Written by Andrew Ottoson Tuesday, 21 April 2009 13:43
I didn’t watch Anderson Silva defeat Thales Leites in the main event of Saturday’s Ultimate Fighting Championships pay-per-view UFC 97. It’s not just that I don’t care about fighting. I don’t accept mixed martial arts fighting as a sport. Kevin Iole’s response to Silva-Leites makes my case.
But let’s start with some basics we can agree on.
Wrestling is a sport, and there’s a strong argument to make for boxing. Styles vary within, but each sport makes sense. Boxers box. Wrestlers wrestle. This isn’t rocket science.
But neither wrestling nor boxing is remotely like mixed martial arts fighting.
Comparing MMA to wrestling and boxing is as dubious as comparing basketball and baseball to BASEketball.
BASEketball was a movie, not a sport—and as movies go, it was more of a fad than an instant classic. I have to ask: is following MMA the sports hobbyist’s equivalent of collecting pogs?
MMA is like that one time on Full House, when Stephanie persuaded Michelle to put olives on ice cream: “You like olives, and you like ice cream, right?”
Michelle’s grimace said it all— some things really are better left unmixed.
As is, MMA fighters might as well start playing Settlers of Catan with Monopoly money. Because, you know, maybe board games are secretly sports, too.
* * *
The morning-after consensus among UFC fans seems to be that the Silvas-Leites fight flopped—and not just because Leites flopped on his back every time Silva tried to hit him. The complaint: not enough action. But I think the fight flopped because the rules permit it.
Can’t box? No problem! Drop to the mat and hope the other guy is dumb enough to chase you! Sick of being kicked in the head? Quit trying to stay standing! Can’t wrestle? No worries! When the other guy falls down, take two steps back! Oh, and remember to ignore the 21,451 people booing your every move!
But in all seriousness, I don’t see how to break the deadlock that arises when a puncher goes up against a grappler. Maybe this is exactly how we ended up with so many different styles of martial arts in the first place.
And then there are the fans, and the “beat writers” who cover MMA for a living. Consider that award-winning Yahoo! Sports reporter Kevin Iole wrote that Silvas should fight more like Chuck Liddell even though “Liddell has now lost four of his last five and has been knocked cold in three of them.”
Iole’s position is that Liddell, whose “career likely ended earlier in the night” when he was knocked out by Mauricio Rua, “came to fight and made his bout entertaining for as long as it lasted.” Kevin Iole: that is the single dumbest thing I have ever read on the Internet. Remember, I just read the Wikipedia entry on BASEketball.
The guy who just won the Middleweight Championship in your “sport” should fight more like the guy who got his block knocked off for the third time in his last five fights? Really?
But by far the bigger oversight is Iole’s unwillingness to consider the problem that arises when MMA fighters refuse to concede to each other’s styles.
Iole does not comment on the flaws in the structure of the “sport” but instead faults the two people taking the greatest risks—risks to each man’s personal fame as well as life and limbs—and faults them for not putting on a better show.
How would it have worked out in Gladiator if Rusty Crowe had decided “you know what, I don’t really care that she’s on a chariot with spinning spikes on the wheels, I’m just gonna run over there and ninja kick her in the face!”
No way, not a chance. There has to be some allowance for the fighters to use their brains. Saying publicly that Silvas ought to be “aggressive” is like saying publicly that Mel Gibson ought to remake Braveheart without the pike wall scene.
How can you say “fight, fight” out of one side of your mouth and say “oh, also, don’t use your strengths in a way that gives you the greatest advantage” out of the other? That kind of double-talk sickens me. And the bottom line is, if what you’re really asking is for your daily dose of violence to be more entertaining, you should be watching more movies—because sports, true and authentic, make no promises about entertainment value.
Think anyone who stayed for the final outs of Cleveland’s 22-4 win at the new Yankee Stadium stayed to the finish because they were so entertained?