Jake Rossen of Sherdog.com via ESPN.com wrote a column today about mixed martial arts. In it, he wrote that the UFC is not ready for mainstream basically because a bunch of old guys said so.
There are quote in the story from the LA Times’ T.J. Simers and CBS’s Ray Ratto who wrote off the UFC as another professional wrestling that is too full of gore and figures like Brock Lesnar, who mocked fans after his victory at UFC 100 and has been seen as the ultimate villain through all this hoopla.
The idea that all these “old school” journalists (Simers is 58 and Ratto 54) are so quick to denounce the sport as nothing more than another fad comparable to professional wrestling is hilarious. Of course MMA is not their cup of tea. It’s “human cock-fighting” (as John McCain coined it in an infamous debate with Ken Shamrock in 1997) and unlike anything these old fogies could have dreamed of 30 years ago.
But to write it off so quickly as a fad is downright laughable. Ratto wrote that it is a “niche” sport and that UFC 100’s success was a lot like the numbers the WWF’s Wrestlemania’s drew in the mid-1980’s.
But here’s the thing Ratto and Simers are missing the point on. Everything that left professional wrestling out of the eyes of the mainstream media and the minds of the casual sports fan are the reasons why MMA is here to stay.
The biggest gripe pundits had against professional wresting in its prime was how fake it was. Sure, the athleticism was there and guys were getting legitimately hurt at times, but the planned story lines, the “bad guy-good guy” mantras and the downright silliness of what we saw in the ring sometimes made it unwatchable for those who didn’t enjoy the entertainment.
But you don’t get that with MMA.
Many people say Lesnar’s antics after UFC 100 as very much coming from his wrestling background, and that may be true, but that’s not going to keep MMA out of the mainstream media. If anything, it helps.
Turning on the Worldwide Leader on Monday afternoon, I saw UFC talk all across the board. Sportscenter, Around the Horn, Pardon the Interruption and Sportsnation Live all had discussions about UFC 100 within the first 10 minutes of their shows. If the biggest sports conglomerate in the world is talking about you, it’s good news, right? When did pro wrestling ever get more than 30 seconds of discussion on ESPN? Usually only if Dennis Rodman or Mongo McMichael were making an appearance, but never anything more than that.
If MMA wants to borrow from pro wrestling with its gimmicky rivalries. With the trash talking, the build-up and hype of fights, that’s fine. That’s not going to keep it out of the limelight. What would keep it out of the limelight is if it was scripted like pro wrestling is, and it’s not.
MMA is a legitimate sport just like boxing is. Boxing was the most dominant fighting sport for the past century, and that’s because people marveled at the fighting ability of the guys who stepped into the ring. When a personality like Muhammed Ali or Mike Tyson came along, it only boosted its popularity, and when a personality in the MMA like Brock Lesnar comes along, it just does the same.
That’s what these old-school guys don’t understand. The MMA will succeed because of the marvelous athleticism and extreme competition the sport provides. Never mind the insane trash talking and crazy commissioner, the MMA is here to stay, and the old-school guys will learn that soon enough.