Month: July 2014

Co-Main Event Podcast Episode 114 (7/28/14)

comainPod-AYou know the Co-Main Event Podcast has a lot to discuss this week, what with Anthony Johnson’s fearsome punching power and Alexander Gustafsson’s torn meniscus crying havoc with the light heavyweight pecking order. Daniel Cormier (his own bum knee in tow) is subbing in for Gustafsson in a title fight against Jon Jones, but what now will become of Gustafsson? And what, for that matter, of Johnson, who flattened Roger Nog at last weekend’s UFC on Fox 12 show, only to leave us scratching our heads about who he might fight next. There was also the small matter of Robbie Lawler coming out on top of his dogfight against the better-seen-and-not-heard Matt Brown. We couldn’t squeeze any more MMA into this damned show if we tried.

All that, plus MasterTweet Theatre, AYFKM and Just Sayin’ Stuff.

Direct downloaders can sign up for Ben and Chad’s wilderness team building retreat right here.

Co-Main Event Podcast Episode 113 (7/21/14)

comainPod-AMMA’s charmed month of July rolls on, as Conor McGregor and 9,500 of his closest, most Irish-est friends blew the roof off O2 arena in Dublin over the weekend. The Co-Main Event Podcast was not in attendance, so had to live vicariously through all the other media types who went over there and partied the night away on the Isle of Erin or whatever. Even from afar, the whole thing had an intoxicating effect and was almost enough to make us forget that just last Wednesday Donald Cerrone knocked out Jim Miller in a main event from Atlantic City and said he was going to go drink a bunch of Budweiser. Speaking of which, has anybody heard from Donald? Do we need to send somebody on a welfare check?

All that is discussed, plus AYFKM and Just Sayin’ Stuff.

Direct downloaders can look over their newspapers at Conor McGregor, sigh and go back to their newspapers right here.

Co-Main Event Podcast Episode 112 (7/14/14)

comainPod-AAfter the pleasant dream that was last weekend (no shows! zero!), it’s once again fight week, as MMA fans gear up for two UFC events. Wednesday’s UFC Fight Night 45 is headlined by Donald Cerrone vs. Jim Miller. So, that’s probably not going to suck. Saturday’s UFC Fight Night 46/UFC: MeGregor vs. Brandao/UFC: Dublin is a little more difficult to get your arms around. With a main event pitting Conor McGregor against replacement opponent Diego Brandao and the UFC still seemingly sending mixed messages about whether it actually wants anyone outside the fictitious nation of Ireland to tune in, Ben and Chad aren’t sure what to make of it. Plus UFC 176 got “postponed” so maybe they’ll surprise us and have that on Saturday night instead.

All that, plus AYFKM and Just Sayin’ Stuff.

Direct downloaders can try to trade for Chad’s Shogun Rua Topps Brand UFC trading card right here.

Sounds: This week’s music comes from noted MMA artist Chris Rini, who created the awesome Cain Velasquez-Bigfoot Silva woodcut that we’re going to be sending out to the grand prize winner of the second annual White Elephant Essay Contest. Rini also makes music. Or did. His band The Equation is now defunct, but you can still follow him on twitter @riniMMA and check out his MMA art at

A Sentimental Miseducation

imagesThis essay, by Tom Hoisington of Eugene, Ore., won the grand prize in the CME’s second “annual” White Elephant Essay Contest.

You’ve got to be optimistic to be single. Stupid. You have to be stupid. Because that’s what optimism means, y’know. — Louis C.K.

