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My Response to Total MMA, Re: CBS Chief on MMA

Over at Total MMA, a writer by the name of "MMA Curmudgeon" decided I extended myself a little too far in my dismissal of Sumner Redstone, the CBS chairman who called the airing of EliteXC on CBS later this month "socially irresponsible." He proceeded to do what's known as Fisking whereby statement by statement the author issues a response to what I've written.

I've responded to just about all of his claims, but I'll include what I originally wrote, his response and then my final word. Enjoy:

Let me just say that I hope someone takes the time to save these comments in a safe place so that in 5 years we can present them back to these folks in an attempt to fully embarrass them for their shortsightedness and apocalyptic ravings.

Certainly. But I'm not sure in five years Sumner Redstone will still be alive, let alone ready to reflect on his short- sighted dislike of cage fighting. In five years he will still be swimming in money and buying silk bow ties. Luke Thomas will still be Luke Thomas. Somehow I don't think the tables will turn so dramatically that Sumner Redstone will be taken to task by the unwashed blogosphere.

Response: Maybe, maybe not. But "being taken to task" by bloggers - washed and unwashed - isn't something that bloggers do to just one another anymore. Bloggers, for all of their problems, can be a voracious, nit-picky bunch and sometimes that leads them to the doorsteps of the rich and powerful in their quest for truth and recognition. Dan Rather can attest to this firsthand. The forum posters at and a cadre of right-wing blogs who beat the drums of anger managed to uncover shoddy reporting at media giant CBS and heap untold amounts of humiliation onto their news department. Maybe neither I nor anyone else in the blogosphere will ever get Redstone to bat an eye. But I'm betting that Redstone, if he lives long enough, will ultimately recant or significantly amend his anti-MMA sentiments. And I'd love to be the one to somehow take credit for calling the turn around. I don't see much controversy in the attempt anyway.

The rest after the jump.

Television executives fancy themselves as people possessive of omnicompetence: they know what's good, bad, funny, smart, sellable, interesting, original, etc.

This is, um, not a very artful sentence. You know what Sumner Redstone is "possessive" of? A billion dollars! I guess he must have been able to sell someone something?

Response: I think my sentence is plenty "artful" even if the declaration by "MMA Curmudgeon" to the contrary is ironically even clumsier. But there is something definitively less artful than my sentence: the argument being presented in response to mine. To suggest that because Redstone is wealthy he is now somehow above criticism or reproach is just laughable. Of course he's talented and has obviously cobbled together a career in television. He knows a great deal and is evidently capable. But that doesn't render his judgments about what works on television - and what is and is not socially responsible - above criticism. He is perfectly fallible and I would suggest it is more his age and lack of knowledge about MMA that makes him worthy of criticism here. In other words, his ignorance and dismissal of MMA has little to do with his command of the medium of television. Over the long run and probably even the short run, Redstone will run a better television network than Luke Thomas. But that doesn't mean his pronouncements about MMA are anything approximately intelligent or correct. And I plan on saying so.

But I'd be lying if I didn't think there was a little something to their apprehensiveness. The way in which MMA is marketed and packaged by the UFC and EliteXC is still based in the visceral quality of MMA fighting.

How would you market it? The appeal of MMA is guys fighting in a steel cage. Its visceral quality is its only quality. Any attempt to sell it as human chess is, well, selling something. It's mentally incompetents punching each other in the face for our amusement. You can't really spin it any other way. It's a mere hop and a skip from a snuff film. It appeals to our basest and most repulsive impulses. You're either cool with that, or you're not.

Response: Its visceral quality is its only quality? Are you serious? That's the sum total of MMA: visceral entertainment?

If that's why you like MMA, that's your cross to bear. But I can tell you it's not mine. Obviously the violence is a component of my entertainment, but it's not the lynchpin. What makes MMA great, among many other reasons, is that the combination of violence, strategy and athleticism make for incredibly unique athletic drama. Not the soap opera melodrama of professional wrestling; I mean the real life drama of two men emphatically struggling for dominance. It's a riveting display of athleticism, heroics, desperation, strategy and aggression all usually accomplished right through the limits of physical exhaustion. It is that combustible mix of professional MMA that makes it so appealing. As does what's at stake. MMA fighting is particularly intense for the stakes involved be they financial, interpersonal, professional or physical. There is much to be lost and won and that uncertainty makes for quit the viewing experience. If I were strictly into violence, I'd watch "Ghetto Brawls 4". But I'm not. To borrow and slightly amend Joe Rogan's words, I'm into the "ballet of violence." That's how MMA should be marketed: as one sport that offers all of those elements and yet something altogether its own. The reliance on "bone crunching, face splitting" action is merely chum for teenagers and morons.

