MMA: Why Do Some Fans Resent the Growth of the Sport?

Matthew RyderFeatured ColumnistApril 30, 2012

NEW YORK - MARCH 06:   UFC fans wait for autographs after a press conference at Radio City Music Hall on March 06, 2012 in New York City.  UFC announced that their third event on the FOX network will take place on Saturday, May 5 from the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, N.J.. (Photo by Michael Nagle/Getty Images)
Michael Nagle/Getty Images

It’s no secret that MMA fans are a fickle bunch. All sports fans are. It kind of goes with the territory.

Some people may argue that it's a sign of being ungrateful, and while that argument may be viable in some instances, it isn’t always. Fans have a right to speak out and be heard, and within reason that should hold weight.

One particular area that is puzzling, however, is that MMA fans at times almost seem to resent the growth of their sport. At their core, they’re happy that others are starting to jump on board and see it for how exciting and engaging it is, but there’s also just a hint of frustration at concessions being made for fans who are newer to the game.

No other sport seems to be so preoccupied with grouping fans into generations, or trying to link knowledge of their sport to the date someone joined a message board about it. It’s nothing to pop over to The Underground—the most prominent forum in MMA, and, along with its sister forum The Otherground, perhaps among the most entertaining on the internet—and see good points gunned down aggressively because they came from a guy who signed up in 2011.

And don’t even start on the dreaded 10ers.

Obviously that’s a very small portion of the population of fans, but it does represent a decent sample of the attitude.

Ask a jiu-jitsu white belt what got him into the sport, and there’s a far better chance that he’s going to tell you Royce Gracie and UFC 1 than Kenny Florian and the original Ultimate Fighter, even if the latter is actually true. And he’s definitely telling you it was Royce if it was actually Mayhem Miller and TUF 14, because no one could ever admit to being such a noob and live it down.

It raises the question: what about this sport, this culture, makes it such a crime to be part of a new wave of fans? Why is it that some fans who’ve been around for so long feel the need to cast down those who haven’t?

It makes for an interesting yin and yang.

These long-term fans are entirely over the moon that the sport is garnering ESPN recaps and FOX-televised main events. There’s no way they’re not, not after reading old Tripod websites for PRIDE results in 1999 or swapping poorly bootlegged UFC tapes during the dark ages at the turn of the millennium.

And yet a small part of them feels the need to defend this old guard from the very mainstream attention that has been coveted for so long. Part of said attention is new fans, many of whom can’t identify a kimura and don’t understand that training in a gi is actually beneficial to a fighter’s technical acumen, but rather just want to see heavyweights knock each others heads off.

That’s fine. Whatever puts butts in the seats. They can love knockouts as much as they want, because the nuances of the sport are intoxicating enough that those fans will learn to love them in short order.

I began watching the Ultimate Fighting Championship at UFC 4. I was 9 years old and I watched it with my dad on VHS in my living room in a town you’ve definitely never heard of. Royce Gracie choked out Dan Severn, and it blew us away.

Does this mean that someone who started watching at UFC 84 couldn’t possibly know more about the sport than me? Absolutely not. Who cares if they do anyway? What does getting there before that guy actually entitle me to? I’d have to say nothing.

Am I more entitled to knowledge and fandom than a hockey fan because I worked in hockey for a few years? Is my grandfather more entitled to be excited by home runs than me because he can remember Roger Maris and I only had juiced up lunkheads to cheer on as a boy?

Again, I’d have to answer in the negative to both.

Then again, I took the time to make the point that I’ve been on board since the early days of MMA, didn’t I?  How much further of a step is it for me to tell a new training partner to get off the mats because he’s inspired by Demian Maia instead of by Rickson Gracie?

The sport is growing, friends. We might as well grow with it, because it’s what we’ve wanted for as long as I can remember.