April 20, 2005

Let's Get it On!

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Four roommates, a case of beer, a Pita Pit delivery guy, yelling and inappropriate touching. This may sound like the beginning of a “Guys Gone Wild” DVD, but alas, it wasn’t to be. Instead this was how I spent last Saturday night, watching my first UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) on Pay Per View. There wasno Carson showing us how to dress, no Dr. Phil blaming us for life’s problems; instead there was only good old-fashioned mano y mano — not man-on-man — action. But were we watching a barbaric spectacle, meant only to incite Cro-Magnon like hooting, chest thumping, and manhandling among grown men, or rather the emergence of a new sport for the 21st century?

For those of you unfamiliar with this sport, UFC is a privately owned brand and sports event that pits fighters from all fighting styles, including boxing, wrestling and the martial arts, against one another inside a caged, eight-sided ring known as the “Octagon.” Although there are many “grapplers” (wrestling) and “strikers” (punching and kicking), typically the best fighters use a mix of various styles, called “Mixed Martial Arts.” Unfortunately for WWE fans, you won’t be seeing any high-flying acrobatics, gaudy costumes or latent homosexuality from these athletes.

Previously relegated to the same status level as curling and midget tossing, the UFC has come a long way from its dubious beginnings in 1993. The original version was a one-time pay-per-view event, with no rules, no judges, no time limits, and no gloves. Although the UFC steadily gained in popularity, so did its criticism. By 1997, opponents such as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) had driven the events from pay television and into a “fight club” status. In 2001, the UFC brand was bought out and reinvented with the help of current president Dana White. Now, there are weight classes, judges, 5-minute rounds and, most importantly, gloves and mouthpieces. The referees also prevent groin, throat, or spine hits, head butting, eye gouging and hair pulling. Unfortunately, that means your typical Sorority catfight or Dino’s bar brawl wouldn’t fly in the UFC. They have also gone as far as to institute mandatory drug and steroid testing, a step loathed by other professional athletes, such as a certain record holding homerun hitter.

A week before Saturday’s UFC 52, Spike TV aired its season finale to The Ultimate Fighter, their reality-TV contest awarding two fighters with $200,000 UFC contracts. This marked the first time the UFC had aired on basic cable. According to SpikeTV, the series steadily grew to an audience of 1.9 million viewers per week, and a whopping 2.6 million during its 2.5-hour finale. Although the series was shown at 11pm, well past primetime, its overwhelming success has encouraged SpikeTV to make a second season. I applaud Dana White and SpikeTV for their continued tenacity to make UFC a legitimate sport.

Critics of the UFC have likened the sport to modern-day gladiatorial combat. However, the UFC boasts that no fighter has ever sustained a serious or life-threatening injury. In fact, it was refreshing to see the “gladiators” hug and congratulate each other at the end of their match, a sign of pure sportsmanship. We won’t see anyone pulling out a sharpie from his shoe or a cell phone to call a friend after winning a fight. SpikeTV’s reality show seemed devoid of the typical backstabbing and scheming we have come to love and loathe from Survivor and The Apprentice. If Charlton Heston, president of the NRA, can use the hypocritical excuse that our country’s problems with violence stem from America’s violent history — while still believing in our 2nd Amendment right to bear arms — then what’s the problem with the UFC on television?

After all, we are a society that has embraced using our fists to solve our problems. But if the UFC hasn’t taught us to embrace the violence that is already all around us, then maybe it can show us that it is ok for four males to touch one another inappropriately.

Archived article by Ed “Chong” Kim
Sun Staff Writer