This is a guest post from Zak Woods who is covering the Arnold Classic and Strikeforce for BloodyElbow this weekend.
The Arnold Sports Festival (still lovingly called the Arnold Classic by Columbus' natives) is a strange beast.
A fitness expo with cheerleading competition.
Bikini contests and boxing.
Archery and gymnastics.
Powerlifting and fencing.
Skateboarding and a table tennis.
There is even an armwrestling tournament (I am not joking Over the Top).
With over 175,000 attendees (the Columbus Dispatch puts the number closer to 195,000), 700 exhibitors, 18,000 athletes, 16,000 youth athletes spread over 7 venues the Arnold Sports Festival is a nexus for the fitness community.
Think of it as a 21st century fitness bazar. A center for the exchange ideas and commerce. A mini meathead Singapore where sub-cultures cross-pollinate.
MMA fans have long been aware of this relationship with professional wrestling and the same could be said of the fitness community yet it is rarely mentioned with the same passion. Walking amidst the booths for supplements, weight machines, clothing, and "protein-in-can" the influence of mixed martial arts is impossible to miss (it's also impossible to not feel as if a layer of bronze tan has been permanently fused to your body). Nowhere is this more present then in fashion.
MMA apparel companies that barely existed seven years ago now dominate the expo. Even the designs of the MMA market have taken hold in the fitness culture. Brands like Monsta Clothing, Hardcore, Iron Asylum, House of Pain, Train like a Freak New Breedand Chemically Engineered (I wish this name was a joke) all have a decidedly Tapout/Affliction feel.
In a sense the clothing worn by MMA fighters for a few minutes before a fight has come to define the look of a gym rat.
One could argue that the fitness community is in fact selling the"MMA fighter physique" (an ironic development as it is direct repudiation to the gargantuan muscles that Arnold Schwarzenegger made famous, and the Arnold Sports Festival originally and still celebrates). Supplement sponsorships is extremely important for MMA fighters but the marketing goes beyond "drink this protein shake to build muscles". Popular fighters have been firmly established as marketing tools to in the race to sell goods to the figness community.
The rise of the "MMA workout" coincided with the MMA boom. While professional athletes engaged in "training MMA" get all of the attention, e.g. Matt Leinart and Roy Hibbert, there is a secondary market of MMA fitness gyms and classes that have sprouted up at throughout the country and the marketing is ever-present at the Arnold. So why should MMA fans pay attention to the Arnold Sports Festival? Because the Arnold has been an important medium of interchange in the business of mixed martial arts.
SBN coverage of Strikeforce: Feijao vs. Henderson