Thursday, September 19, 2013

MMA - It's A Fight, Not A War

There is a tendency within mixed martial arts to refer to amazing or epic fights as "wars".  Commentators, journalists, and dudes sitting in their living room are all apt at some point during an MMA event to exclaim, "what a war" or "this guy is a warrior" or "those two just went to war" or something similar.  Am I really the only one that finds this metaphor misconceived?  Call me crazy, but until tanks start rolling into the UFC's octagon, and combatants and spectators start wearing helmets to protect themselves from explosion debris and stray bullets, a fight could not be further from a war.  A fight takes place in a controlled atmosphere with rules, regulations, and a referee to prevent either fighter from getting seriously maimed or killed.  A war denotes armed conflict and entails the deaths and killing of many people.  Maybe you can get away with referring to a fight as a "battle"…maybe…but why can't it just be what it is?  It's a fight - is that so underwhelming?  

I fully acknowledge that I am making a big deal about nothing here, somewhat akin to pondering the existential implications of the question, "Got Milk?", but for whatever it's worth, I think it's healthy to occasionally ponder the innocuous things in life (and to that end, can one ever really have milk?  For if you consume it, does it not ultimately leave you?  If you cup it, does it not seep through your fingers?  Does it not go bad with time?  And even with respect to the gallon of milk that you "have" in your refrigerator, in reality don't you in fact have a gallon jug that has milk?).  

Now back to war.  Is MMA violent?  Absolutely.  But there is a big difference between a violent sport and mortal combat.  Are MMA fighters tough?  No question.  Can an MMA fighter have a "warrior's spirit"?  Sure.  But until Genghis Khan or The Last Of The Mohicans step into the UFC, let's hold off on dubbing the contestants "warriors".  We don't need to mythologize them, and we don't need to convince ourselves we're watching a modern day fight to the death inside the Colosseum - it's a goddamn fight, and that's all it needs to be.  

In truth, I think metaphorical use of "war" occurs without consideration of the word's literal meaning.  Consider the hypothetical use of the word "rape" in the same context.  Imagine a commentator exclaiming, "Wow, McCreary just totally raped that guy - complete domination!"  Or, "every time Oswald steps into the octagon, he rapes and pillages his opponents".  One could understand how it would come off as insensitive, distasteful, and just plain inaccurate.  I caution that we not repeat this same error in judgement with respect to the use of "war" in MMA.  

Now, it should be noted that there are some MMA fighters who actually have been in combat, or served in the military, or lost loved ones to the horrors of war - and some of these individuals have utilized the "war" metaphor - but their intimate familiarity with that word affords them the right  to use it however they wish, in my opinion.  I would also like to make it clear that it is not my intention to scold anyone for using this metaphor…I'm simply asserting that it's use is without merit.  Moreover, I think many trends of political correctness frequently suffocate communication, are ridiculous, and have been going on for far too long - people are way too sensitive about everything, and it needs to stop.  So I am not suggesting that the war metaphor is a plight on the sport of MMA that needs to be expunged, or that those who utilize the analogy are disrespectful people - I just think the metaphor is unnecessary and ill-suited (unless there is an MMA body count that I'm unaware of, or un-televised UFC drone strikes secretly taking place).

On a final note, if we really want to break it down, even using the word "fight" may be misguided to the extent that one associates that word with a no holds barred situation.  In this sense, UFC "fights" are really "competitions".  But even though there is a big difference between an actual street fight (where anything goes and the motivations and intent of the participants are without mercy) and a ring fight (that takes place in a controlled environment with rules and regulations), note that "street fight" and "ring fight" both contain the word "fight", and therefore, I think we can safely continue to call MMA fights "fights".


  1. This post is reminiscent of your post about "sticking to the fighting" 3 years ago on this blog.

    In both cases, the underlying theme - propelling the event magnitudes of order beyond reality, into the stratosphere of epicness, war, and battle - is paramount. The reason? Marketing.

    I know you see the fight for what it simply is - a fight. But the bottom line is that for every one genuine MMA fan such as yourself, there are several casual fans who require images of grandiosity in order to be captivated. This is ubiquitous throughout all forms of entertainment - note Money Mayweather's role of the villain: I know numerous people that tune in to his fights with hope that he fails, simply because, "he's a jerk". Yet, any true fan who looks beyond the surface is well aware of the persona that he has artificially created, and it works quite well.

    The same goes for epic music, in a different sense. There are hundreds - if not thousands - of music lovers that will listen to the genre simply for the album titles. And when you see the words "Strength of a Thousand Men", "Sereneta Immortale", "Lacrimosa", etc.., implying images of battle, history or apocalyptic times, it transports the listener into a dream that is much bigger than reality - one where they emotionally immerse themselves in, and thus, one that is far more entertaining and rewarding.

    The same goes for the fight, the battle, and the war of MMA. People want the biggest, baddest, strongest, most dangerous, most illustrious, most compelling, and most awesome event possible. One that every person can find an element of interest in - as well as one that allows the participants (fighters, promoters and event hosts alike) to maximize their profits.

    So, you may only need an MMA fight to remain content. However, I never watch MMA. So until I hear about WW3 being set in the octagon, I may not tune in.

    1. "Let's Stick To The Fighting" was about the marketing of MMA and the tactic of engineering false narratives for the sake of promotion. This article is about the ridiculous mythologizing of the sport's contestants. Having said that, I suppose you could be correct that both the manufactured drama and the use of "war" as an analogy stem from efforts to, consciously or unconsciously, make things seem bigger and more important than they actually are.