So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high water mark — the place where the wave finally broke, and rolled back. — Hunter Thompson

If they could enter a time machine and travel to the mid- to late-80s, younger listeners of the Co-Main Event podcast arriving in suburban Seattle would witness a shocking phenomenon: Kids wearing the t-shirts and trading the stickers of surf brands. Although the drizzly Northwest is at a great remove from Mavericks and Diamond Head, kids of various ages proudly festooned themselves in neon wear from T&C, Gotcha, Ocean Pacific, and more. Our hypothetical time travelers would rightfully scratch their head in wonder: What the hell are all these soon-to-be-grunge fanatics doing in all this surf gear? The answer, of course, was that it was a fad. For some reason, some say because of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” surfing and surfing culture captured the imagination of the entire country for a couple years, even far-flung corners of the nation that had no real access to it or experience with it. I was reminded frequently of that time in my youth when I would pick up my nephews from school circa 2009 or 2010. There, elementary-age kids (and their fathers, to admit a harsh truth) proudly displayed their TapouT apparel for all to see. Likely none of the wearers trained, and many were far too young to invest the kind of attention it takes to intelligently follow a sprawling, disorganized, individual sport, but there they were. It was a fad. Now, about five years after, those t-shirts are not as readily found. Surf has given way to grunge. The single most perilous hazard currently afflicting MMA is the misguided notion that it will continue to grow, when in fact it has already peaked, and MMA promotions and affiliated companies would do well to focus on a sensible retrenchment rather than cancer-like expansion for its own sake.

Not persuaded by the anecdotal evidence? To indulge in a bit of picture-within-a picture citing, last year Greg Doyel cited CME-approved PPV-buyrates-svengali Dave Meltzer in saying that “UFC buys rose from 2007-10, then dropped by nearly 33% in 2011, then hovered in that same range for 2012.” TUF ratings continue their free fall; the show likely only remains on the air due to FOX’s desperation for original programming for its two recently launched sports networks. UFC Fight Night ratings on those networks are trending at about half of what they did on Spike. MMA media are fond of speculating on what the cause might be (dilution of the product quality, frequent PR blunders by fighters, Dana F’n White), yet often miss the forest for the trees: It’s two people. In a cage. Trying to hurt each other. The idea that such a concept would one day overtake the popularity of the NFL, let alone soccer globally, wasn’t just misguided from the start. Frankly, it was preposterous.

Never ones to let facts get in the way of a good narrative, White and the Fertittas continue to try to expand. Rather than cancel TUF or work to freshen it, we get new iterations based around the globe. Likewise, events seem to proliferate like a cloud of locusts, ensuring dilution of product, no matter what anyone contends. By definition, if more events are held and the number of quality fighters remain stagnant, the company has to employ less talented fighters. (See: Reinhardt, Jason.) And I’ve yet to see anyone contend that there’s been a boom in people wanting to become professional MMA fighters. Given what we hear from fighters about their quality of life as they now begin to retire from the still-young sport, I wouldn’t expect a mad rush of interested parties in the future, either.

So what’s the answer? Much as the word makes White gag, it’s the hardcores. When the WWE included PPVs on its online WWE Network, it was making a calculated risk. It infuriated the cable companies; some declined to carry its PPVs anymore. It stood to make significantly less money per viewer. But the WWE understands that wistfully gazing backward at the halcyon days of business models gone by isn’t laying a solid foundation for the future. Streaming content to micro-targeted audiences is where all video is eventually headed. Will there be fits and starts along the way to discovering how to make it profitable? Yes. But those who begin that process sooner rather than later are at an advantage versus dinosaurs who refuse to evolve. UFC 100 is not walking through that door, MMA fans.

Like it or not, the UFC has its fanbase. Might a growing female roster interest more women? Possibly. Could entering new markets like Mexico interest a few more fans? Maybe. But UFC Fight Pass drew a higher percentage of international subscribers than was initially expected, and that reveals an inconvenient truth about the internet: it already allowed anyone who had any interest in discovering MMA to discover it. Regardless of sex. Regardless of nationality. The awareness is there. The market is what it is. The time to work on introducing MMA to new fans is over. The focus now needs to be on not antagonizing existing fans to the extent that, despite their interest, they decide it’s not worth their time to follow the sport anymore. Finding a profitable, convenient, consumer-friendly way to deliver content to current fans will ensure the sport’s survival. Foolhardy quests to sell bare-knuckle, no-holds-barred fighting to viewers with no interest in the spectacle is both quixotic and suicidal, and could well relegate MMA’s relevance to future episodes of “I Love the ’10s!”

