Apologies for the Luther Vandross-inspired title. Of course, this piece isn’t inspired by Luther but moreso by Tim Burke’s excellent article that appeared on Bloody Elbow yesterday. It was one of the better MMA-related pieces I’ve read in some time, but I can’t say that I completely agreed with the sentiments. Don’t get me wrong – I can understand the feeling of becoming jaded with a sport you love. After all, I feel the exact same way about
soccer football at the minute (for my fellow Brits/football fans reading I won’t go into tangents but it has to do with certain clubs abusing money like other sportsmen abuse PEDs…). But I thought in this case, I’d be able to offer a fair counterpoint to Tim’s.
Now, like Tim, my personal journey into what he calls the spider web of MMA started a long time ago too. It started with picking up the DVD of UFC 40 in 2003 on a recommendation, and I was basically hooked the moment I saw Nelson Hamilton tackle Robbie Lawler away from Tiki’s unconscious form. It’s been a long eleven years and like Tim, I too remember the anticipation of a UFC event back in the day when we were lucky to get one every three months or so – for me it was even worse as until 2005 (with the odd exception like UFC 47) the UK didn’t get televised UFC and so I’d have to wait for the DVD releases. I also remember following the play-by-play of a PRIDE event online and again, as I didn’t have the capabilities of downloading or streaming at this point, ordering the knock-off DVDs of the events that’d be floating around on eBay.
It’s also important to note that even back in 2004, my dream was always to see the best fighting the best where possible. Hell, a couple of months after getting into MMA I picked up a cheap used copy of the PRIDE video game and the first thing I did was create my own Tito, Chuck, Randy and Rampage and stuck them right into a Grand Prix with Wandy, Hendo, Arona and Sakuraba (for those wondering, Tito won because I always played as Tito back then…). The allure of PRIDE soon wore off for me though, mainly due to my complete inability to understand Japanese culture and my disgust at Naoya Ogawa’s advance to the 2004 Grand Prix semi-finals. From that point onwards I was firmly a UFC guy and the events of 2005 onwards have basically been like a dream for me – seeing practically every top fighter except Fedor and a couple of others enter the Octagon. For all their faults – and they have tons – Dana White and Zuffa have essentially made my MMA dreams come true since the TUF boom began. With that said, I do understand Tim’s feelings of nostalgia. I can definitely look back and smile at the memories of my excitement when my copy of Bushido 7 finally arrived, or finding out that UFC 51 would actually be televised after suffering for a whole three months (!) without a UFC event.
But then I think about other issues that came with my MMA addiction back then. I remember attempting to follow the careers of fighters like Urijah Faber, Tyson Griffin and Gilbert Melendez and wondering if they’d ever make it to the big stage of the UFC or PRIDE. Sometimes they’d have fights and I wouldn’t even know about them, let alone see them. I remember following the career of a prospect called Justin Levens (RIP) in the pre-Zuffa WEC and hearing about these awesome fights he’d had with fellow prospects Jorge Oliveira and Scott Smith, and then not being able to see those fights until two or three years later. I remember texting a friend and asking her to find out from her amateur-boxer boyfriend whether Michael Bisping and Bigfoot Silva (‘Junior’ as he was simply known back then) had won at the local Cage Warriors show, and then being horrified when said boyfriend didn’t have a clue which fighters those two were.
What I’m getting at is this. Sure, it might’ve been a tad more exciting to have to wait for the next UFC or PRIDE event, but as a hardcore fan of MMA it didn’t mean that I wasn’t trying – and struggling – to follow more than just those promotions closely. All of the afore-mentioned fighters outside of Oliveira eventually made it to the UFC, but if similar prospects came around today there’d be no way I’d have to go to the lengths that I did back then to follow them. A prospect like Levens would be fighting that one-round classic with Smith on a UFC card on FS1 or perhaps even on a PPV prelim. An international prospect like Bisping would most likely be on a Fight Pass card by the point in which I was sending my text. Can the UFC claim to be promoting simply the best fighters and nothing but these days? Of course not, but even before the TUF genie was let out of the bottle, the majority of shows weren’t "stacked top to bottom" as the UFC just didn’t have room for all of the talent and – as much as Japanese fanboys would argue otherwise – neither did PRIDE.
I too am a Cookie Monster of MMA, but where Tim’s arguing that ice cream (cookies and cream flavour, surely?) is better when it’s less readily available, I’d say it was much more frustrating knowing that there was a shit-ton of amazing ice cream out there – some better than what was available – and yet it was damn near impossible to find this ice cream without going to a horrendous amount of work. So while it’s true that you can get sick of too much ice cream if you’re having it all of the time, surely the option to have the majority of different types of ice cream in the world if you wish to have it is better than having to go to the ends of the earth to find certain flavours, if you catch my drift?
Basically the point is this. Back in the day there was the UFC and PRIDE, and if you wanted to watch top fighters or follow hot prospects outside of those two promotions it was a hell of a lot of hard work or involved picking up those ridiculous King of the Cage box set type things with the odd diamond hidden within a bunch of shit. Today outside of a handful of fighters in promotions like WSOF and Bellator (whose events are also readily available to watch), all of the top fighters are in the UFC whose events are readily available to watch, quite often for free in the US and mostly free in the UK. Due to the expansion in events the majority of top prospects are also in the UFC, and so rather than reading Sherdog wax lyrical about a fight like Levens vs. Smith, it’d probably be taking place in the Octagon with at least half a million people watching while Anik and Florian (or whoever) wax lyrical about it. And if you missed it at the time, boom, it’s easy to track it down and you don’t need to wait for months.
And of course, this isn’t even touching upon things from a fighter’s point of view – UFC pay still isn’t amazing but it’s far better than what a prospect could make in say KOTC back in the day and has far more job security too – but that’d be another article entirely.
So I say bring on the future that sees two UFC events in different countries on the same weekend. The future that might see two or three UFC events in a week with only like four fights involving top ten calibre fighters between the cards. By that point I may well feel like Tim and only want to watch the odd one. I might be jaded too. But the key point is that I want that option, I want that availability, I want to be able to follow a fighter who debuts in the UFC at 2-0 where he might’ve toiled in KOTC for three years a decade ago, I want to see whether he can rise up to title contention or whether he crashes and burns like so many before him, and I don't want to have to trawl the internet for hours to be able to do so. If it turns out to be a dude like Royston Wee, then so be it.