Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Mixed Martial Arts Crosses Paths with MTV

Okay, so I have this interest, check that, obsession, with a sport called mixed martial arts (MMA). If you haven't heard of it, perhaps "cage fighting" will strike a cord with you. A good portion of society doesn't consider MMA a sport, instead tagging it another indicator of our society's moral decline and tendency to glamorize violence.

Between the oppositional camps that support and denounce
MMA, I stand somewhere in the middle, leaning towards the side that supports the sport (though I certainly get my share of hate mail from die hard, normally anonymous, MMA supporters).

What is MMA?

I'll take a minute to define the sport in relatively simple terms. It can take place in a ring, similar to boxing (see above) or in a caged ring (see picture, below). A vast majority of the athletes involved are men (yes, they are athletes), although a considerable number of very talented female athletes are making major waves in the sport, including a PhD, Dr. Rosi Sexton.

Newbie observers of the sport often associate it with boxing, for fairly obvious reasons. However, it is starkly different from the "sweet science." Matches only last 3 to 5 rounds (depending on if it's a championship fight), with rounds lasting 3-5 minutes. The gloves are 4 ounces, about one third the size of boxing gloves, and competitors basically wear nothing but their shorts, and shirts for women.

The sport does involve boxing skills but also includes combat sport skills from
muay Thai kickboxing, amateur wrestling, jiu-jitsu, judo, karate, etc. MMA formally began in 1993 and has since exploded into a major sporting industry that brings in more pay-per-view money annually than professional wrestling, and MMA shows frequently draw more viewers than mainstream sporting events (e.g., basketball, baseball, tennis).

If you're suddenly repulsed by what you've read, stop and think more broadly about sports in our
society. Football, hockey, rugby, lacrosse, and to some degree soccer are collision sports that we allow children to play, often from both sexes. The concussion and ACL tear rates in these sports are actually quite high. And boxing is far, far more dangerous (reflexive moment here - one of the ways people justify violence is by comparing their tolerance for violence to more serious forms of violence, essentially saying, "This might be bad, but it's not as bad as X, so chill out." I find myself doing this a lot when discussing MMA). Children's participation in MMA is understandably controversial, and I staunchly disagree with it.

There are also rules that "sanitize" the fighting, and quite frankly, if anyone thinks this is anything close to street fighting, stop again and think about what street fighting
encompasses - unfair numbers, weapons, street curbs, blindsiding attacks, size differentials, a lack of physical preparedness, etc. True, there is obvious overlap, but the differences are substantial.

Still, in
MMA's 16 year history, there has been one death from a sanctioned competition. The sport is young, and unfortunately, I would not be surprised if we see a good proportion of ex-MMA fighters getting through their older years punch drunk, poor, and exploited.

There are a bunch of different
MMA organizations, the most powerful of which is the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). I'm not going to get into the others, as I've already gone way overboard in explaining and defending the sport.

MMA, MTV, and the Reality Show Biz

So MTV has a new reality television show coming out (big surprise) called "Bully
Beatdown," in which a bully victim has MMA veteran Jason "Mayhem" Miller confront the bully, and challenge the bully to a match against another mixed martial artist, with $10,000 at stake. See the trailer, below.

Among my various concerns with
MMA has always been its overlap with street, school, and intimate partner violence. Yes, I know I just said it was starkly different from these types of violence, but hey, I'm not blind. The sport, like many others, is saturated in a violent patriarchy, where the mostly male competitors and promoters one-up each other verbally and physically as ring girls parade around the ring/cage smiling and blowing kisses into TV screens.

So to have a reality television show deliberately connect
MMA to bullying is regrettable at best. True, it appears in this show's approach, the mixed martial artist is coming in on behalf of the bullied victim. However, in the wake of the 1999 Columbine High School and 2007 Virginia Tech tragedies, it is critical that we ask how to best prevent bullying, and if it still happens, how to best cope with it constructively.

Beatdown" will probably be quite the success for the typical adolescent/young-adult MTV viewer. A primary reason the UFC became so popular was its hallmark reality show, The Ultimate Fighter (TUF), which propelled MMA into the mainstream in 2005. TUF secludes 16 young aspiring mixed martial artists for six weeks in a competition where the contestants have to train and compete with one another in a tournament-type process.

So here we have a constructed bachelor society (never a good idea), where the participants live in a house with alcohol present - you can imagine the violent drama. The upcoming season pits a United Kingdom team against a U.S. team; yeah, trouble. And while it does not look like alcohol or extended seclusion will be part of the "Bully Beatdown" formula, an emphasized, violent masculinity is certainly perpetuated, as is the general idea that the best way to problem solve is through violence.

If MMA is a sport, is this how it should function in society? For a little more of my rant on this, just go HERE.

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  1. So the first episode of "Bully Beatdown" was a success, in terms of ratings and attracting the MTV demographic of males ages 12-34. What a great form of socialization (sarcasm).

    "M is for ‘Mayhem’ on MTV"

  2. "Ohio School System Sued Over Bullying Death"

    Based on Bully Beatdown, the solution/school policy would have been to kick the crap out of all the bullies ahead of time. And mixed martial artist, Matt Serra apparently feels the same way, as seen in his comments regarding rival competitor, Matt Hughes:

    “The thing is this, this sport you deal with a lot of guys in this sport and most of them are cool,” said Serra. “It’s a rarity you find an a--hole and I found one. I’m going to get paid to punch him in the mouth. I’m going to do to him what you should do to every bully and that’s not only in America but everywhere in the world. What should you do to a bully? You should punch him square in the mouth. I’m getting paid for it. So who’s got it better than me? I want to know.”

    Youth suicide due to bullying, with homophobia involved.

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