      In any event, I would disagree that the only way to get people such as yourself interested in watching MMA is by making it seem like it's going to be World War 3. Alternative strategies that exhibit the humanity of the fighters and their backstory have proven equally effective. This is why I applaud the promotional strategy of shows like HBO's 24/7 and the UFC's Primetime and Countdown shows - because you get to know the human being doing the fighting, their past, their motivations, their sacrifices, their mindset, etc. This kind of insight, when coupled with the fight itself and their skills as a fighter, can be remarkably engaging and inspirational, and eventually it becomes clear that much of the appeal of MMA has nothing to do with the literal fighting.

      I don't watch boxing, but the money Mayweather villain act does turn me off. Of course, I fully gather it is a marketing strategy on his part, and regretfully it seems to be a highly effective one. To be clear, I have no problem with hype or metaphor, and I'm not suggesting that all promotional efforts be monotonous and lackluster like a corporate meeting - I just think it should all be authentic - so Muhammad Ali's antics, for example, were authentic to who he is as a person, and thus highly captivating.

      Although I believe your overall perspective on images of grandiosity to be accurate, I would disagree with your tacit assumption that this is the only way it could possibly be in order to maximize profits. Because truthfully, it's the only way it's ever actually been (as far as I know), so we have nothing to compare it against (such as a 20 year period when everything was accurately and authentically marketed). In a somewhat similar fashion, it's like record labels that require a song follow a specific formula or exhibit certain characteristics in order to become a radio hit - such requirements are completely arbitrary - the commonality between radio hits is solely in virtue of the fact that record labels and radio stations have collectively decided to repeatedly play songs reflective of their requirements. So the entire thing is invented, and I believe advertising suffers from the same self-fulfilling prophecy.

      On a side note, I wonder if constant exposure to images of grandiosity might have deeper social consequences - does constant bombardment of false and exaggerated hype unconsciously foster similar distortion in our worldview, self-image, personal interactions, general behavior, etc?

  2. I disagree with the thought of the biographical approach that Primetime & 24/7 take as being 'alternative'. Look at the camera work, the dialogue, and the music in the background. They're not painting an accurate image of the MMA participant - it's still a portrayal of something bigger: the trials and tribulations of a warrior, a battler, a fighter - and the task at hand appears to be much bigger than simply a match. It may be interpreted or perceived differently than the straightforward message of 'this is a battle', but I believe the end product/intention is strongly similar.

    However, the above statement still implies that I believe much of what I see to be unauthentic - I agree with you in that Ali's persona and personal stances were indeed very real; but how do we know what's real? How can we fully determine what is being hyped? If someone simplemindedly (admittedly, as I am being) interprets all sorts of promotion to be the same in the end, then does varying the delivery of promotional media even matter?

    If you enjoy fighting, you're going to tune into the fight, regardless of how it's advertised. Now to gather in the casual onlookers, you need something quick, succinct and poignant, as they're casual - they're not likely to be drawn in to a 30 minute promotional film (you'd need a promo just for it!). I'm not so sure 24/7 and Primetime are the most effective means by which to entice new fans.

    As for my statement on only 1 method of success, I agree it may be closed minded - but my work centers around evidence-based practice. And so long as we only have one tried & true method and nothing to go up against the gold standard, I would not hedge my bets on a novel method (especially if I were an up-and-coming business).

    Regarding your final thought about grandiose images - I think it's obvious that it distorts everything around us. We need Facebook to glorify the most insignificant of events, Instagram to make us more physically attractive, and Twitter to level up our follower numbers like it's World of Warcraft. #letmorepeoplereadthis #war

    1. Well, the biographical approach may be portraying the trials and tribulations of a warrior / battler / fighter - but remember, they actually are fighters (they're just not warriors). And yes, they often present it as being much more than a match, but this is actually accurate, in my opinion - after all, these people's livelihood depend on winning, and they go through tremendous emotional roller coasters in the preparation and aftermath of every fight. So at the very least, from the fighters' perspective it is very much more than just a fight, and I think the goal is for the viewer to walk away with that same sense - a goal which I think they achieve (at least UFC's Primetime does).

      I do agree that we can never really know if an individual's persona is real. But even though what's "real" is unknowable, our intuition does a fairly good job of detecting genuine authenticity from phony portrayal (at least, I think this is the case - I can't know that it is). In any event, there is a difference between hyping truth and promoting falsity. I'm not anti-advertising. I'm anti-false-advertising. By all means, hype away. Just don't lie to me. And don't call it a war. Otherwise have at it, haha.

      You may be correct that one who enjoys fighting, or any existing MMA fan, will watch regardless of the method of advertising. And you make a good point in that a potential new fan may not be interested in watching a 30 minute film exhibiting a sport and fighters that they are completely unfamiliar with - but then again, not all people are the same, so Primetime may end up appealing more to a specific type of potential new fan or demographic, who otherwise would not have been interested. Regardless, I imagine Primetime is probably primarily intended to serve existing fans - not create new ones - but I think it's effective in both.

      I completely understand why companies would cling to the tried and true method of current advertising practices. Such clinging occurs in many things, including production of popular music and movies, politics, etc, and stems from a general fear of risk-taking. But of course, without risk, there can be no innovation.

      Interesting point on the social networks...