Featuring Ivan Trembow's Self-Important, Random Rants on Mixed Martial Arts, Video Games, Pro Wrestling, Television, Politics, Sports, and High-Quality Wool Socks
Thursday, November 21, 2002
Mixed Martial Arts--- Yesterday's segment about the UFC on ESPN's Around the Horn was disgracefully uninformed and painful to watch for any fan of mixed martial arts. Host Max Kellerman said that he believes MMA is one of the most compelling sports on earth and then asked his panel of newspaper columnists from around the country what they thought of it. Unfortunately, none of the four columnists has ever actually seen a UFC fight and made no bones about that fact. The normally well-read and credible Bob Ryan, Jay Mariotti, Tim Cowlishaw, and T.J. Simers were uncharacteristically ignorant of the topic at hand and were quick to resort to the standard knee-jerk reaction that we've all heard before.
None of them seemed to know any basic facts about the UFC or even what the UFC is. Bob Ryan seemed to think that it was just like boxing, only in a cage and with no rules. Jay Mariotti spoke of the UFC as if it were no different from cockfighting as two savages get into the cage and fight to the death. Tim Cowlishaw did call it a sport, but didn't approve of it, and T.J. Simers didn't know much about it but at least refrained from making any outlandish remarks. I don't think I will ever be able to watch Around the Horn the same way again after seeing first-hand just how hard these guys can come down on a product that they have never actually seen or bothered to research. If you watch a few UFC events and hate it, that's fine, but don't bash something that you know nothing about and have never seen.
Host Max Kellerman was the only defender of the UFC and mixed martial arts in general, pointing out that it is safer than both football and boxing and that no one has ever died in a UFC fight. Not only is that true, but he could have also pointed out that no one has ever been seriously injured in the UFC since it was founded in 1993. People get seriously injured in boxing and football every single day in this country, and numerous people have died in football and boxing. So why is it that MMA is likened to cockfighting, while football and boxing are never questioned by mainstream media members like Ryan, Mariotti, Cowlishaw, and Simers?
It's one thing if a person is opposed to combat sports in general. If someone believes that boxing is wrong in principle, the same principle would apply to the UFC. I wouldn't agree with that, but I would understand that person's opinion and respect it. But to approve of boxing and treat MMA as "garbage" (as Jay Mariotti called it) is about as hypocritical as it gets. I used to consider myself a big fan of Bob Ryan, but I am now much less of one after this show, where among other things, he said this: "If these guys are such good fighters, why aren't they doing real fighting in boxing?" In a segment full of uninformed and insulting statements, that one has to take the cake.
Little does Bob Ryan know that accomplished boxers have entered MMA competitions dozens of times over the past ten years, and in over 95% of those fights, the result is the same. The mixed martial artist scores a takedown on the boxer, and the boxer has no idea how to fight on the ground or how to avoid advanced submission techniques, and the boxer loses quickly and embarrassingly. Which one of those two would be the "real fighter," Bob? Also, a boxer has to know one thing, and that is (obviously) how to box. A mixed martial artist has to be skilled in every aspect of the game to be successful in MMA.
If you don't have good enough amateur wrestling techniques in MMA, you're probably going to lose. If you don't have good enough groundwork and submission skills in MMA, you're probably going to lose. If you're not a good enough kickboxer in MMA, you're probably going to lose. You have to be good at everything and you have to know so much more about fighting than a boxer ever could. I think the real question, Mr. Ryan, would be, "If boxers are such good fighters, why aren't they doing real fighting and trying their hand at the multi-faceted sport of MMA?"
If the panelists won't actually watch the sport that they love to bash so much, all it would take would be a 30-to-60 second explanantion at the top of the segment before the floor is turned over to the panelists. Max Kellerman could have said something like, "The UFC is like kickboxing, only you can attempt to take your opponent down to the mat with amateur wrestling techniques, and once you get him there, you can try striking from the ground, or you can attempt a submission move from jiu-jitsu or one of countless other martial arts disciplines. There are dozens of rules and regulations, the sport is sanctioned by numerous state athletic commissions including Nevada and New Jersey, there has never been a serious injury in the nine years that the UFC has existed, and fights can be stopped at any time by the referee or ringside doctors. The participants are not bloodthirsty savages taken off the street, but world-class athletes who spend their entire lives training and improving their craft. Many of the best MMA fighters have been world jiu-jitsu champions and Olympic medalists in wrestling."
That's a simple, one-paragraph explanation, yet it is vastly more knowledge than Ryan, Mariotti, Cowlishaw, or Simers have ever had about the UFC. Until the mainstream sports media wakes up and smells the MMA coffee, organizations like the UFC are never going to get the respect that they deserve, and that's the real shame in all of this.
STORY UPDATE: I received the following response to this from the Boston Globe's Bob Ryan via e-mail: "You're very correct. Until I was presented with this topic yesterday, I had never heard of this nonsense. I have zero interest in it. Sorry."
This is precisely what I am talking about. If you have a modicum amount of knowledge about mixed martial arts and decide that you have "zero interest" in it, that's fine with me and I would respect that opinion. But to know nothing about it and still call it "nonsense," I do have a problem with that. A lot of people who haven't heard of the UFC are certainly going to be hearing about it in the months to come, as negotiations are currently in the advanced stages for a weekly timeslot on either ESPN or Fox Sports Net. In addition, tomorrow night's event at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas is on pace to sell more tickets than any event in the history of the MGM Grand, including big-name concerts and heavyweight championship boxing fights.