Last night was UFC 165. As is our usual routine, my husband and I drove down into Massachusetts to pick up Thai food from the most incredible Thai restaurant that I have ever been to (and I've been to Thai restaurants in San Francisco, a city known for its Asian cuisine), and drove to our friends' place to watch the fights. Two of my favorite fighters -- Jon Jones and Mike Ricci -- fought last night. And while I wasn't exactly thrilled with the results (Ricci lost a pretty unremarkable fight and Jones kept his belt by the skin of his teeth), it was still a pretty great night. A lot of laughs, a few absolutely stellar fights, and some amazing Thai food.
A cashier at Trader Joe's, as part of their Super Friendly Employee practices, asked me during checkout what I was doing this weekend. I mentioned watching the UFC fights and, like most men when they find out a woman likes a sport, immediately started questioning me on the fighters (because every guy assumes a female fan is a pink hatter, one of the biggest reasons why I cannot stomach pink hatters). I started rattling off what I hoped for the fights and what I feared, given the past few fights and a few fighters' histories. Looking back, I should've brought up things like Muay Thai versus Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, just to really drive the point home, but, still, the grocer was impressed and actually called over to the grocer next to him and remarked on a female UFC fan.
(For those playing the home game: Muay Thai is primarily a stand-up way of fighting, á la boxing, whereas Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is primarily about takedowns and grappling, á la wrestling.)
Maybe I should be worried that my favorite sports are ranked in the same order of its level of violence. I'm obsessive about MMA, I absolutely love hockey, I enjoy football, I'm alright about baseball, and I don't give a flying fudgsicle wrapper over basketball or soccer (two sports that are so anti-violence, you can get a yellow card for giving someone the stink eye). But I enjoy the sports for the art and the skill (because, honestly, if I wanted senseless violence, I could the WWE).
MMA is a pretty misunderstood sport. It's still illegal to host MMA events in a few states (including New York). People view MMA fans as drunken imbeciles who get their jollies watching two people knock each other out. The irony is that people find boxing to be a "sophisticated" sport -- but boxing is, when you think about it, actually more barbaric. Which one seems more like a showcase of fighting skill and which one seems more like a rock 'em sock 'em bloodbath: a fight that goes only 3 rounds (5 if it's a championship), where the fighters can employ a series of martial art tactics (including wrestling), where fighters can win not just by knockout, but by tapout, submission, or by judge's decision; or a fight that goes on until someone hits the mat, where all you can do is stand up and hit the guy.
MMA has grown rapidly in the last 5 or so years. Partly because Dana White bought the UFC and took a fledgling fighting league and turned it into a multi-billion dollar franchise. Partly because of fighters like Chuck Liddell, who revolutionized how people saw MMA fighters.
However, MMA is still no where near the other sports in terms of popularity. Case in point? Jon Jones's younger brother Chandler has just signed with the Patriots. Brand new athlete; just out of college. The sports DJs on the radio have been telling their listeners to, "Go on Youtube and search Jon Jones. Chandler's older brother is actually a great fighter in MMA." Yeah, if you define "actually a great fighter" as, "being deemed the best pound-for-pound fighter in the UFC, dominating his weight class for longer than any other fighter to date," then, yeah, he's a "great fighter".
Let me reiterate: Jon Jones is a legend in the world of MMA, but his little brother -- who is still wet behind the ears -- is more easily recognized and more readily talked about, at least by New England fans.
But, to go back, it really shouldn't surprise anyone that I'm a fan of UFC. I teach a martial art, for crying out loud (and, if you think tai chi is just old men waving their hands in the park, you've got another thing coming). I'm fascinated by the various ways you can overpower your opponent. Or, in the case of tai chi, how you can redirect your opponent's own power to your advantage. And, like a proper UFC fan, I have little time for fighters who treat the sport like WWE -- or for people who lump the two into one category.