And the reductionist characterization that MMA fighters are "mentally incompetents" is just cheap and unworthy of response.

Obviously that is a component that appeals to virtually every MMA fan, but the extent to which the UFC and EliteXC go turns me off as well.

It's cage fighting. You know that going in. The advertising is at least honest. These are roided up and angry young men trying to make each other unconscious by any mean necessary.

Response: Again, the reductionist characterization of the sport and its participants by this author make any response here difficult. I would say that a clear, sober look at the sport is necessary: two men are trying to inflict serious damage upon one another. I acknowledge the need to "call a spade a spade". But it's not by "any means necessary" as there are rules to this sport and a very solid portion of them are neither angry nor on steroids. I know several MMA fighters that do get angry for their fights, but I know several who do not. The mental states of fighters are as varied as the fighters themselves.

If I'm a fan and I'm bombarded with over the top emphasis on savagery, I can only imagine how the aforementioned beta males must have their hearts palpitate at the sight of Kimbo Slice.

Sumner Redstone, captain of industry and man who has made billions of dollars is a "beta" male. Guy on internet watching other grown men fight is an "alpha" male. Got it.

Response: I wasn't aware that a full bank account and successful career automatically conferred such royal status. I'll admit that my use of the terms was not intended to be scientific and therefore don't accurately reflect social hierarchy. What I can say is that a lot of money and a healthy career don't equate to having the underpinnings of masculinity per se (I am using the secondary definition of alpha male in this instance).
What I am suggesting more plainly is that I recognize not everyone has the stomach for violence as others might. Between watching UFC 1 when it came out, training judo, joining the Marines and picking up some modicum of training in the disciplines of MMA after that, I can safely say my threshold for violence is atypically high. Yet, even the UFC's and EliteXC's insistence on promoting the aggressive violence of it all still turns my stomach. I can only imagine what those who already didn't have some sort of tolerance must be saying. And it's reasonable to ask if promoting the sport in such a way is the best way to win converts.

We do not live in a world of either-or propositions. MMA doesn't have to be marketed like the IFL in order to promote more "distinguished" aspects of the sport. It's not the UFC or the IFL and that's it. There is an entire universe of possibilities in between that can be explored particularly as the sport is growing and reaching further and further into America's middle class homes. To suggest that if MMA isn't promoted exactly as the UFC does it - and make no mistake: they are slowly changing over time in a more sporting direction - then there is no promotion to be had is pure fantasy and shortsightedness.

I suppose that on some level, I sympathize with their hesitation and revulsion. I feel it a little, too.

Here's the thing. If you are an MMA fan and never feel a little sickened with yourself, you are probably a sociopath. Neighbors bring the dogs in from the backyard when you come home from work. MMA is a revolting spectacle. We are paying other people to inflict and receive potentially permanent bodily harm. We do this so we can be amused for an hour or three. It's, frankly, somewhat horrifying.

I can live with it. Others cannot. I don't think their's is an invalid opinion. It is perfectly reasonable for someone to be an opponent of MMA fighting. In fact, most people find it a little sickening in more than very small doses. There is little redeeming social value. We, as MMA fans, are the outliers. We are the ones that turn off part of our souls and watch other men beat each other to a pulp. It might be something to consider when you criticize an MMA opponent. They have the moral high ground. We do not.

Now you'll have to excuse me. Some tiny Japanese guys are probably fighting on HDNet right now.

Response: I won't go so far to say MMA is a "revolting spectacle". Nor do I think we "turn off part of our souls" when we watch it. Given the rather extensive safety and regulatory precautions (as well as the numerous studies demonstrating the relatively moderate physical risks involved in competition), I do not at any time feel as though I am losing a part of me or quieting my conscience while watching MMA. Without having spoken to the author of this article, I can only surmise that he believes his way of watching MMA (an admission of watching purely for violence) leads him to believe that's the only way to watch the sport. But one can glean quite a bit from the sport even from the spectator position. MMA, and any adversity really, teaches a lot about the hardships of sacrifice and the value of perseverance. I can tell you firsthand that over time it teaches you a lot about toughness and mental focus. And I can tell you firsthand it teaches you a lot about yourself, your weakness and where your character traits need improvement. I believe Renzo Gracie once said a fight is the most honest interaction between two people because in the fight you are exactly who you are. If you are scared or a coward, you'll be exposed quickly. If you are determined and tough, that will be on display as well. The crucible of MMA is so hot that is offers a revealing look into deepest corners of the competitors' minds, motivations and make-up. Watching that on display - helping or hurting the opponent - as they struggle physically for victory with an amazing arsenal of tools is an unbelievable sight. For me, that's why I love MMA.

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