"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

What's Good About Ultimate Fighting

Still photo from an Ultimate Fighting bout
I know a couple of fellows, perfectly reputable sorts, who follow "ultimate fighting," the relatively new spectator sport that combines boxing, kicking, and grappling techniques. The impression one gets from the media is that the sport is an outlaw thing, even less rational than boxing and professional wrestling. The increasing appeal of ultimate fighting, however, is based on the fact that it is actually a good deal more sensible than either of these.

USA Today has published today an excellent article analyzing the appeal of ultimate fighting. Here are some excerpts:

"Boxing is boring. Brawls are not," says Stephanie Cassidy, 24, a sixth-grade teacher from Fairfield whose husband got the $400-a-pop tickets for her birthday.

Which is pretty much all you need to know about how this salute to Rome's Colosseum has evolved from cultural pariah to mainstream hit. . . .

Signs of success include the fact that UFC's Spike TV reality show, The Ultimate Fighter, often outdraws NBA and baseball games among the coveted 18- to 34-year-old male demographic. Its pay-per-view bouts are estimated to pull in eight figures, and ufc.com has doubled its traffic, to 2 million unique visitors a month, in the past year. . . .

Far from being a lone oddity, UFC has spawned five other MMA leagues (mixed martial arts, which combines a variety of striking and grappling techniques), one of which, Pro Elite, just signed a deal with Showtime. . . .

To judge from all the couples in attendance, you'd think this was a concert or a movie megaplex.

Beyond the surprising abundance of women, there's also a range of races (only African-Americans seem in short supply), professions (from shelf stockers to stock brokers) and ages (from the occasional gray hair to the blond tresses of a 5-year-old). . . .

• Far from being barroom brawlers, UFC toughs often have college degrees, and some boast winning careers as boxers, jujitsu fighters, Muay Thai practitioners and collegiate wrestlers.

• Boxers have died in the ring, but so far not one UFC fighter.

• Football and baseball may be American pastimes, but for a high-tech generation weaned on immediacy, such sporadic action doesn't compare with UFC's short and definitive flurries of violence. . . .

For a populace jittery about the threat of terrorism at home and a costly war abroad, that tough-by-association cocktail can be hard to pass up. "Much of life feels out of control right now, so to see these gladiators fight your fight for you — it's somehow comforting," says Mike Voight, a lecturer on the sociology of sport at the University of Southern California. "It used to be boxing that gave us that escape." . . .

That many UFC fighters look and sound like everyday people — compared with figures like Mike Tyson and Hulk Hogan — is a powerful part of the sport's popularity.

Matt Hughes was a four-time All-American wrestler at two Midwestern colleges who likes to talk about how his bouts "are chess matches that require immense dedication and discipline." More to the point, far from being Goliath, Hughes is a compact 5-foot-9. . . .

"I love how many of these guys are my size. It makes it something I can relate to," says [actor Robert] Patrick, molten co-star of Terminator 2: Judgment Day and CBS' The Unit.

As the lights dim and the arena goes on the boil (metal music thrashing, crowds screaming, ring girls wiggling), Patrick's eyes widen. "I suppose all this is some kind of reflection on our society," he says. "But there's also just a great nobility to being a great warrior."

That's UFC as sociological mirror, a link to our roots as creatures bent on survival. But there's another UFC, the one that's just a heck of a way to rage with old friends. . . .

What UFC is can be wrestled into this: an upscale street duel elegantly marketed to the masses. And the masses are loving it.

I suspect that the morality and normality that the USA Today writer identifies at the center of ultimate fighting are probably central to its appeal and a big reason people are increasingly gravitating to it. In a time of war and fear, it's comforting for people to look to champions who are very much like them but so greatly skilled that they can defeat seemingly invincible enemies. Hence the appeal of ultimate fighting may well have a highly positive aspect.

I'll take a look at this interesting phenomenon and report on it in future.

From Karnick on Culture.

2 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

May I add to what you touched on, STK, and what to me is the key to Ultimate Fighting, which makes it more relevant both in spirit and sense than boxing is to the modern age---

It's OK to give up. When you're bested, you're bested. Honor is satisfied, and you need not squander your health and life for vainglory.

S. T. Karnick said...

Very good observation, Tom.