People hear MMA and think “Human cock-fighting”. Well…idiotic people like John McCain do. MMA is short for Mixed Martial Arts. You take Boxers, Judo players, Brazilian or Japanese Jiu-Jitsu practitioners, Karate fighters, Wrestlers, and Street Fighters and you toss them into a cage for three, 5-minute rounds to see who the baddest of the pair is. That’s right…it’s two people. Not a team. Nobody can lose the fight for you…just yourself. What’s more exciting than watching two people throw punches, kicks, trips, and submissions at another person? Not a damn thing, that’s what.
For years, I watched sports. Didn’t care what…I just watched. Soccer, Baseball, Basketball, Football, Curling, Hockey, and Ping-Pong and everything else that was on television. And then I got a tape of UFC 1 which was on PPV in the fall of 1993. I got this tape sometime in the mid 90’s from one of my older cousins. I watched Royce Gracie, a small non-muscular man, submit huge guy after huge guy with very little issue. Then I got a tape of him winning the UFC 2 tournament in much the same fashion. Fast forward a few years and while I still watched sports, I quit watching them as regularly as I did. Then I got ESPN and I could watch Sportscenter and catch the highlights daily and I could watch even fewer sporting events than I did before.
The Chuck Liddell era in the UFC is when I really started paying attention. Here was this tattooed guy with a Mohawk that loved Slayer, fast cars, and punching people in the face. His feud with Tito Ortiz was huge. His trilogy with Randy Couture was massive for the sport. Coaching the first season of The Ultimate Fighter helped break the sport into the big time and got national television exposure. The fact that he also continued to sleep guys left and right didn’t hurt his appeal either.
All while the UFC was growing, the better talent was fighting in Japan under the Pride Fighting Championships banner. Chuck went to Japan a few times and beat a couple of guys in Pride but lost spectacularly to Rampage (B. A. Baracus in the massively underrated A-Team movie). Fedor was the Heavyweight champion for years in Pride, Wanderlei The Axe Murderer Silva was a champion, and Dan Henderson had two different belts in Pride. The fights were exciting and they fought with different rules, time limits, and a much better crowd than America had. Japan appreciated the fighters and could have 40,000-75,000 people show up at the Saitama Arena or Tokyo Stadium to cheer on the fighters, whether they were Japanese, American, Brazilian, or Dutch.
At this point, BJ Penn, Matt Hughes, Georges St-Pierre, Anderson Silva, Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture were dominating the UFC. They were exciting and they brought in crowds. Or so we thought. This whole time, I was watching as many events as I could and was watching every episode of The Ultimate Fighter, all of Dana White’s interviews, fighter vlogs, and anything else that I could find online. The crowds at the events were all lower than 20,000 people and we assumed that that was the biggest that MMA would ever really get in America. Then GSP fought Jake Shields and Jose Aldo fought Mark Hominick in Toronto at UFC 129. The crowd was over 55,000 people and sold a ton of PPVs. It gave hope to North American fight fans that MMA could be huge and could be the next big sport.
During this time, the Boston Red Sox were winning World Series, Pittsburgh Steelers won the Super Bowl a couple of times, Tom Brady cheated his way to the Super Bowl almost every year, Lebron screwed over a city, won a few championships, came back to the city a hero, and won more championships, the Dallas Cowboys couldn’t finish better or worse than 8-8 every season, and hockey got boring because they took out the violence. The UFC at this point was growing; Jon Jones became the greatest fighter of all time while manhandling everybody in devastating fashion, Anderson Silva became a household name because he fought like Neo from The Matrix, and GSP went on a long unbeaten streak in championship fights.
I couldn’t care less about sports seasons before the playoffs anymore. The NFL season is 17 weeks and doesn’t get exciting until the playoffs now. Defensive players can’t destroy the QB anymore. Lawrence Taylor would’ve sucked in the new NFL. MLB is 162 games and is only slightly interesting in September if there is a good pennant race. The NBA is 82 games and is boring because the rules favor guys taking 6 steps before shooting, no hand checking, and less defense. Dennis Rodman would be nothing nowadays and MJ would average 45 points a game. The NHL has had shutdowns, a new salary cap, a newer salary cap, major rule changes, and no dominant players like Gretzky or Messier. Ovechkin is great…and so is Sidney, but neither put asses in front of TVs for nationally televised games. You know…all 20 nationally televised games that get shown during the regular season now. Tiger Woods got his head and car destroyed by his ex-wife which actually ruined his career. Blame it on injuries all you want…his wife single-handedly did more to end his career than a bad knee did.
The UFC meanwhile got more exciting, the fighters became more skilled, and the organization started buying up many of the other larger organizations in the world in order to bring in a majority of the best talent in the world. No longer were scrubs like Tank Abbott fighting in his bar-room style. If you weren’t skilled in standup and BJJ, you were going to get destroyed. Fighters had to become more well-rounded in order to stick around in the UFC. With that, even the small organizations like Titan, Legacy, Invicta, Bellator, and Shooto became better because those fighters knew that if they wanted to get to the show and make real money multiple times a year, they had to get skilled and win in great fashion.
Then Ronda, Conor, Nick and Nate Diaz came in and so did the money. UFC fighters have been in movies, tv shows, and commercials for a long time now but now they were getting publicity in national magazines, on television, and covers of video games. Everybody knew who they were and wanted to see them as much as possible. Conor became the first fighter to make over 1 million for showing up to fight. All total, he probably made 3.25 million if the figures are anywhere near correct on his PPV share portion, his contract, his win bonus, and his performance of the night bonus when he beat Jose Aldo last December. Ronda Rousey hasn’t fought in almost a year now and she still has her name being brought up all the time on tv and in sports shows. Nate Diaz was always a great fighter but his two fights against Conor have blown him up huge. His brother Nick was always a good draw and put on a great fight against GSP and then a good fight against Anderson Silva and has the personality to be huge as well.
People are willing to pay $65 for the PPVs when these people fight. They are willing to buy $1000 nosebleed seats to watch them live. And here I am saying that every penny is worth it. You get two skilled warriors in a small cage with no shoes or weapons and only 4-ounce gloves and violence is bound to happen. That to me is 1000 times more exciting than watching a 60-minute football game that only has about 13 minutes of excitement or a 9 inning baseball game which is the 12th in 13 days for a team. In team sports, a coach can always call upon the bench to rest the better players. In MMA, a fighter signs the contract and then shows up for a 1 on 1 match 8-12 weeks later. If you aren’t prepared, nobody else can get blamed. If you show up flat, it’s your fault. That is why MMA has become so enthralling that I sit and watch it 2-4 times a week. No other event makes me excited or gives me butterflies watching the big fights.