Over the past few months, I have tried to expand my sports fan horizons. I enjoyed the up-and-down action of lacrosse and the calculated strategy of soccer. But those were sports that I had, at least, a working knowledge of going in. This month, I decided it was time to expose myself … wait ... it was time to acquaint myself with a sport for which millions of fans across the country were already on board, but had pretty much passed me by. It was time to experience the octagonal goodness that is Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Now the mixed martial arts fighting in UFC is a divisive sport: some love it and some hate it. What’s interesting is that the arguments from each side are exactly the same. Allow me to demonstrate. Here is a conversation I had with a friend who is on the record as hating UFC:
Me: "What don’t you like about it?"
Him (with a dismissive shrug): "It’s just two people beating the crap out of each other."
Now let’s jump to a conversation I recently had with a UFC enthusiast:
Me: "What is it about UFC fighting you like?"
Him: IT’S JUST TWO PEOPLE BEATING THE CRAP OUT OF EACH OTHER!!!!"
Here’s a warning: people who watch a lot of ultimate fighting get excited easily and one of their favorite things to do is to demonstrate their favorite techniques. And when the fans I know want to show me what happened, they always get to be the demonstrator while I tend to be the demonstratee. Hardly fair.
There was recently a UFC event held right here in Denver, and unfortunately, I had to miss this. So for my UFC introduction I decided the second best way to experience the excitement was at a local watering hole that was showing the fights. I kind of expected to stroll in about 20 minutes before the fights were supposed to start and grab a prime spot. Not so. This place was jammed with fans thirsty for blood and Coors Light.
As a UFC newbie I chatted with a couple fans around me who seemed more knowledgeable about the sport. And, I will save you this embarrassment; the number "136" attached to UFC 136 does not mean that this is the 136th annual UFC fight. No, the UFC did not get its start in post-Civil War America. Also, you aren’t going to win any friends by pointing out that the "Ultimate" in UFC doesn’t really mean "ultimate" at all if they’re having two of these things a month. I did enjoy the extra space at the bar after pointing out this fact, though.
On to the fights. In the first fight, a nice fellow named Joe Lauzon defeated a young man by the name of Melvin Guillard in 47 seconds. Lauzon’s victory was one by submission, as Guillard "tapped out." "Submission" and "tap out" are really nice terms for what actually happened. What actually happened was Lauzon was choking Guillard pretty good, and Guillard decided "well, this dude is choking me something awful, and right now my choices are A) die; or B) maybe say I’ve had enough for this evening." So indeed, Guillard decided he was done for this particular fight. Quitter.
Here is what I found interesting about the first fight. Before the fight, Lauzon was quiet and stoic. Guillard came in cocky, playing to the crowd and with an entourage pumping him up. He played the part of the arrogant jerk you want to see get his clock cleaned, and that is exactly what happened. And that happened a couple of other times in the night, where the fighter who calmly walked into the octagon (scientifically proven to be the most combative of all the shapes) and stood ready to battle soundly defeated the fighter who came in cocky, jumping around and pumping himself up. And all I could think of when this was happening was, "Haven’t any of these dudes seen Rocky IV?" Apollo Creed came into the ring with a choreographed dance number to a James Brown tune while Ivan Drago stood there like a statue. And what happened? Drago killed Creed. And not "killed" as in "soundly defeated," killed as in killed dead. If UFC fighters and their trainers can’t learn a lesson from a renowned acting coach like Carl Weathers on how to behave pre-fight then they deserve the beating that is coming to them.
Anyway, it’s way scarier that the calm fighters tend to be better. If someone is bouncing all over the place kind of making a fool of himself, that’s just his way of pumping himself up for what he’s about to do, which is beat someone about the head and body. Compare that to a guy who just stands there as if he’s not sure why he’s even in the arena:
"What am I here for again?"
"Go choke that guy."
See what I mean? Those guys don’t even really need a reason to throw down a butt whupping.
Only two of the five fights went to a judges’ decision, which is good in my mind. I don’t like judges determining the outcome of any sport, be it a fight like this or something more technical like diving. If I were a judge for a fight like this I would score any round in which nobody cried a draw.
Here’s another semantic bone to pick: they call UFC fighting "mixed martial arts (MMA)." And when I hear that I tend to picture some Jackie Chan- and Chuck Norris-type stuff mixed with some waxing on and waxing off. I was pretty disappointed on that front. You know how if you mix all of the colors of paint together in a watercolor set you end up with a brownish-gray? Well you kind of get the martial arts equivalent of that when you mix all of them together- a lot of rolling around on the ground with the occasional knee to the face.
And would it kill someone to develop his whole MMA repertoire around Capoeira? That’s the Brazilian martial art where you dance and beat someone senseless at the same time. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go watch "Only the Strong," probably the greatest/silliest martial arts movie ever made. Interesting side note, and I promise I am not making this up: the star of "Only the Strong" will be recognizable to fans of televised cooking as The Chairman who shouts "Allez Cuisine!" before every Iron Chef battle. Oooh! I just thought of a way to make UFC way better: knives!
OK, knives are probably a bad idea, we don’t want anyone to get hurt seriously. It’s bad enough that those dudes’ ears look like cookie dough. But I kind of needed something to spice up my UFC experience because here’s the conclusion I came to, apologies to the millions of fans across the country: UFC is really boring. If pay-per-view tallies and bumper stickers on pickups are any indication, UFC is doing pretty well. But for me, it just fell into a predictable routine: Introductions; fight; interview with Joe Rogan. And the interviews with the fighters were all pretty much the same as well.
"How did you win this fight?"
"Well, my elbow in his groin while punching his face helped. Praise Jesus."
Maybe I would like it more if it was something more like Iron Chef,. Like, if they were given a secret martial art technique and they only found out what it was right before the fight, but then they were only allowed to use that martial art. Or what if they got drunk first? Those post fight hugs would be more believable. Alas, my first UFC experience is most likely going to be my last. I got home and my wife asked if I enjoyed the fights.
"Eh, it was just two people beating the crap out of each other."