It's been an interesting tenure here at Bloody Elbow. In less than a month I've been identified as many things: a Zuffa hater, a Fedor "nuthugger," and a curmudgeon who hurts the sport. I have a healthy ego, but even I realize that none of this is about me-this is a product of a poisonous discourse that has crept up and slowly and insidiously ruined discussion of MMA across the internet.
There was a time, believe it or not, when fans of the sport were fans of the sport. For the most part, there weren't giant ideological gaps. Anyone who identified with a certain promotion, who denigrated everyone else in the industry, would have been chased away. With a passion and ferocity that was shocking to some.But it was because of where we had been, the struggles we undertook just to follow this wacky spectacle of a sport.
We were fans who had been through the tough times. We had struggled to find VHS tapes of the UFC dark era. We had imported fourth generation tapes of obscure Russian shows in a battered and worn PAL format. Thirty dollars for an Extreme Challenge event in the back of Full Contact Fighter magazine? Sold. I remember driving around the area of Atlanta known to locals as "Chambodia," finding every Japanese grocery store in town to get my fix. Pancrase, SHOOTO, K-1, and PRIDE. It didn't matter what the promotion was-if there were fights, we were going to find them.
Maybe that's why it's so strange to me, so counter intuitive, to see fans and members of the media take sides in a promotional battle that is both unnecessary and harmful to the sport of MMA. To many, especially fans of the UFC, it seems like an affront for any other promotion to run mixed martial arts contests. Any criticism of the promotion must be a result of "Zuffa hate." Merely suggesting that it may be difficult to spread an unknown sport internationally ends with the writer labelled as anti-Zuffa. Any suggestion that Fedor Emelianenko was a great champion and an MMA icon is met with cries of "PRIDE fanboy." I have been called both. So my secret remains safe: the UFC has always been my favorite promotion and likely always will be.
Surprised? You shouldn't be. It's why the UFC and Zuffa are held to a higher standard, by me and by others in the industry. I wouldn't criticize Zuffa so vehemently, wouldn't hold their feet to the fire to treat fighters right, wouldn't demand they provide fans with the best fights possible, if I didn't care so passionately.
For me, the UFC has always been special. When Extreme Fighting was en vogue, I was still an SEG man. As times got tough, when Jamie Levine was promoting super shows, when PRIDE emerged-I stood firm. Did I love Hayato Sakurai? You bet. But I was riding with Matt Hughes. When some were proclaiming Wanderlei Silva the best, I had Captain America, Randy Couture.
There was something special about a UFC event. Whether it went down in Dothan, Alabama or Las Vegas, Nevada, the Octagon represented something in the minds of many fans. It meant you were seeing the best. And from Art Davies, to John Peretti, to Joe Silva, a succession of super match makers made sure that was generally true.
When I criticize the UFC, it is a criticism borne in love. I want this sport to grow, the fighters to be rich, and for fans to see the best action they can. It's not hate that drives me to push Zuffa-it is a passion that led me to devote years of my life chronicling this industry.
I love the UFC. But that doesn't stop me from recognizing all the great events taking place around the world. From Cung Le's San Shou inspired theatrics to Michael Schiavello's zany commentary, there's something amazing happening everywhere you turn. You can enjoy the UFC, Strikeforce, SHOOTO, even your local bar fights. You are not tied to any one promotion. Relax and enjoy. There's great action all around you.
The sport of MMA is growing at a rapid pace. It's too big for a single promotional entity and a single outfit will only hurt the fighters and fans in the long run. Many of these smaller shows are riding in Zuffa's wake. All of us count on the UFC to continue to drive this industry forward. With this goal in mind, I will continue to push Zuffa to be great and to do the right things. I will also continue to celebrate the other great fighters and promoters in this industry as well.
And, when some misguided commenter calls me a "Zuffa hater," I will continue to laugh. Because I know the truth-without Zuffa most of us wouldn't be here. And that's something I strive not to forget. Let's raise the level of discourse. Let's allow a free expression of ideas, without silly and stagnating labels. It's possible, I promise, to love the UFC and Strikeforce. To enjoy the WEC and SHOOTO. There's room for multiple promotions, multiple ideas, and there's even room for disagreement. But blind partisanship and bizarre promotional attachments are bad for the sport- and even worse for discussion of it.