10 Years ago this week I reviewed an MSNBC “Extreme Fighting” special, which is a window into how the mainstream media saw the rise of UFC and the sport of MMA. As was often the case in the early years, and still exists to some extent today, there was a bias against the sport despite it’s safe track record compared to other accepted mainstream sports. Since this special aired, Fox bought rights to air UFC events on broadcast and cable, which is promoted prominently during NFL games on the Network. The addition of well-known celebrities as minority owners is the most recent move to add acceptance and legitimacy to the once-maligned upstart sport.
MMATorch contributor Jesse Houser just emailed me and alerted me to the replay of the Extreme Fighting special on MSNBC tonight. I saw this when it originally aired a couple years back (give or take), and I remember it got my blood boiling. So I’m going to type up some comments as I rewatch it “stream of consciousness” style.
-The show opened with footage of teenagers fighting in their yard, with one dropping the other on his head. It looked devastating, like it could have broken his neck. He ended up fine, but the footage was used to show what was described as youth’s “obsession with violence” in this country. The mom said boys wrestle for fun, so no big deal. The local sherrif, though, thought it constituted assault. As I watch this, though, I think it’s a nice start to a show about people fighting in backyards, but it has nothing to do with MMA.
-Host Lester Holt says kids get the idea to take their fighting to the point that there’s bleeding from watching Ultimate Fighting. They cut to footage of an old UFC event where “fighters get $2,000 to show up and $2,000 to win.” Footage includes Tank Abbott, Tito Ortiz, and Frank Shamrock. Then they went to Mr. Protect The Sweet Science of Boxing himself, Sen. McCain, who called it “cock fighting.” That’s so disrespectful and ignorant, and I lost so much respect for him during his mid-’90s obsession with it.
-Holt described a tapout as “incapacitating a fighter” or “choking him into unconsciousness.” There is no hint given about how it’s an honorable way to lose, and fighters often give up because they know there’s no escape, not because they’re choked unconscious or incapacitated.
-Most ridiculous comment when talkiing about UFC: “Contestants would fight until knockout, submission, doctor intervention, or death.” Yeah, that’s how it works.
-Holt said the worst part of UFC is that much like pro wrestling, it attracts boys as spectators. Holt talked about Nevada and other states sanctioning the fights, giving it some legitimacy.
-In 2000, Frank Shamrock predicted in five years it’d be the hottest sport, bar none. He was only a few month off in predicting when UFC would really take off, as that came in early 2006. This is a situation where MSNBC should almost have a responsibility as a news entity to post an original airdate on the bottom of the screen throughout the show since so much has happened since then, including an incredible safety record that flies in the face of McCain’s over-the-top predictions.
-Holt introduced the next segment by calling it a “brutal form of entertainment.” Then they went to footage of “amateur ultimate fighters” in matches at local gyms. They show one fighter passing out and being woken up. They showed Eddy Rolon, the local hero, in trouble in the main event, but making a comeback with a submission out of nowhere forcing a tapout with an ankle lock. That segment, other than the biased introduction, was pretty fair, showing the fighters shaking hands and hugging afterward, discussing strategy and how the fight went.
-They went to “Extreme Wrestling,” focusing on Jersey All-Pro, which is so very different from UFC, yet you don’t really get that idea from the MSNBC report, which groups them all in as promoting violence.
-They went to an extended profile of Frank Shamrock, leading into a recap of his 1999 fight against Tito Ortiz. Shamrock talked about the low payoffs at the time, just $2,000-4,000 per PPV fight. Boy, times have changed in seven years. They went to a clip of Shamrock announcing with a younger, thinner Mike Goldberg. Shamrock presented himself well and was a great spokesman for the MMA genre.
-They went to an interview with Dan Severn talking about his entrance into UFC and clips of Severn vs. Pedro Rizzo. They showed Severn’s quick loss to Rizzo with two roundhouse kicks to his inner right knee. It was Severn’s failed comeback to UFC after a three year absense. For newer UFC fans who watched this, they’d be amazed at how far UFC has come in just seven years. Small crowds, inferior production values, and clearly less sophisticated fights.
-After a couple fair segments, Holt read his line referencing UFC as more “violence for entertainment’s sake.” They went to clips of UFC, extreme pro wrestling, local MMA fights, and backyard fights, trying to tie a bow around the theme of the show, putting a negative spin on the violent aspects of them, grouping them all in together. That was the most frustrating part of the program – the lack of a clear differentiation between various genres and levels of professionalism and organization.
NOW CHECK OUT YESTERDAY’S 10 YEARS AGO FLASHBACK ARTICLE: 10 YRS AGO: Pride vs. UFC: Which Aspects of Each Promotion Would You Keep?