I have always had this nagging fascination with the dignity of MMA. Don’t get me wrong, I have the utmost respect for the sport, its athletes and the punishment they go through on a regular basis. But I know from firsthand experience how often MMA can walk the fine line between respectable sport and spectacle sport. I’ve done amateur MMA in the past and still try to stay involved in local Chicago MMA as much as I can. I’ve seen state regulations completely thrown out the window so that crowd-pleasing fights can make the card. It’s disgusting and unethical, but at the end of day, it seems that certain promotions have money as their best interest and not the ideal of a good sporting event.
The UFC, the pinnacle of an MMA promotional platform, has done what nobody thought was possible for MMA: making it mainstream. When the UFC first unveiled itself to the world almost twenty years ago, it did walk that fine line between respectable and spectacle. It took many years of critics calling MMA human dog fighting before it was recognized as a legit sport. That perception has changed. However, many out there still think of MMA as a spectacle. One of those notable critics is the UFC’s own Jon Fitch.
Fitch is not happy about the current direction MMA is going. Fitch is one of the top welterweight fighters in the UFC and is always a pleasure to watch him compete. Fitch recently had this to say about the sport of MMA:
“One of the things I’ve come to learn over the years is that the fight itself is a sport, but everything around it is a big circus… If you can make a case for being center ring in the circus, then they’ll give you a chance to take a place in that sport.
“I wanted it to operate like a sport, but it’s not. It’s about entertainment. I didn’t spend enough time convincing fans that they wanted to see me in those fights. It was one of those things that I had to accept. If you want to get the big fights, if you want to make money, you’ve got to make sure the fans want to see you fight.”
I usually elaborate on this fact about individual sports: You (the individual) are the product, not the team you represent. Granted, extraordinary players on teams standout more than others, but at the end of the day the fans will always remember the team as one entity. The UFC has the utmost interest in making great fights, but they’re also a business. As a business, their primary goal is to make money.
If a certain fighter holds a level of intrigue in his fighting and his personality, then he will likely be singled out. The UFC will see this fighter as marketable–they understand the audience loves them, so the UFC will do what it takes to promote and give that fighter the spotlight as long as they stand to make a profit.
Fitch feels he didn’t do enough to promote himself as an interesting fighter. Personally, I think he’s one of the most interesting fighters to watch. He is a very fundamental fighter and a damn intense one too. Unfortunately, fundamentals, while effective, can get boring to watch. In order for Fitch to be more interesting to his fans, he needs to change things up a bit. Now the question is: why should he? Why should he fix something that isn’t broken?
Professional sports are very much a part of the entertainment industry, now more than ever. If they weren’t, then they wouldn’t spend millions in promotions every year just so that we know about them. Is that a bad thing? No, because the sport itself isn’t necessarily undermined. All it means is that you have to adapt and change your game plan to fit the status quo. We’ll see at UFC 156 if Fitch can do just that with Demian Maia.