Like most fight fans I was really hoping the announcement that Tony Ferguson had to pull out of the Khabib fight due to injury was an April Fool’s Day joke, playing on the fact that this constantly happens in the UFC. Nope, it just constantly happens in the UFC.
It’s a real problem. When you’re repeatedly disappointed by a product, you stop using it. I would argue that MMA in peak form is the most exciting sport in the world, but it’s had trouble really getting into the mainstream, and in my opinion the flakiness of the cards is a huge part of the problem. I almost don’t even get hyped up until fight night anymore because I’m so conditioned to fights getting cancelled. It’s going to keep happening, because these guys go ridiculously hard in camp and with such a dynamic sport injuries are inevitable. Might as well just put them in the ring, it’s not THAT much harder than some of the sparring they do.
There’s another problem: It’s kind of boring. For the most part, people don’t care about the fighters outside the biggest names, because there are so many and we don’t really know anything about them. Sure, during fight week if I happen to be up around Fox Sports 1 in the guide and I see the preview show is on, I’ll watch it and get into the backstory. But during any of the broadcasts, I don’t get much than a corny interview featuring Create-a-Fighter A taking himself way too seriously and saying all the right things in black and white, and some bullet points during the walkout. I don’t get very excited by the events and it feels like the same thing over and over. The fix is simple:
Book it like pro wrestling.
Ok, if you’re still reading, let me be clear about a couple things: First, I am not suggesting that they fix the fights, at all. They don’t need to. MMA fights are fucking insane and have plenty of highlights and drama without anything fake going on. Second, I understand that most of the coaches and competitors would never go for any of this, and the athletic committees would laugh at me, but let me have my moment – I don’t like self-limiting thoughts.
An example I’ve always used to support my proposal is The Ultimate Fighter. At points over the years this show has been very popular, and of course led to the Griffin/Bonnar fight that was a pivotal moment for the UFC. This is a show featuring fighters that are barely good enough to make the cut, yet by the end of an episode I’m more invested in the outcome than I am for any mid-card fight on a PPV. Why? Because I know about who the fighters are, the reasons they are matched up, the things they’re trying to win for. I also know that when they say a certain fight is going to take place, I know it’s very very likely to take place, so I can dig in. If it does get canceled due to some outside factor, we get some good drama detailing how it went down, guys crying and shit. Again, as a viewer I am invested in the outcome.
The other example of course is pro wrestling itself. While it being fake used to be a bit of a mystery and fans could keep it still real to me dammit, we’ve had to completely ignore disbelief since like 1996 when Triple H and the soon to be NWO guys hugged in the ring at MSG, completely breaking kayfabe and sending Big Vince into a panic, eventually resulting in them rebranding it as “Sports Entertainment”. The outcomes are totally scripted, the grudges between competitors are (mostly) acting, and we’re all totally ok with this! Why? Because due to the wild presentation, we’re invested in the outcome. We care about the characters. Announced matches usually happen, and if they don’t, the reasons why lead to new storylines. This is facilitated by having a manageable number of characters to keep track of in the big show, because NXT is there to showcase up and coming talent while keeping the main roster clean.
Ok whoa. I started writing this post earlier this week, put it aside to think more about my angle, and then this happened:
AND TOTALLY PROVED ME RIGHT.
People are shredding Conor for doing this, and rightfully so, a couple guys got seriously hurt and it was totally wreckless. But, it was incredibly entertaining, and if you say it wasn’t you’re either lying or dead inside. Most of me thinks this was just him losing his mind from a combination of Irish blood, getting his belt stripped, and the quality of the coke a guy on his level can get his hands on… but a part of me thinks he knew exactly what he was doing. He felt his star fading, his moment passing, and said “I need to do something crazy right fucking now guys, let’s go”. Then started throwing metal through glass and running around on his tippy toes like my boy Riff Raff.
It was straight out of the WWE, and it worked. The story was absolutely everywhere yesterday, and Conor was once again by far the biggest name in the sport, probably in all of fight sports. If he was fighting this weekend, the number of buys would smash records. You’d wanna order it right?
He’s most definitely facing some legal and/or suspension related problems, but any notion of this ruining his career is crazy. Promoters everywhere are leaking clear stuff over the thought of signing him to a fight and it will happen as soon as he is allowed to. If the UFC is stupid enough to cut him Bellator will scoop him up and takeover the sport.
After the mania (shoutout, ‘mania), more fights were cancelled due to the injuries caused by McGregor and his partner Artem Lobov getting kicked off the card. But it gets worse – Tony Ferguson’s replacement Max Holloway was deemed medically unfit to fight! So now it’s Khabib vs Somebody I’ve Never Heard Of for the belt that Conor hasn’t actually lost. I can’t even believe it. It’s almost funny to read the beginning of this now after so much more has happened. More fights canceled. Again. April Fool’s Day plus Groundhog Day.
So what would my hypothetical organization look like? It would have less fighters on the main roster. It would pay annual salaries to the fighters it employs with performance bonuses similar to what they have now. Medical services including chiropractic care would be provided much like “Team Doctors” in other pro sports. Fighters would rotate into off-season recovery periods. While on-season, fighters would weigh in weekly, and hard sparring would be heavily limited, the idea being that fighters stay ready and do their fighting in the octagon. And I’d want to see them fight frequently, as often as medically ready. Wouldn’t it be cool to watch a guy on a 3 week KO streak? Fighters would also not be allowed to wear sunglasses inside to make sure no one trips and blows out their knee.
Presentation wise, I’m basically looking for the MMA version of Raw. Weekly, serial, insight into the real storylines, factions, promos, seeing the same characters frequently, scuffles, drama, guys flipping big-rigs backstage, all that good shit. Fights could be announced at any point, and the mini tournaments they often setup in pro wrestling would be used often. Winning those fights and tournaments would decide who gets to fight for the title, which would take place on PPVs, the only place that champions fight. I won’t get into tag teams, but I will say that I’ve taken a peek at the videos of that and I was intrigued.
Lastly, to the powers that be: If nothing else I talked about is implemented, please change the fucking music that’s been there since the mid 90’s. Currently it’s played in between fights and it sucks! God damn amateur hour. You can even use the Spawnies theme. That shit is majestic af.
I realize how much some people will hate these ideas. It all totally flies in the face of the themes of humility and respect found in most martial arts, and would turn MMA into a bit of a human spectacle, potentially undoing the progress the sport has made towards legitimacy. But I don’t care. I like entertainment in my entertainment. When I watch two trained killers step into a cage to battle I want it to be FUCKING AWESOME. Not watered down and sterilized, which is what the UFC feels like, and what will keep the sport on the fringes, restricting it from being the premier event it could be.
Change my mind.