It has finally happened. The last chip in the UFC’s rise to prominence has fallen, and it came in the form of a 113-25 vote to lift the 19 year ban on mixed martial arts competition in the state of New York. Apparently there are still a couple potential speed bumps in the way but by the look of things it is basically a done deal. To be clear, I am not here to report the news. If you want to learn more about the political or financial details of this matter then there are other places you should check out (I suggest this article from Sports Illustrated that outlines just about everything you could ever want to know about those issues). However I do have some thoughts I wanted to share on what is definitely a historic day for the UFC…
- It’s About Time!
What took them so long? It made sense why New York and many other states looked down on this sport in its early days, but ever since it was taken over by Dana White long ago, he has done nothing but legitimize it, if not water it down immensely. The sport has evolved from a violently raw and rugged encounter between two people with varying degrees of training and experience, into an amazing display of some of the most highly trained athletes on Earth competing in the purest sense of the word.
Over nearly 2 decades Zuffa (the company that owns UFC) has done everything it could to make the sport more more palatable to a general audience. While at the same time keeping it true to its roots. The bottom line should and will always be; full combat between 2 opponents. To do this they had to sacrifice some of the brutallity that early fans of mixed martial arts loved to see; head kicks to down opponents, nut shots, eye gouging, hair pulling etc. These are things that do come into play in a life or death struggle, but MMA (and any other sport for that matter) is not and should not be considered life or death.
So they did away with these aspects, and early fans watched the transformation happen in real time. Brutes and brawlers slowly disappeared as they became exposed for their lack of skill, and stylized purists were forced to admit that they needed to broaden their craft in an ever-improving landscape of talented athletes. This lead to the “artist” finally owning its role in the phrase Mixed Martial Artist.
As time went on 48 states gingerly joined Nevada in accepting and celebrating the sport for what it had become; a violent display of poetry in motion. But New York held strong for far longer. Was it a fear of violence spilling into the streets? Were they afraid it would raise the testosterone of the city through some sort of subliminal osmosis? Who knows. All I know is that it’s about time they entered the game, and now the sport will never be the same.
- Get Ready for Phase 4 of UFC’s Global Domination
This has not been written anywhere, but I imagine the whiteboard in the Zuffa war room looked something like this:
Phase 1: Legitimize the sport
Phase 2: Create a marketable brand
Phase 3: Create marketable athletes
Phase 4: Take over New York, and so the World.
We already discussed Phase 1.
Phase 2 seemed to happen overnight. Many could argue when exactly the brand became “marketable”, but for me it was when they began their partnership with Spike TV. This could be viewed as a case of “the chicken or the egg” but in reality both companies needed eachother at the time they joined forces, and for a while it was a perfect match. Spike was the ultimate “channel for men” and the UFC was the ultimate “sport for men”. The marriage took place, like many others often do for one main reason; they were about to have a baby.
The baby was a reality television program called The Ultimate Fighter and it brought Mixed Martial Arts into the homes of normal Americans. By doing this, UFC gained instant brand recognition and began to build on Phase 3, which coincidentally was already in motion when the first episode of TUF aired. His name was Chuck Liddell.
Now, I have been a fan of the sport since the early days when I would stumble upon it only a few stations up from the Playboy Network on my magic cable box that was able to steal… I mean view PPV stations by some mystical means. But even I, like everyone else, was caught up in the storm that was Chuck Liddell. Liddell was and still is one of the most recognizable names and faces in the history of the sport. It was then, that states began to crumble beneath the feet of this growing giant. However, not even The Iceman himself was enough to take down a city that stood tall in the face of King Kong and Osama Bin Laden.
Nope, New York would not fall. Not to the Iceman. Not to a giant gorilla. And certainly not to terrorists. In fact it took the perfect, most unlikely, storm to bring down the most powerful city on Earth. Two forces emerging together at just the right time and working together without ever knowing. When New York finally fell to its knees, they did so at the feet of a lady, and a leprechaun.
Enter: Ronda Rousey and Connor McGreggor
to be continued…