To my own detriment, as an adult I am unable to suspend disbelief long enough to enjoy sports and entertainment the way I did as a youth.
Neither my devotion to Michael Jordan at the feet of "Wings", nor my hatred for the 1990 Pistons (for beating Portland in the NBA Finals), nor the wonderful suspense of the DeLorean creeping to a lightning-struck 88 MPH are emotionally possible today within the confines of my fully-developed self. As the father of four children, a husband of 10 years, a project manager for a union concrete company in Manhattan, some kind of fighter, and as an ardent devotee to the truth—I know what is worth loving, I know what’s in the sausage, and I have a harder time all the time investing emotionally in any sort of illusion.
While the Stallinistic tempering of my imagination took place over time, I do remember the precise moment that the magic altogether died: it was April of 2007. After watching a couple fights and a thousand commercials on Spike, I saw a hairy Brazilian guy kick Cro-Cop right in his damned head…right where Cro-Cop was supposed to kick him! I hadn’t been around for the VHS days, I wasn’t watching Japanese MMA in the early ’70s, and as of 2007 I had only watched a handful of pay-per-views, but, I had logged countless hours on Youtube and somehow believed that Cro-Cop, who now lay crumpled upon himself in a heap, was more than mortal. While the heroes of yesterday have almost all gone down in much the same way, no one is stepping up to take the place of the "beloved" fighter. For me, the day Cro-Cop went down was the day mortal men took over MMA, led by its de facto head, The UFC.
Which brings us to today. Story after story on BE speaks to the declining viewership and oversaturation of the MMA mediascape. I would like to offer a singular explanation to this issue: we know too much. The sport that was "as real as it gets" just continues to get realer and realer, but therein lies both its greatness and its potential demise.
For example, I’ve only seen a couple episodes of The Ultimate Fighter (currently in its 52nd season on public access), but from what I understand it brings the struggle of the up-and-comer home to the key demographic. Ironically, as it is credited with saving The UFC by drawing viewers to the sport, it simultaneously inundates the same with the endless personal and technical shortcomings of its fighters. Even if a fighter improves over the years, it's hard to forget--not unlike going to a class reunion where the successful, well groomed, banker is still just "Sticky Drawers" to you and your bros.
Of the fighters who do come up without the embarrassment of reality television, they still have the opportunity to overexpose themselves via Twitter. As The UFC has started paying bonuses for the wackiest tweeters in the Octoverse, we've really gotten a good look at our favorite professional people hitters. Who didn’t like the WEC Miguel Torres better? All we knew about him was that he had a rad haircut and fought like a rooster wearing razorblades and somehow that was enough!
Ask yourself, when’s the last time you had an emotional response for a fighter the way you might have for Royce, Rickson, Tank, Shamrock(s), Bas, Cro Cop, Emelianenko, Nogueira, Wanderlei, Ortiz, Liddell, Couture, Penn, and even (dare I say) Lesnar? These were fighters of stature, not just physically, but more importantly in our perception of them. If we've learned anything from the political season it's that short selling the truth might just be worthwhile if it can enhance perception. If the UFC wants the best fighters in the world, they're farming the best crop ever. If they want to sell pay-per-views, they'll need to leave something to the imagination.