I recently wrote a piece on five things that annoy me in MMA. There are many more than 5, but there are also many more than 5 reasons why I love it. But if I were to little it down to a list of the things I most enjoy about the sport, then these would be major ones.
(5) Interesting interviews
I am a huge fan of other sports – Football, (not American) and Liverpool Football Club in particular. I also follow Tennis, Boxing, Rugby Union, and keep a cursory glance on the Athletics. Almost universally interviews are conducted in the same manner, where the interviewer almost gives the interviewee a ready made answer within the question he or she asks. As an example, here are a few that were in an “exclusive” interview with Liverpool forward Danny Ings who missed the majority of the 2015/16 season with a knee injury.
Q: “First things first, tell me how good it is to be back?”
A: “It’s great.” He went on to say that the last 6-9 months were difficult watching the rest of the team play while he was rehabilitating, and yes, it is great to be back.
Q: “Your manager seems to be a very cheerful, German guy who is great, but I get the impression that when he says jump, you say how hi?”
A: “It’s like that with any manager, but in particular him, but he is trying to improve us all the time.”
Q: “Last season, you scored against Everton, you were there, you know what it’s like to be a Liverpool player, you were on the team sheet. I imagine you must be dying to get back and to be very much part of the fabric of the team.”
A: “Of course, and now that I am around it, it’s fantastic, a huge relief.”
Q: “What’s it like behind the scenes with the new players that have come in?”
A: “They’ve been great, they have settled in straight away. the lads seem great, some of the lads know the other lads already, they have been fantastic and have been showing everyone what they are about.”
What exactly did we learn from this interview? Nothing. I doubt we learnt one thing that I imagine all Liverpool fans did not already know. Yes, it was hard being out when injured. The manager is very tough but he is pushing us to be better, as he should. It is nice to be back in the team and the new signings are very nice lads. Which is lovely.
Now this is a very typical interview in any sport, where professional athletes have been trained to give spoon fed, politically correct answers and not say anything in the least bit controversial. There are many interviews in MMA as well that are bland as a blank sheet of A4 paper as well. However, this is less the case due to the nature of the sport that they are in.
Here are just a few quotes from several fighters in the build up to UFC 200
Q: “Do you think how you will look in your fight will affect your drawing power in the WWE?”
A: “I really don’t give a shit” – Brock Lesnar
Q: “What is going to be different when you two meet again?”
A: “I am willing to die to beat you.” -Daniel Cormier
Q: “Will Daniel Cormier hear ‘And Still’ at UFC 200, Why or why not?”
A: “No, Daniel Cormier consistently fails when he’s up against greatness.” – Jon Jones
Q: “What do you like about the matchup with Amanda?”
A: “She has a tendency to break in fights and I have a tendency to break people in fights.” – Miesha Tate
There is something inherently more interesting when there is real bad blood between two fighters. You can have this with two rival football teams, tennis players, or other sports people or teams. However, I cannot recall any Liverpool player saying anything against any team, whether it will be Manchester United, their most dearest rivals or anyone else. If the manager came out and said, “Not only are we going to beat them, we are going to break them, my team will die before they loose this match and I really don’t give a shit.”
Now that… that would make me tune in to watch that match.
(4) Experience it live
I must confess I have only been to one UFC live event which was earlier this year at The O2 arena in London to watch Michael Bisping vs. Anderson Silva. I was amazed. The crowd was fully into it from the opening fight, time flew by, and while sometimes watching full cards can sometimes seem like a marathon on television, the whole event went trough in the blink of an eye.
There was a great atmosphere as strangers were talking to each other about who would win the bout and the fights they had just seen. My fiancee came with me and, while she is not a fan of the sport, she really enjoyed the night. The tickets were horrendously expensive, and if it had not been such an epic main event I may not be so enthused. But it was, and even though Manchester is a five hour drive from where I live, I will be there, even if it is a 5 a.m. finish!
(3) The invincible and their conquerors
When the UFC marketing department is at the top of their game, they are able to promote their fighters in a very slick and professional way. They need a couple of highlight reel finishes, a winning streak of three or more, and a few choice soundbites. With that and a bit of promotional genius they can boost a profile of a fighter beyond the fighters abilities. It helps of course if the fighter is relatively good looking and confident on the mic to talk for themselves and speaks English. If done properly and with enough time, they can convince most people that this fighter is almost indestructible.
Look at Ronda Rousey, a beautiful woman, articulate, full of confidence, on a winning streak that defied logic and dismantling opponents at every turn. But this sport, this “game” does not care who you are, it does not care about the UFC’s plans, it does not care about promotional packages, and in the blink of an eye the invincible can become the vulnerable. Rousedy, Silva, and every fighter who steps into the Octagon is only one lucky punch, one left high kick, or one choke away from having their lights put out. It can happen to anyone and, more often than not, it does.
(2) Evolution not revolution
As someone who has watched the sport from the beginning, the evolution of the sport has been extreme. It started out as almost a gimmick event to see which martial art was the most effective. Most fighters had only one martial art, and some did not even have that and just relied on their own machismo and strength to see them through. As we approach UFC 202, it is amazing to see how much this sport has evolved. Nearly every fighter trains in wrestling, boxing, muay thai, kickboxing, jiu jitsu. Most employ nutritionists, physios, use specialist athletes to spar with, and mimic their upcoming opponents moves. This is only scratching the surface. When you are at the top of the game, the possibilities for preparation seem almost limitless.
Mike Hiscoe recently posted a very good article on the maturation of the UFC and how the company has matured and got away from its bare knuckle roots of the past. But just as the fighters are becoming better trained, better fighters, so too is the product itself, from the presentation, to the analysis, to the reporting.
(1) The diversity
The UFC, now that it has incorporated women and lighter weight classes, means that almost any martial artist no matter what size or gender can potentially, if they are good enough, get into the UFC. When you think of a martial artist you think of someone covered in muscle, monosyllabic, a machine out to destroy. But take a look at fighters past and present:
Anthony Perosh looks like a postman, Takuya Mizugaki has a masters degree in Electrical Engineering, Roy Nelson looks like the guy propping up every truckers bar ever, Rich Franklin was a math teacher, Nick and Nate Diaz are the school yard bullies, Brock Lesnar is an animal, Clay Guida and Diego Sanchez seem like they have a screw or several loose.
The point is, it does not matter, you can be a boxer, a wrestler, a kick boxer; you can be educated, rich or poor. You can get the call at 18 years old or be fighting fighting for the UFC Middleweight belt at 46 years old as Dan Henderson will be doing. A fight can end in six seconds or in the very last second of a five round fight. Anything can happen, and that is a joy.
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