When I watch MMA, it’s in the company of a fairly even amount of hardcore and casual fans. When sitting in Buffalo Wild Wings 3 hours before fight time, I often ask my friends, "Who are you rooting for in the _________ fight?" Frequently I get a response I don’t understand.
"I don’t care who wins, I just want to see a good fight."
I find it almost impossible to watch a fight based on that preference.
If we enjoy MMA long enough, we typically become serious fans of at least a handful of fighters. I could finally understand my Dad’s stomach pains when he watched his hometown college play. I felt the same pain when I watched Evan Tanner fight. Seeing your favorite win meant roars and leaping in the air. Silence followed a loss.
If we all have specific favorites, those favorites can’t always be fighting; so inevitably, we watch cards we are less invested in. I can enjoy these cards because I won’t have the powerful euphoria or dejection that’s not so easy on the vocal cords or blood vessels.
But I cannot understand the enjoyment in just wishing for a good fight. Not caring about the outcome would mean one hopes to see exciting things happen in a fight. Breaking this down to a very basic level, this fan would hope for a flowing dance, exhilarating violence, two bodies trying to take out the vitals of the other.
I see this philosophy applying similarly to the appeal of figure ice skating or gymnastics. Both are about fluid and skilled movement. Beautiful moves are not the reason I watch MMA. MMA is about struggle and about one person not only winning, but beating the other person. A defeated MMA fighter does not look at his opponent and announce, "You beat me in this fight, but I could out figure-skate you any day!" The amount of a fighter’s personal safety and dignity invested in each fight is what separates a fight from a contest.
Maybe it’s easier to not invest in a fighter. If you never pick a winner, you can never be a loser. You also will never scream at the top of your lungs when Evan Tanner is announced champion or Anderson Silva latches the triangle minutes from a loss.
Come Saturday night, I’ll have a storyline for every fight. I might hurt a lot, and I might have a lot to cheer about.
And I’m pretty sure I won’t have a voice by Sunday morning.