As the UFC, and by default MMA, continues its global expansion faster than Roy Nelson’s waistline, new fans are being introduced to the sport on an almost daily basis.
Where pirated VHS once provided the only real medium to watch what sparse events there were, today’s world is comparatively teeming with exposure - 38 live shows across the UFC, Strikeforce and WEC promotions alone in 2009. Coupled with increasing TV and internet shows there is ample coverage to satisfy even the most voracious of appetites.
Yet is the new legion of fans being deprived of something sacred? Namely ”the good old days”?
There can be little argument that the 2001 acquisition of the UFC by Dana White and the Fertitta brothers was anything less than a life jacket for an organisation otherwise drowning in red tape, doomsayers and political minefields.
Gone, thankfully, are the days of ‘anything goes’ and in its place is a highly commercial, heavily regulated and widely respected sport. To the new fan joining the party anywhere north of the mid-noughties the Octagon is the proverbial candy shop.
With each passing show all but guaranteeing a highlight reel of KO’s, world class grappling and eye-watering submissions, Mr ‘Noob’ has elite-level MMA pretty much on tap.
Throw in the countdown shows, all-access shows, live weigh-ins, pre and post-fight conferences, magazine subscriptions, podcasts, blogs, social network sites, action figures, trading cards, seasonal TUF outings, on-demand vaults and an ever handy instruction manual on the ‘50 ZEN principles of hand-to-face combat’ and your talking 24/7 accessibility.
Yet does new always mean better?
Take weight-classes as an example. They were designed with the principle of keeping a fight as fair (and safe) as possible so that the application of skill and technique prevails over the universal rules of physics alone. Yet rules, like a flailing limb to Frank Mir, are often there to be broken and a generation’s collective jaw hit the mat when a docile looking Brazilian named Royce Gracie defied the convention of being tough.
Up until then the image many of us had was all 80’s action movie; tattoos, oversized pecs, breeze blocks for fists and a razor cut for hair. We simply didn’t know any different and that’s what made it all the more memorable as Gracie continuously tapped out bigger and stronger men than he.
Another golden-oldie from yesteryear is the all but defunct tournament format. Not the Bellator-style tournament of today which is run over the course of a few months, but the type where you won not one, but three fights (later two) all in a single night.
By comparison many of today’s fighters don’t fight three times in a single year – Anderson Silva, GSP and Fedor all only fought twice in 2009. One could argue you that you don’t fine tune a Mustang to enter a banger race, but that’s not to say a banger race can’t be hugely entertaining from time to time - especially when it involves Mustangs.
For instance Mark Coleman is lost on many later-comers as an over-the-hill fighter reluctantly asked to leave the UFC for fear of a “potential death in the Octagon”. Yet here was a fighter that absolutely tore through early UFC’s, and later PRIDE, capturing three tournament titles and the first ever UFC heavyweight championship along the way.
A reign of raw power and explosiveness that earned him the title “Godfather of ground and pound” and induction into the UFC Hall-of-Fame. An honour he shares with only six others.
At the other end of the spectrum new fans have also missed out on comedy gold in “are they for real?” characters like Joe Son, Scott Ferrozzo, pre-Buffer compare Rich ‘G Man’ Goins (“echo echo echo” – that’s one for the old school) and the unforgettable Art “One Glove” Jimmerson. The boxer that took to the Octagon sporting a single 14oz boxing glove only to be submitted two minutes later due to, well, nothing really. Little sisters have held out to Chinese burns longer.
Yet all that is still barely scratching the surface.
Throw in original bad boy David ‘Tank’ Abbott, the marketing hysteria of a “Hawaiian fighting legend known only as Kimo”, Tito’s ever provocative choice in tee’s, Ken Shamrocks cape, the mind-f*** of hot ring girls in grandma’s swimwear, Randy's early years and a host of some of the finest body hair this side of Magnum PI and new fans have missed out on the makings of a UFC ‘This is your life’ show.
And that’s without even referencing the legend that is Jeff Blatnick. The pre-Goldie commentator whose passion and true love for the sport was only outweighed by his inadvertent gaffes, “There’s nothing he prefers more than having a larger man on top of him pounding away on him” being a particular favourite (the quote, not having a larger man pounding away on me!).
As the saying goes, there really “ain’t no school like the old school"
(Thanks to the Fighters Only website for allowing me to re-publish my article, originally published under their banner - if you like what you read look me up at twitter.com/simonjamesplatt