Works Cited

Doyel, Greg. “UFC won’t tap out in fight for major sports status, but it has peaked.” CBS Sports. 07 March 2013. Web. 09 May 2014.

Meltzer, Dave. “Much to learn from and about UFC Fight Pass and future of streaming channels.” MMA Fighting. 09 May 2014. Web. 09 May 2014.

Cruz, Jason. “TUF 19 Episode 4: 438,000 viewers.” 08 May 2014. Web. 09 May 2014.

Saccaro, Matt. “Are events like UFC Fight Night 32 why the UFC’s popularity is suffering?” Cage Potato. 10 Nov. 2013. Web. 09 May 2014.

Martin, Brian. “UFC President Dana White has NFL, weather and more on his mind.” Los Angeles Daily News. 27 Jan. 2014. Web. 09 May 2014.

Ranking and Legitimacy: From Intuition to Measurement

This essay, by Corey Whichard, won first place in the Co-Main Event Podcast’s second annual White Elephant Essay Contest, in the persuasive essay category.

“The UFC always has the fallback to where if some really bad shit happens, it can just have Dana White yell at us about it … Bellator doesn’t really have that. … It doesn’t have that figurehead who is endowed with the confidence to think that he can just make us believe whatever.”
— Chad Dundas, 5/12/14, Episode 103

“But, you know, there’s a lot of weird stuff going on with those rankings … It seems like if the UFC wanted to make those rankings into a thing that we could all take seriously, they would have to have some rules …”
— Ben Fowlkes, 5/12/14, Episode 103

In today’s MMA landscape, the UFC’s capricious abuse of its own ranking system is symptomatic of a much more serious threat to the overall health of MMA. That is, the UFC has too much control over how the sport is presented, and it often uses this control to benefit its own financial agenda at the expense of the sport’s integrity. If MMA is ever going to attain the kind of “sport for sport’s sake” legitimacy that attends football (or even tennis), an important first step is to develop a meaningful ranking system based on objective standards of athletic accomplishment. In this essay, I describe a method for creating such a system and demonstrate its validity.

One way to generate a standardized MMA ranking system involves drawing on techniques used in a sub-field of sociology called “social network analysis.” The basic idea is to model the structure of a social group by mapping out the relationships between individual group members (Borgatti, Everett, and Johnson 2013). It helps to think about this visually. For instance, picture all of the fighters in the UFC’s Welterweight division as large dots drawn on a piece of paper. Now imagine that there are lines linking certain dots together, where each line represents a fight, and each linked pair of dots represents fighters who have competed against each other. Using information from to construct a win-loss matrix for all Welterweights employed by the UFC circa September 2013, I actually diagrammed the 170-pound division with a program called UCINet. [See Figure 1; Georges St. Pierre is the red dot.]

170Once the network structure has been mapped out, it is possible to rank the fighters by calculating each fighter’s “Beta-centrality.” Beta-centrality functions by assigning each fighter a score based on the number of opponents in the network that he has beaten; it then adjusts that score based on the position of those opponents in the network, which itself is based on the position of the opponents that they have beaten, and so on. The process counts all opponents that are directly tied to the fighter, and all opponents that are indirectly tied to the fighter within 10 fights, though opponents that are “farther” away contribute less and less to the fighter’s score. Thus, when Jake Shields beat Martin Kampmann, his “Beta-centrality” score got a bump for this direct victory, but it also got a smaller bump for Kampmann’s win over Paulo Thiago, and an even smaller bump for Thiago’s win over Mike Swick, etc. This kind of recursive calculation is impossibly difficult to perform by hand, though relatively simple with the right computer program.

