One thing that those of us in the mixed martial arts bubble tend to forget is that the sport isn't for everyone. We love it, love the intricacies, how complicated the action can be, how it is truly a game of human chess. But the parts we love, to many potential fans, look like two guys dry humping on the ground. We are past the point where most sports writers and critics are calling for the sport to be banned. Everyone recognizes the UFC's tremendous economic success. Now the sport faces an even larger hurdle: aesthetic tastes. Josh Gross had Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix on his podcast recently and Mannix, an NBA and boxing reporter, expressed the concerns of many viewers succintly:
"I enjoyed it when there was action but I think my problem with the UFC and a lot of people, other people’s problem with the UFC is when they get on the ground and I know there’s skill to it, I know it’s a talent, I’m not taking anything away from that, I mean these guys are phenomenal athletes, I mean they’re as good as athletes as any boxers out there and you really can’t dispute that in any stretch of the imagination… but when they get on the ground it’s just, far too many lulls for me and one thing I wish they would do more of is I wish there was more breaks, I wish the referee would step in there and break some of that action up or break some of those dead spots up. There’s definitely a rhyme and a reason to it obliviously, these guys are trying to get different holds on and they’re trying to do different things on the mat but sometimes and I think the crowd backed me up with this, I didn’t feel like I was alone in this, but when there were you know 1 minute, 1 1/2 minutes, 2 minutes lulls in the action which really happened and I’ll point out one great example, I thought the Kenny Florian fight was the perfect example of that. It was just… so much on the mat action that it seemed like for 14 out of the 15 minutes, we were just watching two guys kind of hug it out on the ground there.
The Boston Globe's voluble Bob Ryan also sounded off on the show, which he attended live. Ryan thought the spectacle was reminiscent of pro wrestling and was impressed with the presentation:
UFC has borrowed very heavily from wrestling, and why not? Vince McMahon hit upon a winning formula with music and pageantry, and story lines, and there is no reason why it wouldn’t transfer nicely to UFC. There has to be a great carryover fandom. Why would someone settle for the phoniness and absolute idiocy of the wrestling show when you can see better athletes engaged in legitimate combat and still get all of the trappings the WWE has to offer?
But the action in the cage wasn't to his tastes:
These guys are athletes. Make no mistake about that. A boxing round lasts three minutes. These rounds last five. They do need to be trained in multiple disciplines. No one can ever say these guys aren’t superb athletes, but that doesn’t mean the sport they practice is the prettiest thing to watch.
Now you can’t say everything goes. They did away with eye-gouging some time back. But kneeing and elbowing are prime tactics, and, c’mon, what’s so artistic about that? If you love a flat-out barroom brawl, replete with wrestling, kicking, kneeing, elbowing and, yep, punching, then this may be the sport for you. But to some, a little of that goes a long way. Frankly, after watching an evening of UFC, up close and personal, I came away with a better appreciation of boxing.
This is what we tend to miss when we jump up on our soapboxes and chastize the mainstream media for failing to cover the sport. This isn't a sport everyone can embrace. And it's not just generational. Mannix is no old fogey sportswriter chomping on a cigar and reminiscing about Walt "Clyde" Frazier. He's 34 years old. He is the next generation of leadership in the sports media field.
For some it is too boring - for others the action is just too visceral, the blood too real. Either way, it's not for everyone. And as much as we hate to admit it, MMA may never stand side by side with football and basketball as a mainstream entity.