"You gotta see this guy Royce Gracie. He’s this little dude that beats up all these huge guys. It’s called the ultimate fighting championship, you can rent it at blockbuster."
I was in high school. It was the early-mid 90s. There were four people in our crew: Dave, Mel, Brian, and myself. We called ourselves the Fab Four (self-titled of course). We attended a large Midwestern high school with a wrestling team that was always competitive for the state title. Dave was the craziest and by far the best wrestler. He was also known for telling fantastic tales, so no one believed him when he told us he was training this thing called MMA with this guy named Keith Hackney and that there was this thing called the UFC. And then we saw it…..
I was by far the worst wrestler of the group. What I lacked in skill, or talent, or toughness (okay I’ll stop there) I made-up for in acumen and appreciation for the art of one-on-one combat. I went on to be a college professor, and as my friends lost interest in the UFC and it’s popularity waned over time, I held onto my fandom even more fervently, but in private. I was happy to check the blogs or listen to a podcast or stream an event. The community was more intelligent and introspective than any outsider would guess, and I found value in what people from this community had to say.
Then something changed. The sport was back on the rise: global expansion, major endorsements, the return of charismatic characters. The sport had gotten it’s groove back. But I couldn't escape some things tap tap tapping at my brain. Maybe I had lost a bit of the blood lust. I’m married now, with a son, and watching someone get kicked in the head just feels a little different than when it was just me, in my apartment, filled with weed and angst. But I’m sure it’s much more than that. With the recent sale of the organization, some things became crystal clear, things that in truth were never obscured for those willing to see them. This was never about sport. It was always about money. And my fandom was also complicity. Complicity in fighter exploitation, in CTE, and in making billionaires out of people that made their bones union-busting, something I spent much of my life fighting against. And as I watched Dana F White give his speech at the Trump rally, I couldn’t help but think to myself, my god, what have I done.