In plain English, a ranking system based on Beta-centrality means that the “best” fighter in the division does not simply have the most UFC victories, but he has the most victories over the most accomplished fighters in his division. Unlike the current ranking system, where the criteria for evaluating a fighter’s accomplishments largely rest on human opinion, a system based on Beta-centrality has the advantage of standardization. The relevant concept here is prestige, or the notion that a person’s prominence in a group only exists as an emergent quality of their relation to other group members. If you can empirically measure a person’s relationship to others in a group—using, say, a win/loss record—then you can empirically measure their relative position in that group. I used these techniques to generate a top-ten list of the Welterweights described above [see Table 1]. Keeping in mind that this ranking technique does not (yet) account for wins against fighters who were not employed by the UFC during September 2013, that it does not account for periods of inactivity (as long as the fighter was employed, their record was counted), and that it does not assign “style” points for impressive wins, it is notable that 50% of the same names appear (in different order) on my top-ten list that appear on Bloody Elbow’s September 2013 Welterweight meta-rankings (Wade 2013). This overlap provides suggestive evidence that the Beta-centrality rank is at least somewhat accurate. However, I ran one more test to verify this ranking technique’s validity.

Beta-Centrality Ranking for UFC Welterweights

Rank          Fighter Name          Prestige Score

1                       Georges St. Pierre          5.43

2                      Matt Hughes                     3.16

3                      BJ Penn                               2.39

4                      Martin  Kampmann        2.22

5                      Johny Hendricks              2.02

6                      Carlos Condit                    2.00

7                      Thiago Alves                      1.87

8                      Jake Ellenberger             1.80

9                      Matt Serra                         1.79

10                   Rick Story                           1.63

Highly ranked fighters are highly successful fighters. If this ranking system is valid, then a fighter’s rank should be strongly related to other factors associated with professional success, such as financial compensation. It is reasonable to assume that the amount of show money that a fighter receives is a decent approximation of how much the UFC values that fighter. There are aberrations—Nate Diaz received 15K show money for UFC on Fox 7 ( 2013)—but the overall pattern holds true. For the group of Welterweights described above, I recorded the amount of show money (in thousands) that they received for their most recent fight. I also recorded each fighter’s Beta-centrality (“prestige”) score. Because the amount of show money each fighter makes will be influenced by other factors, I also gathered data on how long each fighter had been employed by the UFC, their number of UFC victories, and the number of performance-based bonuses they had received. [Descriptive statistics for these variables can be found in Table 2.]

I then entered all of this information into Stata 11 (StataCorp 2009), a computer program designed to model statistical relationships between multiple variables. I used a statistical technique known as “Ordinary Least Squares” (OLS) regression to examine the correlation between Beta-centrality and show money, while simultaneously accounting for the influence of UFC wins, tenure, and bonuses. [See Table 3 for results.] Here’s how to read the table of results: the “b-coefficient” value estimates the correlation between the variable and “show money,” the “standard error” value represents the degree of imprecision, and the asterisks indicate the probability that the estimated correlation may be due to random chance. For instance, a “p-value” of 0.05 means that you can be 95% certain that the observed effect is real. To interpret the correlation, you read the b-coefficient as “a one-unit change in the predictor variable produces an X-unit change in the outcome variable.” Alright, so here’s what all this complicated shit really means: after accounting for the number of years a Welterweight has been employed by the UFC, how many wins they have, and how many bonuses they’ve won, each 1-point increase in the Welterweight’s prestige score translates to an additional $25K in show money, give or take about $4K. The model is more than 99.9% certain that the correlation is not due to random chance. In other words, Beta-centrality is powerfully correlated with financial success. The highest-rank fighters make the most show money, and the lowest-ranked fighters make the least show money. This confirms that the ranking metric is highly correlated with fighter success, which supports the notion that “Beta-centrality” is a legitimate way to go about ranking fighters.

Which fig 2






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With enough manpower, it is theoretically possible to use every professional fighter’s win/loss record from to create one enormous MMA combat network. When fighters change promotions, it would be possible to treat them as “bridges” (Granovetter 1983) between the ranking structures of different organizations—a prospect that is increasingly plausible, given the UFC’s recent habit of releasing fairly high-profile fighters. In brief, using fancy mathematical techniques, it is totally possible to create an objective ranking system for MMA fighters. I propose that the implementation of such a system would go a long way toward elevating MMA’s status as a legitimate sport, and would wrest a core piece of the greater MMA narrative out from between Mr. White’s teeth.

