MMA: Is Entertainment so Bad?
Ever since 2003, I have been hooked on MMA. I remember watching Ken Shamrock vs Royce Gracie and instantly being enamoured. My life changed forever.
The very early stages of the sport we know as MMA, began with style vs style matches. They were just for the spectacle and had no real advantage over another combat sport, other than it was entertaining. I remember in those early events there being a man with one boxing glove on and a bare knuckle boxer vs a BJJ fighter wearing a Gi. It was truly pointless but the image is still iconic today.
Whether or not people or "purists" want to admit it, it is the same model today as it was then. MMA promotions make as big a show as they can and make the eyes at home tuning in for the first time, want to watch again.
If you looked back at the history of MMA, The Ultimate Fighter put the UFC and the sport of MMA on the map. However it was a spectacle of personalities as well as fighting ability and it was this personal connection between the viewer and the fighter that made the incredible success of TUF possible. This ushered in a new era of sports cuffed to entertainment.
We all know the finale put MMA on the map due to the classic fight between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar. However the success of the show was not just because of the finale. The entertaining side shows such as Diego Sanchez in the lightning storm channeling the energy for his fight the next day or authentic heel Josh Koscheck coming of age. Us fans were hooked as much by their story's as we were with the end result.
If we were to ask the average fan what the standout moments were from this passing year, most likely we would hear from fans it was when Khabib Nurmagomedov jumped the Octagon to fight with Conor McGregor's corner. Or it would be Jorge Masvidal uttering the words "3 piece and a soda" when discussing his backstage fight with Leon Edwards.
Moments outside of the Octagon at times generate more excitement than the fight itself. MMA has been flexing its muscles as Sports And Entertainment for long time now, all the huge draws have been as a consequence of entertainment outside the three to five rounds. Examples of this are Diaz calling out Conor for taking all he had worked for. This comment alone lead to 2 fights, with around 3 million PPV buys combined. These two fights changed the game in MMA. As the game evolved with ever deepening story lines, we were gifted the fight of McGregor vs Khabib. Which, through constant promotion of beef outside the cage (such as the dolley throwing in New York) lead to the biggest numbers in the game so far, 2.4 million buys.
If someone after the event asked outside the arena what was their 'wow' moment of the event, we would maybe hear a few saying it's when Tony Ferguson stopped Anthony Pettis at the end of the second round. Or it could be seeing Khabib face crank McGregor. However I would hedge my bets that most average fans will only be talking about 'The Eagle' taking flight after scaling the octagon and the rumble in the cage after the bout. As humans it's built in us to respond to drama and we all like to look at the storm.
Whether its following our favourite housemates from TUF throughout their career because their story grabbed us early, or being sucked into a rivalry between the likes of McGregor and Khabib. My opinion is although the main product is the sport, which electrifies all who consume it, the reason most will tune in to see a rematch is purely down to the entertainment and the pantomime surrounding these great contests. The BMF storyline being embraced has to me kicked the entertainment factor into a position where it can headline a main card even though no divisional title up for grabs. The BMF move tells me that the UFC, as main stream sports and entertainment company are shifting towards what will bring in the cross over numbers needed to hang with the big leagues such as the NBA, NFL and Boxing,
To sum up, I would say we should embrace this change, the days of bowing and saying nothing are well and truly over. We should embrace all aspects of the most amazing show on earth, and usher in an even higher gear of story lines, plots and subplots. I look forward to seeing more food dished out by Masvidal, or a new walkout dance from the great Israel Adesanya and the heated exchanges to come, as McGregor eyes up the Khabib once more.
Do we tune in to watch stunning MMA purely for the competition? Absolutely. The wrapping of the product would mean nothing if it never contained gold at the centre of it all. The coming years will show the same growth in the same direction. In today's landscape of social media etc and the ever increasing need to grab the attention of the fans, they need to see excitement in small moments. This is done through interviews, press conferences and other areas where soundbytes can be taken by journalists scrambling for the next big viral story.
I as a true fight fan was hesitant at first to go too far away from traditional ways. I now have to admit, without this new generation of new breed entertainers, not just fighters, I would not be half as entertained and half as excited for 2020 as I am right now..
I can only applaud MMA's massive explosion in popularity, and grab my popcorn as I strap myself in. As the events roll in, so do the stories that accompany them. I AM BUZZING.