Just a cursory look at UFC 129 emphatically makes this point, particularly if one sees it as an outsider would. The most celebrated moment of the event was a fighter persevering through a grotesque head injury (ironically, his opponent was criticized for not being dominant enough to give him a bigger thrashing). In the main event, one of the sport's two biggest stars was condemned for not ignoring a major eye injury enough to attempt to more significantly brutalize his opponent (or, as I believe many people secretly hoped, to give his opponent enough opportunity to brutalize him), and was similarly condemned for reacting with mild fear about it in between rounds. The promoter of the show declared a six-figure bounty for anyone who could destroy his opponent the most thoroughly and aesthetically, and another six-figure bounty for the two fighters who most ignored their personal safety in the intention of violence. For both bounties, there were enough worthy candidates that some called it an all-time great card if not for the relatively violence-and-reckless-abandonment-free main event.
I'm as big an MMA fan as anybody. I have the highest respect for the great skill, technique, and discipline that go into its component martial arts, as my nightly, knee-shredding struggles to master jiu-jitsu and muay thai attest. But as MMA expands further and further into the mainstream, further into the holy legitimacy of a major sport, I feel that one point should not only be made clear, but should be held sacred for all time to come. This sport IS brutal, IS generally unsafe, and victory can ONLY be attained by hurting your opponent more than he can hurt you. Yes, these are skilled, typically humble sportsmen of the highest order. Yes, there are many effective regulations in place that promote fighter safety. Yes, boxing and certainly football are more harmful to an athlete's long-term health. But the single thing that sets MMA apart from those sports, and indeed even from its component martial arts, is the primary aim of one competitor inflicting total pain on the other competitor. To ignore this point, or to somehow attempt to convince outsiders that it is not the goal, is a delusion.
Now let me make something clear: This scientific brutality is WHY I watch MMA and, in a strange way, why I love MMA. It is why I usually find boxing boring, and probably why I'll start to find MMA boring in a few years when it becomes further watered down. I wish fights had LESS rules, not more. I miss soccer kicks, stomps, and one-night tournaments, and believe that time limits and judges largely go against the core principles of fighting. Like most of you, I love it when fights end in submissions or KO's, and can't stand it when they devolve into wrestlefucking against the fence.
So why is the sport's inherent brutality a sacred thing to remember, as I mentioned earlier? Well, as the sport goes forward, especially at the lightning-quick pace it has been going, I think it vital that fans, fighters, promoters, and the media alike have a clear understanding of what the sport is really about and what we want from it. It is only then that it can go where we all want it to go. When facing off with the Bob Reilleys and Bill O'Reilley's of the world, we don't need to lose arguments with such idiots by selling out on points that can be easily refuted. "You know Bob, this sport's SAFE. I mean, look at all the SAFETY regulations we have. There's, like, referees and stuff. And those guys only let you get punched in the face like 3 or 4 times after you're already unconscious." The fact is that there WILL be a death in a major, well-regulated organization over the next 10 years, if not in the UFC itself. The rise of MMA WILL spawn more backyard MMA fights, and it can only aid in the erosion of our cultural sensitivity toward violence. These are facts, and again I think it's foolish to attempt to refute them. The important thing is that we embrace these realities rather than continue ignoring them. What issue should take up more bandwidth on this website? Lack of promoter-provided health insurance between fights, or some such fighter pulling out of a fight due to an injury in training? Josh Koscheck being allowed to continue with an f'ed up eye or GSP daring to show that his own f'ed up eye was affecting him?
It's difficult to explain, but competition and violence are clearly parts of our animalistic human nature. They are not as pronounced in everyone, but are clearly significant. The combination of pure athleticism, technique and will that Jon Jones displays, for instance, is as wonderful a manifestation of raw human ability as I can imagine. Seeing him hold down and beat on Shogun Rua with calculated brute force, then seamlessly transition to the technical grace of a kneebar is a cause for celebration in my eyes. The fact that both men were voluntary participants in this act, that both had trained their entire lives for the opportunity, that regulatory practices had made it both controlled and suitable for public understanding, is something I think is awesome. We all need to take a step back and identify just what we love about this sport, and then, in turn, how we hope to see those things carried out in the future. We need to be smarter as fans, particularly in terms of the demands we make and the money we spend. This sport is probably the greatest manifestation of the fighting arts in human history, and I for one not only want to see that continue but I want it to evolve to the point that it makes us all superior beings.