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The Moral Weight of Being an MMA Fan

(Photo via Getty)

By Matt Saccaro

Watching MMA comes at a cost. Not $60 for a PPV. Not $10 every month for Fight Pass. Not even the hours you spend watching low-level fighters on prelims learn their craft so you can watch the main card. No, being a fan of this sport comes at a human cost. Real people are putting their permanent health on the line for…money? A pittance? For our entertainment? For the tired notion of glory?

Each fighter has their own motivation for stepping into the cage, but most fans generally watch MMA for the entertainment value; if something about MMA didn’t entertain or excite them, they wouldn’t watch.

And how can MMA fans be blamed? The kernel of Dana White‘s blowhard persuasions about fighting being “in our blood” is true. The highest level of MMA transcends “sport” as we’re used to it. There are no overweight outfielders scratching their balls between innings. There are no fines for wearing your socks the wrong height or for excessive celebration. MMA, at its best, is a phantasmagoric display of violence juxtaposed with art. It’s raw. It’s visceral. It’s a grotesque, screeching cacophony of carnage that unfolds into a single, unparalleled and strangely soothing melody. There is nothing on earth like (good) MMA. Nothing.

This is why Matt Brown vs. Erick Silva was so spectacular. As MMAFighting’s Chuck Mindenhall noted, UFC Fight Night 40′s main event reminded us why we watch MMA at a time when lackluster card after lackluster card had us questioning our fandom.

But Sunday mornings are always sober; the high has worn off. The consequences of combat are the violence junkie’s hangover. The realities of what transpired in the cage are stark and unflinching.

(via Twitter)

That’s Erick Silva immediately after the fight was stopped. He’s beaten, bloody, and broken to the point where he was removed on a stretcher. We cheered while Matt Brown was turning Silva into a concussed, sanguine mass. The process enthralled us, and I’m just as guilty. I was among the thousands screaming “HOLY SHIT” every time Silva managed to weather one of Brown’s combinations. But we shouldn’t feel guilty for enjoying it. After all, Erick Silva walked away with “a clean bill of health.” So we can go back to writing “JUST BLEED” on our chests remorse-free, right?

There’s no such thing as a clean bill of health in MMA, especially after a fight like that. Erick Silva took a beating, but he was OK or at least as OK as a person can be under the circumstances. But fighters aren’t always OK afterwards. MMA is dangerous. MMA can be lethal. It’s easy for us to shrug off MMA’s darkest days. “The fights were either unsanctioned or shouldn’t have happened to begin with; Something like this could never happen in the UFC,” we tell ourselves, always finding an excuse that lets us believe MMA is safe and carries no grave risks. But fighters don’t spring back to health once the TV is turned off. One day a fighter in a big organization might not be OK afterwards. How will we justify watching this sport then?

In an age when athletes are shooting themselves in the chest to preserve their battered brains for study, we have to ask ourselves what combat sports (and even contact sports in general) are worth. If Brown vs. Silva was a reminder as to why we watch this sport, perhaps it should also serve as a reminder as to why we shouldn’t.

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