[Cross-posted on FightTicker.com]
Today, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) will hold its centennial event, UFC 100. Mixed martial arts (MMA) has become the "ultimate" in what I have termed fight sport theater--the marketing and presentation of fighting for popular consumption, and UFC 100 is truly a milestone event for the sport.
As a 36-year-old male with an athletic background, I'm within close range of their target demographic, males ages 18-34. Perhaps not surprisingly, I have been successfully seduced by the sport's athleticism, machismo, and overall theatrical presentation of violence.
Yet as a scholar, who dissects the intricacies of youth violence incessantly, I am also one of the sport's major critics. Our society glorifies violence on so many levels, frequently using violence and interpersonal domination to embolden a type of masculinity that creates societal problems daily (see here for a latest example).
Relative to the massive collective violence we see encapsulating the Middle East and Africa, or the examples of gun, family, street violence and other types of crime that occur regularly in the west, sporting violence is a blip on the radar. Truthfully, MMA is merely a small part of our culture that accepts violence in everyday life. Yet is it acceptable to justify violence by comparing it to other, more excessive forms (e.g., MMA is far less dangerous than boxing, let alone war)?
So what does it mean, that the UFC has been able to successfully push the ultimate in fight sport theater through 100 shows and mesmerize its largely male audiences for 16 years? What does it mean to have athletes like B.J. Penn who strategically demeans opponents through verbal barrages of expletives to push his fights, a reality show that trivializes bullying, or a company president who says to a female sports reporter, “…you f’n dumb bi--h”?
Or what does it mean to have incredibly diverse athletes like Lyoto Machida, Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre, from countries outside of the United States, who are UFC champions exemplifying the very traditional notions of martial arts that respect competition?
I think we’re all still trying to figure it out. For better or worse, enjoy the fights. Admittedly, I will.