On November 12, 1993, I and about four other guys descended in to the poorly lit, wood-paneled basement of one of my best buddies. He had ordered a pay-per-view special called the Ultimate Fighting Championship, billed as a no-holds-barred fighting event, pitting the best fighters from various martial disciplines against one another for supremacy in the ring.
A skeptic even at 17, I half-expected it to be nothing more than a glorified wrestling show. I also had to shell out some of the cash to pay for the thing so I was out of pocket, too. I dived in to the Cool Ranch Doritos and prepared to make it a lackluster night.
That is, until the sumo wrestler appeared in what would ultimately be the shortest match of the evening.
Teila Tuli took a vicious kick to the face, dropping the 400 lbs Samoan to the ground as if he'd been shot. Tuli's opponent, Gerard Gordeau, then proceeded to pummel the living daylights out of the near comatose giant. It was over in 30 seconds.
I laughed, in the way teenage boys laugh when cartoonish violence assaults their senses and fills them with glee. That's just how I saw it, too, the fighting almost Bugs Bunny-like in its absurdity but immensely entertaining.
As the night progressed and the matches wore on, all of us were hootin' and hollerin', spilling Coke into the shag and Doritos crumbs on to the couch. We were just guys being guys watching other guys beat the hell out of each other.
It was fun.
Somewhere along the way, men forgot what it’s like to be a man.
I'm not sure when the we lost sight of who we are but I'm going to guesstimate it started, perhaps ironically, not long after UFC1 first aired.
In the mid 90's, there was a trend among advertisers, television writers and others to portray men as bumbling idiots unable to find their way out of a wet paper bag. We were clumsy, ignorant slobs, incapable of independent thought.
We were spoon-fed a diet of our own ineptitude: you don't know how to dress; you don't know how to keep a clean home; you don't know how to communicate intelligently. Those that bought in to it that ideology and changed their ways became known as metrosexuals, a term coined back in 1994 in an article written by Mark Simpson in the British paper The Independent:
"Metrosexual man, the single young man with a high disposable income, living or working in the city (because that’s where all the best shops are), is perhaps the most promising consumer market of the decade. In the Eighties he was only to be found inside fashion magazines such as GQ, in television advertisements for Levis jeans or in gay bars. In the Nineties, he’s everywhere and he’s going shopping."
And shop they did, buying up designer labels by day, daintily nibbling on sushi and tipping back Zima's at night.
The metrosexual male had nice clothes and kept a clean, IKEA-furnished condo. His rise gave rise to Oprah and Dr. Phil, who taught him how to cry, how to communicate and how to form a symbiotic relationship with his feminine side.
Monday Night Football was replaced with Queer Eye for the Straight Guy; A Colombia Narino Supremo from Starbucks replaced the hole-in-the-wall diner coffee that tastes like burning tar but has a caffeine kick like no other. Out was cold pizza for breakfast; in were low-fat breakfast bars.
And also gone was the fun, right out the door with the boxes that once held the ANTONIUS clothes storage system from IKEA.
The feminization of the North American male was complete.
Not everyone converted. Many latched on to “saviors”, worthy opponents to counter the movement.
First and foremost was the WWF (which would become the WWE). Vince McMahon and his team developed characters to offset the metrosexual, in particular Stone Cold Steve Austin. The beer guzzlin’, foul mouthed Texan was quick to lay the smackdown on any one who crossed his path or, more precisely, crossed him. He took no guff, gave all he got and chugged down a couple of beers when he was all done.
The problem with Austin, however, was that he was not real. In “real life” Austin was just a guy who hobbled around on a pair of bad knees while making a good living in the cartoon world of wrasslin’. Still, we loved him anyway but he didn’t cut through the static.
At the turn of the century, a centuries old card game attempted to latch on to the psyche of the North American male: poker.
The game played by cowboys and kingpins, Texas Hold ‘Em became the next big thing in sport, even though it had nothing to do with sports. Still, I defy any one who watches the televised matches to say they don’t get a thrill when the river card is turned and a sure thing becomes anything but.
As popular as poker is, it too failed to break through the clutter of network nonsense that continued to promote the metrosexual lifestyle or, as I previously mentioned, the “men-are-stupid-so-lets-pity-them” claptrap. The game, though, promoted a lifestyle many of us could never attain. Big money, beautiful women, hard liquor and beefy cigars just did not fit our reality.
This takes us back to MMA.
I’m not sure when mixed martial arts reached the tipping point but it has managed to break through, cutting right to the core of many of our basic emotions and instincts. I preface this by admitting I’m no psychologist, nor do I have any training in that discipline, but one can reasonably argue that aggression and fear can certainly be considered among men’s core emotions.
In the octagon, both of those play out in the heat of the battle. The fear of getting the crap kicked out of you by an opponent bigger than you and the aggression of making sure you beat the crap out your opponent first. This works well in prison and, coincidentally, inside a UFC cage.
As I said, I’m not Freud so here’s what I found doing some research into aggression based on a hypothesis by an Austrian zoologist by the name of Conrad Lorenz:
" ... men's violent instincts are normally expressed in a socially approved way in the modern world, for example through sport. It is the failure to find such expression that leads to undesirable aggressive acts".
So, men have pent-up aggressions (probably from drinking too many Zima’s) and find a way to channel it. Some guys’ sign up to the UFC, most of us just watch it and a very small segment of the male population rob banks. I won’t make any excuses for those guys.
Regardless, MMA is here to stay. It’s getting primetime play on CBS and selling out arenas faster than many “legitimate” sporting leagues. Sure, the metrosexual male is still out there and there’s still some who try to sell us on the idea that men are Cro-Magnons, whose low sloping foreheads can’t fully appreciate the value of a day at the museum or having an engaging dialogue with a member of the opposite sex.
It’s becoming less and less worse, though. We can do those things AND hoot and holler while watching UFC or any other mixed martial arts event. Advertisers are catching on and are no longer selling us short.
While visiting the in-laws recently, my brother-in-law, who is 21, called me up to his room the other day to watch some MMA event that was on TV. And as I looked around at the empty beer bottles, the open bags of stale chips and pictures of women with impossible breasts tacked to the wall, we laughed at the cartoon-like violence on the screen.
We were guys and we had fun.