Ben Thapa: As a balance to our Festivus-style roundtable of grievances with MMA, I want to put this question to you. What about MMA still gives you that rush of happiness and fun these days now that the "new fan" shine has faded a bit?
Zane Simon: WMMA [women's MMA] has consistently been one of the highlights of my enjoyment of the sport. It's fresh, it's exciting, it's competitive and it's giving opportunities to a host of athletes who've routinely gotten the sh*t end of the stick. I'm really looking forward to the Invicta card, as the promotion continually appears to be bringing in the best potential fighters it can find. And I'm looking forward to the two upcoming women's bantamweight bouts (Kedzie/de Randamie, Carmouche/Andrade) at UFC on Fox 8, a card that is quickly losing many of it's other feature fighters.
Women's MMA is providing that bright spark of fighters who are really looking to maximize their performance in every fight and, newness aside, it's that attitude that continues to make them a thrilling highlight on any card they're on, and has made Invicta cards some of the best of the year.
Mookie Alexander: The UFC's decision to enter Brazil has really been a fantastic payoff from the standpoint of crowd support. Name me one other country where the fans actually join in on Bruce Buffer's "IT'S TIME" howl. Let's not forget that two of the more memorable UFC post-fight moments in the past few years have come in Brazil. Big Nog KOing Schaub elicited a reaction akin to winning the FIFA World Cup. There's also Jose Aldo's sprint into the crowd after he put Chad Mendes to sleep.
I love the passionate atmosphere that the Brazilian crowd has brought to the UFC and it greatly enhances my viewing pleasure. It's a cauldron of noise, chants (occasionally vulgar ones apparently, but I don't speak Portuguese), and just overall fun. Even small cards like the Fuel 10 show in June felt as important as UFC 100 or 116. They'll be back in Brazil next month and then again in September and I can't wait for both shows to arrive.
Steph Daniels: I'm going to agree with Zane. The bright spot at the end of the tunnel for me is WMMA. The ladies consistently bring an exciting element to the sport, especially with Invicta lighting the path. Having them in the UFC, something Dana White once told me would never happen, is extra icing on the cake. I find myself looking forward to the the female fights more than the males, because you're pretty much guaranteed a good scrap. God bless Shannon Knapp for being the embodiment of a perfect promoter. Class and intelligence, combined with a good business acumen put her in a great position to be partnered up with a fat TV deal. Viva Invicta!
Mike Riordan: I'm going to maintain predictability and say the success of college wrestlers is joyful. I've been following some of these guys literally since high school - like Johny Hendricks and Ben Askren (they wrestled each other in both freestyle and folkstyle in high school with Johny winning both times and here's the folk match). I form an emotional attachment to these wrestlers, and it's ultra-rewarding to see them dominate a professional sport, and make a living in the process.
Speaking of that domination, I am a child of the late 80's and early 90's, where pop culture bent over backward to reinforce the idea that an Eastern martial art, in any form, at any level, somehow bestowed on a practitioner an almost mystical ability to defeat any one in hand to hand combat. I can't tell you how many times I ran into the notion growing up that "you're just a wrestler, that guy is a second degree black belt in karate, he knows how to really fight".
I am truly tickled now by the fact that now almost all the belts in the Ultimate Fighting Championship are held by American wrestlers. It turns out that those jocks spitting in cups in the back of your chemistry class make pretty good fighters after all.
Finally I receive great pleasure witnessing rancor for those who hate wrestlers, and can't get past the fact that real fights don't and ought not look like Van Damme set pieces. Their whines are my succor.
KJ Gould: I can't think of anything I like about today's MMA. I've been far more interested in revisiting the early UFC events from the 1990's. The fights are worse, production is lacking and the commentary is a joke, but the events were shorter and there just seemed to be less bullshit on the surface of it.
The events were better spaced apart as well, today there's just too much to consume without feeling mentally bloated and burnt out.
Anton Tabuena: Global Expansion. It is very easy for long time fans of the sport to forget that MMA is still at its infancy. We're still scratching the surface on where this sport can go, and you can see that with about half the world still unaware of its existence. It doesn't need to be Dana White's "bigger than soccer" claim, but as more and more promotions keep breaking into new markets, everything will start evolving. The talent level will be better and deeper, the pay scale and overall market for the sport will improve, and perhaps the most intriguing possibility is that the sport and the fighting styles will evolve as well.
