Crap. It just dawned on me the other day; I don't like MMA. I was watching 58 billionth season of The Ultimate Conveyor Belt, and two big sweaty guys were grunting on top of each other while other big and slightly-less-sweaty guys yelled at them. A thought crept into my head and I tried to bat it away:
"This is boring."
No! No, it isn't. I like MMA. I love it! Why, just the other day while watching Dream, I was jumping up and down and yelling at the screen while Bibiano threw around Hansen . I was going bananas during GSP vs. Hardy at UFC 111. Even Tokoro (Cinderella Boy and perennial second-placer) usually gets me gesticulating so hard something pops in my spleen.
Then, watching The Ultimate Fighter: Heavyweights, it hit me like a greasy plate of chips. It's personalities that I like.
MMA, often, bores me.
Well, that's not entirely true, either. I can watch high-level MMA all day long, no matter if it's Johnny Who-pants and Rudolph Forgot-your-name. If they are dynamic, skilled, and giving it their all, I'm sitting down and watching it.
But really bad, or even average MMA? Yeuch. No thanks. I'd rather punch myself in the balls.
I went back and thought about all the matchups that I have truly enjoyed, that I really savoured, and that made me forget what a fast-forward button even was. They were all classic clashes of personality.
When there is a fighter I love to hate, such as Yamamoto Kid, against someone who has a chance of beating him, I am pumped for that fight. When there is someone you'd consider a "good guy", someone who doesn't trash talk (Machida, for example) fighting someone who looks mean and nasty (Thiago Alves), I want to see what will happen. When it's a cheeky and inventive Japanese wrestler against the icon of the early days of MMA, I am enthralled.
But if it's two guys with no stories and your basic wrestling / boxing skill set, I'm so bored it takes an espresso injection in the eyeball to get me going again.
Back in the halcyon days of Pride, the production team there would pluck at the heartstrings and get the blood racing with unnerving precision in their pre-fight videos. What this did was create a real emotional connection with the fighters, and that is what I crave when I watch MMA. It's why I can switch to boxing, and really enjoy it, when the atmosphere is right. Ricky Hatton vs. Floyd Mayweather had me sucked in. I watched the exquisitely made buildups and was on the edge of my seat for the fight.
The personality is the thing. The character of a fighter. Without that, you've lost me, and others, I suspect. Having personality doesn't mean you need to be Phil Baroni, sauntering in wearing a dressing gown and doing hip-thrusts at frightened looking Japanese women. Fedor, for example, appears to have roughly the same amount of personality as a piece of toast, but I absolutely love watching him fight.
So personality, perhaps, is not the right word. Character. (For example, Fedor's character is to arrange his facial features as if he is watching 'Svetlana's Recycling Advice for Stronger Russia' while his fists obliterate someone's skin clean off the bones.)
A storyline, too, is essential for me. I need to know why the fighters are fighting; what they want to achieve; how they feel.
I alternately envy and pity industry insiders. Those who live and breathe MMA. They must get so much MMA in their faces that their poop comes out shaped like a fingerless glove. Their eyeballs turn octagonal. Someone like Dana White, who sits ringside at every single TUF match--surely there must be moments when he'd rather be poking his eyes out with a stick of celery than watch two men sob their way through another awful hugfest.
For me, when a fight really comes together, there is a story, a build up, two characters, and an exciting fight. Perhaps I am asking too much to get that every time. I think that mainstream appeal (that thing that we might actually not really want anymore when we bear in mind that The X-Factor, Dancing with the Stars, and The Wiggles) will only come when the emotional side of MMA is emphasised. When the audience really gets to connect with the players.
Think of Muhammad Ali versus George Foreman. Books were written about that. Films were made about it. Endless TV specials were made about it. Why? Did they punch harder, move faster than everyone else at the time?
There was drama, there was a story, there were two complex characters, and then there was a hell of a fight.
I don't like boxing, but I love that fight.
In my eyes, MMA really shines when everything comes together. It's not enough to put two people in the ring and say "get it on." For me, there needs to be more, otherwise, that thought comes back to me and it doesn't matter how many flying karate chops Cecil Peoples does at the beginning of a fight--I won't be watching.
(This is article 2 of 3 that I sent off to a magazine and they never got back to me. I'd rather put them here than have them disappear forever!)