The UFC, Not Super Bowl, Makes The Man

I’ve had a few fights in my life. Literally. As in, “Few: not many, but more than one.” Three actually. Make that two and a half. The full-fledged fisticuffs were both in Grade 5. The half-clash was in 1st-year University, drunk on a bus. All 2.5 were with my best friends. Every year in the days leading up to the Super Bowl, I think of these fights. Not because of the gruelling battles that are fought on the NFL’s sacred stage between armour-clad, compression-shorts-wearing gridiron gladiators. But, instead, because it was after the Super Bowl XL broadcast in 2006 that I watched my first pay-per-view UFC event. It was fighting like I had never seen before, and, clearly, never came close to experiencing. I was a changed man.

I’m convinced to this day that UFC rules and standards, such as the “Tap Out”, would be extremely useful if adopted into our every day lives.

I don’t agree with fighting as a solution to our problems, or enjoy watching it as a sport in any form: boxing, hockey, Jerry Springer. I was raised to be opposed to resorting to the use of physical violence as a means by which to resolve conflict, (even though I ended up having a “few” tussles myself). So, I had low expectations about the appeal of watching a UFC fight on TV. My buddy had recorded the PPV UFC 57 event, headlined by Liddell vs. Couture. This was the same buddy from above, btw, with whom I had the half a fight in our freshman year at U of T.

For context, the fight he and I had was a classic story of “roughhousing gone too far”. He’s a tough customer, so when a couple of his playful punches on a raucous road trip threatened my future ability to donate a kidney, I swivelled and punched him square in the chin. Actually, I totally whiffed, with the only injury inflicted being razor burn to my knuckles from his beard stubble. But, the effort sent a clear message and he retreated to his seat at the back of the bus. A few minutes later, I went to sit beside him and apologized. He apologized. I cried a little. Then there were more beers. We’re still great pals to this day. Especially since he now knows better than to mess with “Slugger McGrowe”.

Anyway, while the Super Bowl is a tradition he and I like to enjoy with great eats, lots of beverages and even some fun wagering with other lads, he was so into MMA that he was way more excited for the football game to end, so that we could watch the UFC fight parked on his DVR. Back then, there was no significant social media risk that the results were going to be spoiled for him, so he was happy to be patient while the rest of us digested the comparably humdrum victory by the Steelers over the Seahawks. In the course of the football game, there were likely many concussions, and bloody exchanges, but none served up for blatant public consumption in the way they are from within the confines of The Octagon.

As soon as the DVR recording started, I knew I was about to bear witness to a unique media experience in my time. The energy from the crowd on screen, (recorded a day prior!), was palpable in the basement family room of his rural Ontario bi-level bungalow. The guys I was sitting beside in the room had a completely different body language than the reclined, “while you’re up”, swig a beer, and devour a chicken wing style of watching NFL. It was no longer passive; there was a frenetic interactivity with an inanimate, flat screen object. I imagine that’s what it must have been like for families huddled around the radio back in the day before TV was invented, (aside from the gore).

I have only this one UFC event for reference, but I’m assuming they all progress in similar fashion. There are highlights of past fights, teasers of the marquee acts, preliminary bouts, and then the main event. Consistently throughout all the matches, what was astonishing to me was the strict adherence to the rules and “etiquette”. If the ref called a fight, or a fighter “Tapped Out”, there wasn’t a single millisecond of lingering jabs, swipes, shoves, kicks, face washes, spitting, yelling, or attitude of any kind. They didn’t even look sideways at each other. It was downright “gentlemanly”. Two combatants would go at each other with the ferociousness of Roman Coliseum slaves fighting for their very lives, but in the instant the fight was ended, all good. I thought the first couple examples of this surprisingly classy behaviour were an anomaly. But, it was rigidly consistent with the brand for the entirety of the event. I was awestruck.

My buddy tried to explain this to me by stating that the stakes were high, since someone could be seriously injured in a fight. As a result, the training for MMA is intense, not only physically and mentally for the fighting portion, but also for discipline. Uh, yeah. Well, I’ve seen enough boxing highlights and hockey fights to know that once things are thrown into “tilt” for one competitor, or both, there’s not much hope of reasoning with them about the consequences of taking a cheap shot, or having things unravel into an all out chair-clobberin’ brawl. It’s like trying to talk your way out of being mauled by a mama Grizzly bear while you’re holding a salmon filet and petting her cub. You’ve probably had heated arguments where it was frustratingly futile trying to stop the other person from getting in the last verbal cheap shot. Once the adrenaline and testosterone are flushing through one’s body, for a period of time at least, it’s got a mind of its own. That would make keeping one’s temper while one’s opponent is applying a choke hold, or arm bar, or in some other way persuading you of your submission, a little unreliable in my books.

Somehow UFC fighters, however, have transcended the innate human tendency to self-preserve through ballistic, unreasonable behaviour, and been able to demonstrate an impressive compliance to written and unwritten rules of hostile engagement. Whatever it is they’ve “tapped” into, I want to bottle it up and sell it around the world. Not to make millions of dollars at Costco, but to help avoid conflicts entirely, and resolve those that do arise before they boil over, or linger over long periods of time unnecessarily. Imagine that a disagreement between you and your spouse is escalating to a full-on domestic. “Tap out” and make out. Imagine you’re in a road rage argument with another driver at an intersection, and concealed weapons are about to materialize, “Tap out” and go for take out. Imagine foreign pilots briefly enter your “no-fly zone” and your missiles have been locked. “Tap out” and bug out.

Okay, maybe it’s a bit lofty to suggest a UFC combat methodology will be effective for dispute resolution at the level of international diplomacy. But, you can’t deny the appeal of replacing a nasty end to a spat with your lover, with the immediate serenity awarded at the end of a UFC fight. Happy early Valentine’s Day.

So, at this particular time of year, it’s not a fond reminiscing about the feeble portfolio of bouts I’ve had; (1 loss, 2 no-decision, all three unremarkable). In the days leading up to Super Bowl and its forever association with MMA imprinted in my mind, it’s the fights, (physical and otherwise) which might have been, had I not watched UFC 57. While that was, and likely will be, the last UFC event I watch, it changed the man I am.

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