- DOES GOOD FOR TV = GOOD FOR THE SPORT?

August 11, 2005
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by David K. Finucane
MMA has been enjoying a major upswing in the United States this past year. With the UFC’s pilot cable-TV project such a success; it earned an additional 2 seasons, a 6 times-per year live event, and a recurring recap show. The problem that arises now is one of quality fights: for years UFC President Dana White has been trumpeting the value of mixed martial arts as a true sport, not a barbaric slugfest a la Toughman.

MMA is about highly trained athletes applying their broad array of skills toward a myriad of possible ways of winning, not about two roughnecks throwing on gloves and swinging at one another until someone falls down. It is an amazing thing to behold in MMA, two fighters throwing caution to the wind and going for the win with everything they have, as Stephan Bonnar and Forrest Griffin did in their Ultimate Finale showdown. But it is not the rule of thumb for A Level fighters to get in the ring and just brawl, skill and training be-damned. There is a science behind MMA, and while sometimes it involves throwing leather-bombs like Chuck Liddell, many times it calls for composure, skill, and a resolute calm in the vein of Randy Couture’s in ring style.

In short, being considered an A Level Mixed Martial Artist means a fighter must be at the top of their game in nearly every aspect of the MMA game. But what if being that good, that experienced, and that well-trained could produce what looks like a boring fight for mainstream fans, like the match-up between Ivan Salaverry and Nathan Marquardt at the inaugural Ultimate Fight Night? That fight was certainly not the first un-action packed chess match between two highly skilled MMA fighters: Randy Couture vs. Tito Ortiz also comes to mind as a contest that looked more like a 5 round wrestling match than the action-packed all out combat the UFC advertises to be.

The Couture vs. Ortiz match-up gave MMA an undisputed Light Heavyweight Champion and helped Randy Couture gain more steam on the second leg of his legendary MMA career. The technical battle between Nate Marquardt and Ivan Salaverry earned the latter nothing… not even a return trip to the octagon. Salaverry is out, just like that. 3 fights in 9 months, and after one fight that didn’t involve the decisive finishes he is known for, Ivan is kaput.

Is this the start of a trend to keep the new mainstream-ready UFC light on its feet for TV? Is the message White is sending to his fighters: “Holster your years of experience, training and hard work and instead duke it out like unpolished sailors in a bar at “last call”? There is a name for those brawls: Toughman. Is Dana abandoning his years of effort to see the UFC and MMA recognized as a sport in order to gain mainstream acceptance by coercing his fighters to just brawl?

Salaverry vs. Marquardt was pulled from future re-airings of Ultimate Fight Night and replaced with Kenny Florian vs. Alex Karalexis. The battle of the Bostonians was a war of attrition, a great stand-up scrap between gutsy fighters who just plain threw down. Fans new and old are lucky to be seeing the match many called the most action packed of the night. But only at the cost of scrubbing the actual main event and the technical display put on my Salaverry/Marquardt.

I can only hope this is not the start of a trend, that the UFC is not moving in the direction of pushing less skilled, brawl type fighters to gain the quick fix, fleeting appreciation of fly-by-night mainstream fans at the expense of more technical, seasoned fighters.

The thoughts and views expressed within this article do not necessarily reflect those of MMAWeekly.com.

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