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Has the UFC Devolved Into the Ultimate Fighting Circus?


(Photo via Getty)

By CP Reader Gideon Brody

Mixed martial arts has always felt like a kind of fighting utopia. A permanent dream state for lovers of fight sports that occasionally seems almost too good to be true. In a sanitised world, it is the closest and most acceptable iteration of the “no holds barred” concept of combat all fight purists have wet dreams about. Two elite combatants. One locked cage. Very few rules. The best fighter wins, right?

Oh wait, no. We’re back in the land of fantasy again. In fact, with the cold hindsight of UFC 183 and many other recent revelations that are presently clouding the MMA horizon, we’re no longer dreaming or fantasising. We’re standing in a stark reality. And the reality is that MMA – or more specifically, MMA’s standard-bearer and aggressively-insistent market leader, the UFC – is beginning to resemble a bit of a circus.

“But everyone loves a circus!” I hear you cry. Kids loves the circus. Kids up to the age of about 10 love the circus. Right before it becomes socially shameful to admire any form of staged artifice that isn’t the WWE. And increasingly, that is how it feels for all MMA fans. We’re just witnesses to one big sanctioned joke and we’re the dumb people in the audience buying the whole thing. The WWE joke just became the MMA joke.

It’s not like the UFC hasn’t always had the look and feel of a surreal spectacle. It’s sometimes hard to comprehend how this wild, brutal, unreal video game shit hasn’t been either massively regulated by now, or outright stopped. You blink twice at that massive head kick KO or the state of that guy’s face as he battles on for another round and pinch yourself. Is this shit legal? Is this shit really real??

As Real As It Gets™, apparently. And so said all of Zuffa on an all-too frequent basis. Well yeah, it actually was for that innocent moment. We were the wide-eyed kids in the big top laughing at the dude that thinks he’s a cannonball. Like little kids, we kept on piecing together that fragile illusion so many times over. We continued believing in this holy, god-given sport. We believed in the purity of something that stretched back thousands of years. That idea of a gladiator actually walking into an arena full of raucous, bloodthirsty hedonists to the sound of Stemm. Our blood pumped with the insanity of it all.

But now that innocence has gone. An older kid just told us about Royce Gracie. And Josh Barnett. And Stephan Bonnar. And Chael. And Wanderlei. And Cung Le (maybe sorta). And fucking Anderson Silva? Yes. Him. And god knows how many others. The illusion is a shattered mess that desperately needs to be left behind. We’ve grown up with this sport we love, this sport we all had a hand in making, but now we need to demand for more than just staged tricks and circus antics.

So what now? We want something Real. No more sound bites, trademarks or marketing bullshit. We are fed up of being duped and as paying, adult consumers, we deserve better. It isn’t just our money that lines the pockets of the UFC and makes it what it is. It’s our hard work. It’s our passion. Our enthusiasm. Our time. It’s our dumb, childlike innocence that makes us all repeatedly, religiously tune in, and that should not be misused or dismissed.

And what about the fighters? Not all are in on this subterfuge. At least we bloody pray that there is some innocence left within the game itself. It should go without saying that it’s their lives, not ours, that are truly being put at serious risk here. And what of the honest fighter’s career? A life’s work under threat by those who aren’t prepared to work quite as hard. It’s as wrong as it gets. It almost sounds cheap to roll out the same PED clichés. But it will only be a matter of time before the legality of this situation becomes the thing that will close down this phenomenal sport we all love. And heck, why is it even on us to ask these questions of those involved? That in itself is a damning indictment.

Should the buck stop with the fighters, themselves? Of course it should. But fighters are human beings. If a fighter knows there’s a chance they won’t get caught, and there’s a chance their opponent is juicing, etc.? It doesn’t really need further explanation. Does anyone genuinely expect a multitude of individual fighters to act with a universal sense of altruism? Is this even remotely likely? The present situation provides all the evidence needed.

Or do we look to the only realistic solution, to those that already know where the true responsibility lies? Yes, we’re looking at you, Dana and Lorenzo. It will inevitably require the only carrot and stick left in the adult world that elicits any kind of self-discipline (especially in the world of fight sports). That’s right. Money and money. If a main event fighter is caught, not only should the fighter face severe penalties, but the entire event should be pulled or voided and all ticket-holders should be refunded. For other fighters on the bill, the penalties and refunds should be downgraded respectively, but they should still apply. Only then will the potential losses involved act as the conduit for self-regulation. Only then will the UFC be interested in safeguarding its most precious assets.

It behooves the top promotional representatives of this sport to be as responsible as they are wealthy and powerful. The UFC (and other power brokers within the industry) must arrange and fund an elite level of testing if they wish to continue advertising their product as the Ultimate Test. More importantly, the UFC should actively want this sport to be as safe as it can be, for the good of the fighters it claims to protect, and, of course, for the good of itself and the future of this great sport. Or we might as well just accept being those kids at the circus, until we’re all told to wake up.

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