Ultimate Fighting Championship
By Alun Thomas
The predictable and old fashioned sports journalist would never concede that the Ultimate Fighting Championship is a legitimate practice, despite thirteen years of existence. The pioneer of Mixed Martial Arts fighting in the United States is often referred to most laboriously as 'human cock fighting' by individuals like Senator John McCain who like many others has no basic comprehension of a sport exploding in popularity in a way it hasn't done in its history thus far. The evolution of the sport from bare knuckled, anything goes fighting, to more organised weight classes with gloves in effect is a staggering achievement considering the shambles UFC was in during the late 90's and early 00's as states nationwide banned it for being too dangerous.
With the decline of boxing as a mainstream sport and pro wrestling's ever increasing redundancy the UFC has taken hold of the fighting market in spectatcular fashion, thanks to president Dana White who mainly through the success of the UFC reality show The Ultimate Fighter has boosted viewership and pay per view buys to the point where it is poised to become the top earning fighting organisation in the nation through clever marketing of its fighters and programming. In April the UFC sold out the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim for UFC 59, which was highlighted by the anticipated Tito Ortiz and Forrest Griffin showdown, the veteran Ortiz narrowly overcoming Ultimate Fighter series one winner Griffin in an exhilarating battle that contained more drama, passion and crowd reaction than any wrestling event or match I've seen since 2001.
The Ultimate Fighter is what attracted me to the UFC and I am now a confirmed addict. The show, now in its third season features aspiring fighters vying for a contract with the company, providing endless edge of your seat moments as the show cleverly builds up the matches on the show through clever promos from the fighters that makes you want to see the fight itself. The main draw of UFC is of course the violent nature, although there is a dull three round stalemate going to a decision for every submission or knockout. To even suggest the UFC and the competitors are not legitimate athletes is thoroughly absurd. Current fighters such as Chuck Liddell, Matt Hughes, Rich Franklin and Ortiz are some of the most physically adept, talented and toughest men to set foot in any ring, or in the UFC's case, the steel cage octagon.
But look anywhere in the mainstream press and all you will find are misguided articles and criticism about the sports more bloodier exploits and the supposed brutality. Yes it is both but these are trained competitors with experienced referees who know when to stop a fight. The UFC 57 Liddell-Randy Couture 3 main event grossed the largest gate in North American history for a MMA event, with Liddell's second round knockout of the 43 year old Couture a major story on many sports shows. Yet the following day when a listener tried to call Chicago's 670 The Score to discuss the event he was cut off by impudent Laurence Holmes who dismissed the UFC and compared it to World Wrestling Entertainment, saying he has no time for it on his show.
Firstly the UFC is not pre determined. It is real, with complex patterns of fighting required, things normal people could not comprehend. Would Holmes like to try and escape a rear naked choke or triangle armbar? Or be knocked out by Liddell in one second? The sport takes years of dedication and intense training with stamina and cardiovascular conditioning a must. The UFC and MMA in general is not a joke or sideshow. Tell that to Matt Hughes or Rich Franklin, the welterweight and middleweight champions, and two of the most talented athletes and fighters I've seen.
Opinions of the sport are unlikely to change, as people will always be stuck in their ways and see it as nothing but barbaric, opting to overlook the pure sporting skill needed to compete. Fortunately some mainstream media outlets are coming around, like Fox Sports (who feature Japan's Pride Fighting on their network) and USA Today who have run some positive stories. And with the next pay per view being held at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, headlined by Matt Hughes versus returning UFC legend Royce Gracie, things will get bigger without question. For those who know, all you can do is leave the bloated critics in the dust and stick to their baseball and football.