Mixed martial arts, famously, is among the fastest growing sports in the world. Its appeal is universal and obvious—after all, who doesn't want to see a rip-roaringly good fight? If you raised your hand, please go immediately to an emergency room and make sure you're still alive. Your soul, at least, may not be fully functional.
MMA is among the least complicated of all sports, a direct mano a mano competition as simple and pure as a foot race or a swim meet. Two athletes meet in a cage and one prevails. At its best, it's a beautiful combination of the visceral and the intellectual, a game of chess swathed in blood. Its violence sings to us, and always has, a melody both bitter and sweet.
It's a song the entire planet can understand with very little translation. The UFC has grabbed the mixed martial arts market in an iron grip, not only taking over the sport in America, but attempting to become the promoter of choice the world over.
Signing fighters, making bouts, becoming the next big thing in sports, is increasingly unlikely. The UFC beat us there and Lorenzo Fertitta has more money, Dana White more passion and Joe Silva more brains than any of us could hope to match. Opportunities to make a mark in this sport, at least in North America, at least financially, are few and far between.
At least in the real world.
In the real world, the UFC controls almost every significant and marketable athlete in the sport today. In the real world, that's unlikely to change. But in the world of dreams, anything is possible. In dreams, you can pit your team of elite athletes against teams compiled by other fans worldwide. Without being Lorenzo Fertitta or Dana White or risking your 401K to promote a local show in a National Guard Armory.
It's a premise that has made dream builders billions of dollars in the world of fantasy sports. Fans, it turns out, are interested in demonstrating expertise, in competition, in making money and in living out their own dreams of glory with professional athletes as their avatars.
Football, baseball, basketball, even hockey and golf, all have thriving fantasy sports leagues. Others too, no matter how obscure. If there are statistics to tabulate, there is probably a fantasy league somewhere online.
Of the major sports, only the combat arts have resisted the pull of fantasy. Statistics have never been the bread and butter of boxing or MMA, making it hard to design a compelling fantasy game.
Results in MMA are binary. It's what makes combat sports the most black and white of all professional athletic competitions. In group sports we measure a variety of statistics, allowing that an athlete can have a superlative individual performance even if the team falls short. In combat, you win or lose. There are no "almosts."
It's simple and elegant and perfect. It's also been a fantasy killer. Until now.
Kountermove, led by Aaron Ard with an assist from Fight Metric, has finally provided MMA fans with a fantasy game worth their time and money. Instead of just picking winners, the game allows for some skill and nuance. And that's a pretty exciting development.
"We started Kountermove on the premise that playing fantasy MMA makes watching events in general more fun and engaging. And playing fantasy MMA against friends or colleagues does that in spades. Fantasy football has been doing this for years; it's become a core part of the fan/entertainment experience," Ard told Bleacher Report.
"When we first set out to start a fantasy MMA game, we noticed that fantasy MMA was mostly pick’em style games or other simulated gambling formats, which lacks a real game play strategy. If you just pick who's going to win or lose, that's not exciting enough. We wanted a more nuanced and sophisticated game, and I think that's what we have done on with our site."
Kountermove, a grassroots effort built with the power of social media, has more than 6,000 players who compete in both private leagues with their friends and in public competitions, sometimes with hundreds of dollars at stake.
And while Ard has provided the nuance he suspected fans wanted, it's a simple game at heart. Like combat sports, winning and losing a bout is still the overriding factor in a player's success.
"Our game is fairly simple on its face; our games are played over a single night during one event. Prior to the event, players get a total of $25,000 fantasy dollars and you get to pick five fighters for your team," Ard said. "Each fighter is given a specific price by Kountermove. We assign a value for each fighter based on how we believe the fight will go.
"Points are scored if your fighters scores a finish, wins a round, lands significant strikes, knocks an opponent down, scores takedowns, secures dominant positions or attempts submissions. The more dominant your fighters' performance, the more points you're going to score. If you score more points than your opponents, then you win the money."
As great as the game has been so far, Ard is far from satisfied. The first major improvement will launch next month, a mobile app that would allow players to see their scores in real time as the fights end.
"Part of the thrill of our games is watching your scores come in as the fight happens," Ard said. "Most people are not in front of their computers when they are watching fights. Soon, they can watch the their scores as they happen with our mobile site."
I encourage you to take a look at their site and give the game a shot. I've read the comments—many Bleacher Report readers believe themselves experts. Just between us, I think I know a thing or two as well. Now's our chance to go out an prove it. See you there.