Works Cited

Borgatti, Stephen P., Martin G. Everett, and Jeffrey C. Johnson. Analyzing Social Networks. Los Angeles: Sage, 2013. Print.

Dundas, Chad, and Ben Fowlkes. “Co-Main Event Podcast Episode 103.” 12 May 2014. Web. Accessed on 17 May 2014.

Granovetter, Mark. 1983. “The Strength of Weak Ties: A Network Theory Revisited” Sociological Theory 1: 201–233. “UFC on FOX 7 salaries + bonuses to Brown, Mein, Romero, Thomson.” 21 April 2013. <–bonuses-to-Brown-Mein-Romero-Thomson/>. Accessed on 17 May 2014.

StataCorp. 2009. Stata Statistical Software: Release 11. College Station, Tx: StataCorp LP.

Wade, Richard. “Bloody Elbow September 2013 Meta-Rankings: Welterweight.” SB Nation. 4 October 2013. Web. Accessed on 17 May 2014.

Looking Beyond Wolf Tickets and Funny Money; the Need for a Fighter’s Union in MMA

imagesThis essay, by Roberto Arellano of Chicago, Ill., was the runner-up in the Co-Main Event Podcast’s second “annual” White Elephant Essay Contest, in the persuasive essay category.

Despite clothing adorned with rhinestones and seemingly impulsive mohawk haircuts being associated with mixed martial arts, there are more serious concerns that currently affect the overall health of the sport. In a time when performance enhancing drugs and inconsistent officiating still plague MMA, those issues are relatively insignificant. It might actually be the case that these issues are due to the sport’s relatively short existence. But as the sport continues to grow, regulation and uniformity will follow; there is reason to believe that MMA organizations like the UFC will aim to remedy some of these issues. The biggest threat to the overall health of mixed martial arts is one that MMA organizations currently have no incentive to address: collectively, fighters are not protected against the arbitrary decisions of fight promoters and are therefore susceptible to the kind of exploitation against which other professional athletes are protected.

Now, before Vitor Belfort critics and Diaz Bros. supporters advocate for stricter drug testing and a revamped scoring system, let’s acknowledge that these are issues that are more likely to be addressed by MMA promotions. Leading up to Jon Jones’ April 26 title defense against Glover Texeira at UFC 172 in Baltimore, UFC chairman and CEO Lorenzo Fertitta stated that “[enhanced drug testing is] going to be something that continues to happen on a pretty regular basis going forward” (Jeff Wagenheim, ‘UFC’s Lorenzo Fertitta discusses new random drug testing efforts’). While it’s too early to commend or criticize the organization’s renewed stance, it’s certainly a step in the right direction, and one with overwhelming public support. Most notably, this happened after former UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre publicly decried the UFC’s reluctance to pursue stricter drug testing. And while there are still questionable decisions that make the MMA community reconsider the current scoring system altogether, poor officiating is largely an internal problem that has been addressed as the sport has grown. Perhaps the ten-point must system should be reevaluated, but does the current scoring system necessarily jeopardize the overall health of the sport? Not quite. While a flawed scoring system certainly delays, and sometimes even deprives, a fighter from fighting for the title, a fighter’s union would better protect fighters’ interests.

The only times the idea of a fighter’s union has been mentioned is when fighters have expressed their dissatisfaction with reported salaries. The biggest reported payday for a single fight, according to Fertitta and UFC President Dana White, is $5 million (Damon Martin, ‘Dana White Reveals Biggest Single Payday for a Fighter in UFC History’). But what if the payday, whether disclosed or not, is not the problem itself? Though White proposes that the reason the UFC does not disclose fighter salaries is the fighters’ well being, keeping salaries private also decreases a fighter’s bargaining power. In previous cases where the UFC has been criticized for what it pays its fighters, fighters have ultimately been silenced. In the case of Randy Couture, the UFC claimed it had been publicly misrepresented and threatened to take him to court for punitive damages instead (LA Times, ‘UFC details Couture’s salary’). After Tim Kennedy alleged that he could make more money as a garbage man, he publicly retracted his statement and was coincidentally also scheduled to headline a UFC Fight for the Troops event. These instances only further prove that the UFC understands that it must suppress anything that might translate to public criticism.

