To The Mainstream Press, Re: MMA

It has taken forever for the mainstream press to not only pay attention to MMA, but to accept it as well.  Now we've got their attention, but there's a new problem: arrogance.  The traditional sports journalism community can no longer ignore the sport's business growth, but they can dismiss the sport itself.  And why do they do that?  Because they think - despite never covering the sport or ever training - that they understand the sport.  They believe they've got it figured out, and so they issue stern pronouncements and hold strong opinions despite not being the least bit qualified to do so.  Tim Dahlberg did just that with this piece, so I wrote him a response:

While I understand you're new to the sport of mixed martial arts (MMA), your analysis of the Chuck Liddell vs. Rampage Jackson fight begs for correction.

You watched the fight in a bar, which was your first mistake.  The sport's newest fans from it's recent growth are rednecks and fans of professional wrestling.  You're right that most of white males in attendance could've just as easily been watching Hulk Hogan.  That is an unfortunate side effect of MMA's development, but so long as they're buying PPVs and I'm able to watch MMA events live or in the comfort of my living room, I tend to not be bothered by it.

As for the fight promotion, I find your analysis curious.  You note that the marketing and promotion of the fight was supposed to expand the sport beyond it's core audience.  I'm not sure how one defines that, but wall-to-wall coverage on ESPN, an appearance of a UFC fighter in Entourage, and the cover of Sports Illustrated seem like a decent place to start.  As a consequence of the sport's existing momentum and the promotion of this fight, more people than ever watch MMA - most notably, the traditional sports journalism community.  That also means you.  You claim to not be impressed and will not bother watching anymore.  That is certainly your prerogative, but I can assure you those who also hold that minority opinion will not be missed.  Those journalists who pride themselves on research, insight, fact-checking, and objectivity, on the other hand, will likely stick around.  After all, their preconceived notions won't preclude them from seeing the beauty in MMA.

With respect to the fight itself, I'm not sure what you're looking for.  I tend to create my own opinions regarding how I feel about fights and stoppages, not by what the louts at Hooters or Buffalo Wild Wings tend to think.  Personally, I thought the fight was extremely entertaining and I was on the edge of my seat from the moment the ring entrances started.  Did the fight end in under 2 minutes?  Yes, but how is that a bad thing?  The knockout was clean and the stoppage was not premature.  A fight is a very choatic activity and sometimes they end early.  Rampage's KO of Chuck seemed like a pretty decent finish line.  What exactly are you hoping to see?  15 minutes of two fighters hurting each other for the sake of violence?  It's not that I mind seeing long, difficult battles (Karo Parisyan vs. Diego Sanchez is an excellent example of such), but I don't need to see blood or battered bodies to be satisfied.  I like to see a technical contest between two premier athletic fighters end in a such a way that's spectacular (mission accomplished) and definitive (mission accomplished).  Real fans of the sport like the physicality of fighting, but we are not vampires with an insatiable thirst for blood and damage.  That's not what MMA is about.  So who's the bloodthirsty one now?

And that's the other problem with your article.  You say the sport is so new that even those watching it aren't sure what they're seeing.  Well, I'm afraid that's your cross to bear, not mine.  I have trained in the sport and cover it extensively.  I know exactly what I'm looking at.  As a consequence, I believe I am far more qualified to give strong opinions about a fight one way or the other than someone who freely admits they've got no idea what they're looking at.  Boxing enthusiasts and critics constantly talk about the "science" of boxing as if MMA were the antipode of technique.  I can't help but pity those folks for embarrassing themselves is public domains.  The fact is the mainstream press fancies themselves sporting aficionados, yet clearly know nothing about the various techniques and strategy involved in MMA.  And by technique I don't mean non-existent, mystical "death touches"; I mean over-under clinches, Gable grips, double underhooks, a whizzer, duck under, guard pass, triangle choke, underhooks, overhooks, ankle picks, circling opponents to outside and inside lead legs, double leg takedown, single leg takedown, single leg sweep, oma plata, farside amrbars, striking with the use of elbows, knees or kicks, muay thai clinch, uchi mata, and so on.  These are all techniques from some of the world's greatest (and in many cases Olympic) sports - Greco-Roman wrestling, Judo, Thai boxing, Jiu-Jitsu - but it seems virtually no one in the mainstream bothered to learn anything about them.  Is it any wonder, then, that MMA is confusing or boring to those who believe themselves to be all-knowing, yet don't have the faintest clue what they're talking about?

The mainstream press needs to realize that years of watching baseball and football isn't going to confer upon them an understanding of a sport (and the various other sports built into that larger sport) they've never bothered to learn.  Furthermore, when you buy into the packaged storylines of the UFC, don't be surprised when they clash with reality.  The storyline of Rampage vs. Liddell was not the dominance of Chuck Liddell; it was the return of Rampage.  If anyone in the mainstream press had bothered to do their homework instead of assuming they knew everything there was to know about this fight, this sport, and the UFC, they'd know Saturday was a moment of redemption for a better fighter.  Rampage had all the talent in the world, but had suffered crushing defeats in Japan.  There were questions about his mental state and his ability.  He slowly, but surely, gathered himself and would use last Saturday as an opportunity to prove he was back.  Just as the Japanese set Rampage up to lose by matching up against Kazushi Sakuraba, Ricardo Arona, and Igor Vovchanchyn, so too would the UFC by pairing him up with Liddell.  And as real fans know, when Rampage is counted out, Rampage is at his best.  Saturday night was a spectacular event because it allowed one of the best fighters in the world to prove he was as good as everyone once believed he could be.  It was triumphant and spectacular.  And how did you treat it?  With jejune insouciance.

So, if you don't want to cover the sport anymore, be my guest.  You don't know anything about it, so in order to say anything competent you're going to have to do a lot of homework.  Just do me a favor: save the dismissive and sanctimonious attitude for a sport you actually understand.  It's very unbecoming to pontificate when you're on the back end of the learning curve.

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