MMA “hot takes” are annoying, but not necessarily a problem
The afterglow of UFC 207 has drawn the increasingly familiar chorus of mainstream sports media pundits giving their “hot take” on the current state of the UFC. Many of these takes are uniformed, contradictory, or outright offensive; however, their recent prevalence is a positive symptom of the UFC’s cultural penetration.
While it is unquestionable that the likes of Skip Bayless, Jason Whitlock, and Clay Travis have only a rudimentary grasp MMA, their opinions are made because of the resonance that they will have with the public.
By making ludicrous assertions about the rise of Ronda Rousey being a liberal conspiracy, or feverishly debating the merits of Conor McGregor taking on Floyd Mayweather in the boxing ring, these bloviators are speaking on the sport because it has emerged into a corner of popular culture.
Ironically, this premise is probably best described by veteran hot take artist Colin Cowherd in the wake of UFC 202, when he proclaimed, “UFC is now the water cooler sport in America when it comes to mano y mano fighting.”
Cowherd is mostly right. While most UFC events do not land on the sports media landscape, a Conor McGregor or Ronda Rousey fight transcends not only the UFC, but sports in general.
When Clay Travis goes on Fox Sports Radio and explains how Ronda Rousey is the “most fraudulent creation in sports history,” he is not only showing his ignorance, but also speaking on a topic that will keep him socially relevant.
Perhaps the rash of outlandish opinions is actually due to the aesthetic simplicity of an MMA fight. The UFC has long sold its product as a sport that can appeal to our basic primal instincts by constantly reiterating that everyone can relate to a fight.
This oversimplification of MMA naturally attracts opinions from various corners of media ecosystem.
Someone like Skip Bayless may have very little MMA knowledge, but his understanding of physical altercation mixed with a lifetime of exposure to boxing gives him the requisite knowledge to be viewed as a UFC authority on Fox Sports 1.
In all likelihood, these controversial opinion-makers have large knowledge bases on other more “traditional” sports, but have an obligation to speak on MMA in order to fulfill their obligation to increase clicks, shares, and ratings.
None of this is to say that all press is good press.
The self-destructive behavior of Jon Jones or the criminal actions of War Machine could also easily be the low-hanging fruit that the sports media uses to characterize MMA.
However, for the time being the casual sports media onlookers are unwilling to delve into the personal lives of the fighters that they are speaking about. After all, most of the unintelligible MMA opinions are actually just boiled down to the general sports narratives of victory and defeat.
Surely those who exist in the MMA bubble can easily disarm the residence of the hot take nation with simple logic and basic knowledge. Bemoaning their existence is counterintuitive.
Real concern should emerge when nobody cares about the results of mega UFC events.
SI Media Podcast goes long, but well worth your time
While this column aims to be the intersection of MMA, the media, and the business practices of both mechanisms, the weekly SI Media Podcast accomplished this goal very expertly by featuring a two hour-plus discussion with three prominent members of the MMA media corps.
Sports Illustrated media columnist Richard Deitsch separately discusses topics relating to UFC media coverage with Ariel Helwani of MMAFighting.com, Luke Thomas of SiriusXM, and Jonathan Snowden of BleacherReport.com.
Highlights of the podcast include Helwani’s rebuttal of a Deadspin.com article that was critical of him, Thomas’s characterization of Ronda Rousey’s media relations, and Snowden’s contentious relationship with the UFC.
For his part, Dietsch does a fantastic job of identifying as a novice MMA observer, while letting his guests expand on their points without frequent interruption.
(Robert Vallejos writes a new Specialist column for MMATorch titled “Media & Business” focused on, you guessed it, the media coverage of MMA and the business side of MMA. He is fascinated by the presentation, business decisions, media strategy, and press coverage of both UFC and MMA as a whole, and will bring that curiosity to explore and delve into that side of MMA to his weekly Specialist column here at MMATorch. He explains his approach: “As a sport in its relative infancy, MMA does not receive the same level of scrutiny and informed analysis from the sports media as other more established entities. This is why it is vital for independent outlets such MMATorch to grow, while featuring a variety of voices. Unlike mainstream outlets, MMATorch is not beholden to any organization. Therefore I believe it is essential for individuals such as myself to explain not only the ‘what’ but also the ‘why’ of MMA.”)