As a quick perusal over the average forum, message board, or comments section on a given CagePotato, MMAMania, BloodyElbow, etc. article will show you, most fans of this thing called MMA would like to think that, on the off chance they were dropped into a random group of their peers and asked to debate various MMA-related issues, they would surely come out the victor. Hence our frequent inability to both see or respect another person’s argument on a given subject, admit in the slightest that we could be wrong, or realize that there might be no right answer to begin with (we’re looking at you, Nippletwist).
However, it would be fairly easy for anyone of us to notice a direct correlation between the increased awareness/popularity of MMA and an increased understanding of the sport by the average person. It only makes sense; with information regarding everything from various techniques used by certain fighters to the long-term effects of the sport on the human body being made more available by the day, the opportunities for fans to elevate their knowledge in regards to the sport are seemingly endless. Even if you aren’t a fan, all you have to do is go channel surfing for about thirty seconds these days to find something MMA-related to absorb.
But let’s be honest, we are still a long way from the universal acknowledgement, not to mention acceptance, of MMA. Go ahead; ask the three nearest people to you at the office what their opinion is on MMA legalization in your state. Make sure not to mention the phrase “UFC” in any way, shape, or form while doing so. Prepare yourself, for you are about to stare deep into the vacant, soulless eyes of someone who hasn’t the slightest clue what the hell you’re talking about. Creepy, isn’t it?
And although MMA is still miles behind that of its professional sports counterparts in terms of awareness, it is has begun to attract a whole new type of audience — a more diverse, famous, and dare we say informed audience — that seeks to shed the stereotypical image of MMA fans worldwide as personified by the “Just Bleed” guy. This will probably be the first and last time we ever say this, but if you want an example of an educated, enthusiastic audience, look no further than Canada. This may be painting with too large a brush, but in recent years, there has not been an audience that even comes close to matching Canada when dealing with the intricacies of the sport. Ground transitions, stuffed takedowns, and submission attempts are often treated with the enthusiasm and applause of ten punch combos and wheel kicks in other venues, and truly show how far the MMA fan has come in just a few short years. This observation has been duly noted on several occasions by UFC commentators Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg.
But for every Canadian card, there are two or three cards/venues that make us reconsider how in touch with the underlying discipline, honor, and integrity of the sport fans actually are. Where some audiences applaud the ground aspects of MMA, others relentlessly boo and mock fighters for even considering taking the action there, to the point that it often has an influence on the referee’s decision to stand up fighters for a “lack of action.”
The same can be said about fighters who follow a succinct gameplan; just look at how Carlos Condit was eviscerated for his performance against Nick Diaz as an example of this. In one relatively lackluster fight, Condit’s reputation went from the “Natural Born Killer” to the “Natural Born Runner” amongst many fans, simply because he utilized an effective, albeit unspectacular, strategy against a nearly impossible to finish opponent. Then again, Condit’s gameplan was pretty much a cookie-cutter representation of the “always play it safe” mentality that Team Jackson has nearly patented by this point, which could have been enough in and of itself to earn such ire.
There are an endless number of factors that determine how an audience will react on a given night (fight quality, matchups, and amount of alcohol consumed to name a few), but suffice it to say, as MMA has become more popular, the larger audience it has drawn in has both its upsides and its pratfalls. MMA popularity has, whether directly or indirectly, stirred up a mentality that anyone can become a full-fledged martial artist if they own a Body by Jake and practice Chuck Liddell’s moves from the UFC 52 DVD they own “like a hundred times, bro!” on the heavy bag. This is more a reflection of our society’s long-running tendency to mimic what we see on TV than anything else, but let’s face it, human stupidity will never run out of things to exploit. MMA has also been tied in, often out of ignorance or a hidden agenda, with despicable acts of violence by such anti-MMA organizations as The Culinary Union and unfitforchildren, leading many casual audiences and former New York Assemblymen to believe that the furthering of MMA will come hand-in-hand with a general acceptance of violence.
So with that in mind, we figured we would host a good old fashioned CagePotato Open Discussion. The question: Do you think the evolution of mixed martial arts can be reflected in its fanbase? Or is the popularity of the sport actually diluting the intelligence of the average audience member?
It is not a question that can be easily answered given the ever-changing landscape of both the sport and its fans, but what you really have to ask yourself is whether or not the new breed of fans that have hopped on the bandwagon in the past few years are helping improve the sport’s image or destroy it.
Just make sure you don’t ask Bob Arum before you come to a decision.