People always gush over Cung Le and his San Shou, Lyoto Machida with his Karate, or maybe Jose Aldo's Muay Thai. That's great and all, but imagine if the sport gains mainstream acceptance all over, where guys with truly high level Sanda, Muay Thai, or even Karate skills come to the sport with a well rounded game. That could revolutionize the sport's "formula" for the perfect styles much like how MMA has evolved away from the time in which Sprawl-n-Brawl looked unstoppable. Of course, all these are still a long ways away, but seeing the sport slowly grow and expand globally is truly a joy to watch, and it makes me look forward to seeing what's in store for the future of Mixed Martial Arts.
Fraser Coffeen: The thing I am most excited about in combat sports right now is boxing, which is having a truly spectacular 2013. But the question is MMA, so I'll throw this out there:
The evolution of fighting styles and skillsets. Around 2000-ish there was a big jump up in the level of everyone's skill, as people started to become proficient in "Mixed Martial Arts", and not just their own art. As of late, I feel like there has been this great move to reincorporate some of those original arts back into things. This is similar to what Anton was saying, but I love the fact that you have guys bringing in elements from distinct styles once again.
Only now, instead of just being a guy trying to fight MMA with Capoeira, you've got people who are MMA fighters but add an aspect of Capoeira into their game. The result is evolution, and we're seeing it in some very cool places - the Showtime kick, an increasing number of elbow strike KOs, different submissions coming into the UFC. For awhile it just felt like we had reached this definition of what MMA contained, and recently, that definition has been challenged - and that's a good thing.
But seriously folks, boxing. You should be watching.
T.P. Grant: I'm kinda on the same page as Anton here, that MMA is experiencing a period of technical growth and fighters are challenging the idea of what works in the cage. We are seeing fighters from styles dismissed as useless begin to adapt their styles for MMA competition and established fighters add to the arsenals. Fighters are using more exotic striking techniques and fighter's clinch takedown games are expanding to account for the fact that every fighter now is quite schooled in stopping single and double legs.
Dallas Winston: I still love almost everything about MMA, which is odd, because I usually tire of things that bring me constant exhilaration; especially those that I immerse myself in daily. Everyday I'm thankful for being able to say I have a career as a writer. Even though Dissection weeks can bring anywhere from 10-14 hours in front of the computer and the occasional all-nighter, I still appreciate that my overtime involves watching and analyzing The Face Punching. It's really been the only bright spot over the last few years.
I also love and appreciate the BE community. I've slummed around in some kind of group MMA environment since 2000 and find the BE legion to be the most hardcore, dedicated, knowledgeable and even the friendliest of the bunch. I'm also proud to be a part of the BE staff, as I think we have the most technically sound and diverse collection of writers in the game, and I'm always learning more and improving my own technical knowledge thanks to their efforts.
Finally, the world's MMA fighters all make me happy. They are the performers and we are merely the audience, so -- even though the "they get in the cage bro!" POV is kind of cliche -- I do appreciate the gladiators stepping into the arena, knowing that either unmatched glory or demoralizing defeat could await them.
Tim Burke: I still get happy on fight night, especially if it's a big event or something I'm emotionally invested in. Even after all the writing and all the cards and all the BS in MMA, I still love Saturdays when there's a big UFC event going on. I miss Strikeforce though.
Another thing I still enjoy about MMA is that it's still small enough that fighters and personalities are approachable. The sport still thrives on interaction with fans, and it's something that just isn't there with team sports as much anymore. It's much easier to get behind someone you have met or talked to as a fan, because there's more of an emotional investment. As big as the sport has grown, no one has lost sight of that and it's probably still their most powerful tool for attracting new fans.
Kid Nate: I have to echo Fraser and Anton here and say that the continuing evolution of fighting styles and the successful incorporation of techniques we "knew" would never work into the arsenal of MMA champions.
I also have to add that I really enjoy continuing to learn more about basic boxing, kickboxing, wrestling and jiu jitsu through the analysis of our gifted technical team here at BE.
And Fight Night. It still gets me pumped.
Chris Hall: Pretty much all my favorite things have been touched on at this point. I'll echo Anton, Fraser, and Nate in saying that seeing the evolution of skill development has been incredible.
Seeing guys like Jones and Weidman in action, who are legitimate triple-threat fighters was pretty much unheard of. But what really keeps me coming back is that those "anything can happen in MMA" moments. Those moments and fights that really make your jaw drop. Like, of course, Weidman upsetting Silva in such devastating fashion. Or Cheick Kongo coming back from the dead to knock out Pat Barry.
