of naysayers and even some fans: “Is mixed martial arts a sport, or a spectacle?” Join Dave Hirschen as he gives his view on the matter.

Read more “after the jump”.

The introduction was written by Jon Kirschner on June 13th, 2010.
The article was written by Dave Hirschen on May 11th, 2010

In Montreal, Machida throws a leg kick and Shogun lands the overhand right that knocks him down. Shogun goes to mount and pounds Machida out and stands up with arms raised. In my living room, me and my friend’s sit on the edge our seats, stand up with jaws dropped, then scream and high five each other until our neighbors hit the walls telling us to be quiet because of the time. I had a bit of time a few days later to just think and I was seriously amazed at how far along MMA has come as a sport and I did not really put it into perspective until thinking about the Shogun fight.

Shogun Rua gets the mount on Machida at UFC 113

MMA is truly a sport now. There is no way around it, and if you doubt it, consider this: The Yankees are playing the Red Sox. You look into the crowd and you see people with jerseys, hats, drink cups, foam fingers and anything they can possibly buy that has the Yankees logo on it. They scream loudly whenever the Yankees hit a run and boo wildly when the Red Sox get that close out. They are not on the team and a giant percentage of the fans are out of shape and not athletic yet we are vocal enough to be confused for team management when something goes right or wrong. We have an emotional connection to the team, its players and its history. We argue, ridicule and even get into fights with fans of rival teams. Look at England with their gangs based around their futbol teams like in Green Street Hooligans. We feel the teams are a representation of our city, our state, and our country. Residents of New Orleans were never as proud and vocal about where they were from than when the Saints won the Superbowl. You always can spot a Boston native on vacation on the west coast from their Red Sox hat.

In my living room many months ago, we felt utterly let down and disgusted when the judges awarded Machida with the obviously undeserving victory. We eagerly checked out updates on training and recorded the pre-fight buildup promo talking about the fighters and the back-story to the fight. We made it a point to get all our snacks and bathroom breaks out of the way before the match. Our poker faces were horrible watching it as for the brief four minutes of the fight, we smiled when Shogun landed strikes and almost winced when Machida landed a knee or got a takedown. When Shogun won, we exploded in joy.

Shogun is not from New Jersey. He never trained here nor has any ties here. I am not Brazilian nor do I have any close friends that are. What is true is that I’ve watched him for many years, became a fan of his exciting style of fighting, have been amazed by his skill and feel proud whenever I tell friends in our pre-fight bets that I feel Shogun will win and why. I was excited when I found out he would be given an immediate rematch. For me and my friends, it’s developed into the same connection we feel for our favorite sports teams by our reaction to his KO win. It wasn’t that an exciting fighter won in an explosive way, it was that OUR fighter won in a deserving way.

This is the building block that MMA is going into the future with. Not just making exciting fights, but making it with exciting fighters that fans can actually like or dislike whether or not we can relate to them in any social regard. Jung Chan Sung was introduced to the rest of the world in one of the most impressive ways imaginable. Now it literally seems like the world has an emotional tie to and love for this young fighter. I guarantee you that when he fights next, be it against Leonard Garcia or someone else, no one on the fight card will have the crowd response that he will. If he fights Garcia again and wins, the camera mic’s will blow out from the crowd response. Manny Paquaio or Floyd Mayweather do not get that type of crowd response… and the Jung/Garcia fight was held in a much smaller arena with less people attending. During the last Mayweather fight, I had friends who went “ohh” and “ahh” during some flurries but nothing really notable. I had the same cast of characters for the Jung fight and we were standing up with wide eyed gazes at the TV screaming and throwing air punches anytime Garcia or Jung threw their fastball hooks. The metrics are there for the world to see and the upward and downward trends in ratings for both sports are right there. There will come a time very soon where boxing chooses to put their blockbuster fight the same night or weekend as a top notch UFC card and the MMA pay-per-view outsells the boxing match. It is just a matter of time.

We continuously hear that MMA is the fastest growing sport in the world till our ears bleed but the truth is that it’s a statement that is truer than we know. We aren’t fans based on generations of our family. My father didn’t grow up as a fan of Royce Gracie and now I follow in his footsteps. MMA doesn’t have the ability to look back 20-30 years and reminisce on the golden years and look at how fighters were when fighters do nothing but improve and better the sport in a Darwinist way. There aren’t really any legitimate clothing lines that make fighter merchandise for us to wear while watching or going to the fights.

Then what is it that is driving this almost ancient Roman battle arena looking product close to 20 years strong with nothing less than an exponential growth pattern? It truly is the emotional connection that we can garnish for the fighters and the sport itself. There are only two… count it, TWO sports in the whole entire world that are truly world-wide both in its arenas and athletes on a constant basis and MMA is one of them. For those people who have the nerve to call NASCAR a sport, you can NOT go without saying that the same reasons you love racing and its drivers are a direct connection to why we love fighting and our fighters.

If it walks like a sport, acts like a sport and quacks like a sport… guess what?

Article was written by Dave Hirschen, who will contribute articles about various mixed martial arts topics hopefully on a monthly basis. You can follow Jon Kirschner on Twitter @MMAkirschner.

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