More than that, it's the moments in fights that seem predictable, but still manage to surprise me. One of the most recent was Krause getting that late sub against Stout at UFC 161. By that point, I found myself just waiting out the clock, much like I figured Krause would, then he grabbed the guillotine with only 15 seconds left. It's the fights and surprises like that that keep me coming back.
Matt Kaplowitz: I think what keeps making me happy is how the sport continues to get big. Are we hitting that uncomfortable tipping point of over-saturation? For sure, but that is just another growing pain, and in hindsight, not such a bad thing.
There was a time when the UFC was blacklisted and many fans missed some of the most important fights in the early history of the UFC. Today, we have live MMA on free TV on a nearly weekly basis, and if it is not live, it's a highlight show or an MMA news program that continues to legitimize the sport.
Having the kind of TV time that MMA has now is something I never thought would happen, even when TUF first started taking off. A niche sport like this should never have been able to grow so large and so fast, but somehow it did, and went above and beyond what all of us thought would happen. Even though we all may gripe about how much is too much, that might be the best complaint to have from a fan's perspective.
Connor "Kanga" Ruebusch: I have to strongly disagree with KJ. I don't see how I can possibly be upset about having access to more and more MMA, especially free cards. I don't have to watch all of the fights, and sometimes I don't. Sometimes I'd rather watch boxing, or I'll spend my Saturday night doing something else and just catch the highlights later.
But as a fight fan, I can only be grateful for the fact that I can watch the UFC, or Bellator, or One FC, or Legacy, or Shooto Brazil, or Jungle Fight, or any number of other fight promotions almost at will. Are all the fights as meaningful as they used to be? Of course not. But even if there's a card with no big names on it, there are plenty of Cub Swansons, John Linekers, and Marlon Moraeses out there to keep me captivated no matter what.
I think I'm also learning more and more how much I love being an analyst. Fights have so much more meaning now that I'm constantly watching them with a student's eye, trying to learn and absorb everything I can from the techniques of the fighters. It might actually be that relatively newfound attention to detail that makes me appreciate fights that I'm truly invested all the more, too.
I might spend most of my time trying hard to analyze a fight, but when a matchup like Hunt vs. JDS is taking place, I don't realize until it's (AAAALLL) over that I haven't analyzed a damn thing. So while I love being an analyst because it's gotten me more invested in more fights, maybe I love most the moments when I completely forget to watch like a writer and just sit on the edge of my seat with my eyes glued to the screen until the last blow is landed.
I still love MMA, despite all the gripes I have about it. Like Tim and Dallas said, in a world of things that can't keep me interested for all that long, MMA is one of the few attractions that keeps me coming back time and again.
David St. Martin: I didn't get into the complaining roundtable because I know we wanted to keep the piece under 15,000 words. What I find really special about MMA is just how accessible it still is. It's incredible who you can work with on Day 1 of trying to learn the sport. Ryan Hall taught my first no-gi class. I took a three credit college course on jiu jitsu with Pedro Sauer. Renzo Gracie gave me my first stripe. Rafael 'Sapo' Natal taught my classes every night while I lived in New York. I can't think of another sport where all that would be possible.
It's also been great for my relationship. My girlfriend has gone from an un-athletic accountant to spending hours a week in the gym gettin' deadly. There's nothing quite like watching her yell at the TV when a fighter is failing to execute a technique. When your Saturdays include an hour of BJJ, an hour of Muay Thai and a seven-hour block of MMA watching, all with your GF, you've succeeded in at least one facet of life.
Brent Brookhouse: There's so much that I still love about MMA even after being a fan since UFC 10 and going on six years writing about it in one form or another. But there's nothing I love more than simply "the fight."
Yeah, there are some horrible, near unwatchable fights...to the point where you can count on at least one a show. But the good does tend to outweigh the bad by a substantial margin, and I'd get out of this position if that ever flipped. But the BIG fights are still where it's at. The atmosphere for two of the world's best fighting each other one-on-one in the cage (or ring in the case of boxing) just can't be touched by any other sport, especially with the right crowd. Aldo in Brazil, GSP in Canada...etc.
And beyond simply still loving "the fight," I love how often MMA can still make me look like an idiot. I was so certain Anderson Silva would take out Chris Weidman...just so absolutely sure. After all, this was the best fighter in the world against a young kid whose best win was over Mark Munoz. I was left shocked, feeling like an idiot and still in love with MMA.
What do you readers think? Do you still have your own warm, fuzzy moments about MMA still after the metaphorical new car smell faded?