While the UFC has done a remarkable job of growing the sport and establishing mainstream credibility, it is necessary for mixed martial arts fighters to have the ability to collectively bargain. The current MMA landscape resembles an antiquated version of other professional sports. In the NFL, it used to be the case that league executives who, much like MMA promoters, exercised exclusive rights over their athletes used to blacklist participants who did not acquiesce to their demands. It wasn’t until Bill Radovich decided to take the league to court that players eventually obtained the right to seek representation and negotiate in good faith (William Rhoden, ‘Sports of the Times; NFLs Labor Pioneer Remains Unknown’). In boxing, it wasn’t until Congress passed the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act in 2000 that fighters were protected, at least in theory. However, due to lax oversight, the provisions of the act have been eviscerated (Thomas Hauser, ‘No one is enforcing the federal boxing laws’). If an independent governing body were to exist, in the form of a fighter’s union, fighters would be able to better negotiate their contracts and not have to worry about promoters gutting legislation or negotiating lucrative contracts that might jeopardize their ability to enjoy their winnings the same way other professional athletes do (Ben Fowlkes, How Team Takedown is changing the approach to building MMA champions).

Hoping for independent oversight that protects fighters’ interests is optimistic, but there exists precedent that allows for such hope. After UFC lightweight Gilbert Melendez reportedly negotiated a deal with Bellator MMA, the UFC decided to match the terms of the contract in order to keep him on its roster. This example, though isolated, proves that fighters who are willing to publicly disclose their income are more likely to benefit from contract negotiations. Also, as the sport seeks public acceptance, competing organizations vie for public recognition. So while MMA continues to grow as a sport largely dependent on individual performance, the overall health of the sport is a shared responsibility.


Fowlkes, Ben. “How Team Takedown is changing the approach to building MMA champions.” MMAjunkie. MMA Junkie, 5 Apr. 2014. Web. 16 May 2014. <>.

Hauser, Thomas. “Hauser: Federal boxing laws go unenforced.”, 25 Sept. 2007. Web. 19 May 2014. <>.

Martin, Damon. “Dana White Reveals Biggest Single Payday for a Fighter in UFC History.” Bleacher Report. Bleacher Report, 12 Sept. 2013. Web. 19 May 2014. <>.

Pugmire, Lance. “UFC details Couture’s salary.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 31 Oct. 2007. Web. 20 May 2014. <>.

Razak, Bobby. “History of MMA: Big John McCarthy.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 11 Feb. 2012. Web. 20 May 2014.

Rhoden, William. “Sports of The Times; N.F.L.’s Labor Pioneer Remains Unknown.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 2 Oct. 1994. Web. 18 May 2014. <>.

Wagenheim, Jeff. “UFC’s Lorenzo Fertitta discusses new random drug testing efforts |” Sports Illustrated, 8 Apr. 2014. Web. 18 May 2014. <>.


Co-Main Event Podcast Episode 111 (7/7/14)

comainPod-AThe Co-Main Event Podcast has never smelled so clean, nor felt so fresh in its … uh … groin … area. Be warned, CME Universe, this week Ben and Chad record the show under the influence of Dude Wipes, which came in the mail as a thoughtful gift from listener Coleen H. Or maybe it wasn’t so thoughtful. Maybe it was just her subtle way of telling them they stink. In any case, there is a lot of non-odor related MMA news to discuss as well, what with Chris Weidman putting it in the haters’ faces, Ronda Rousey playing Andre Arlovski to Alexis Davis’ Paul Buentello and Frankie Edgar mopping up what was left of B.J. Penn’s career and wringing it out like the tears of a thousand tarnished angels.

All that, plus MasterTweet Theatre, AYFKM and Just Sayin’ Stuff.

Direct downloaders can lie about what percentage of time they are Beastin’ right here.

Sounds: This week’s music comes from listener Joey Schroeder and The Apache Revolver. They describe themselves as a “surf rock/black metal band” (weird, right?) and if you like their music, it’s available for free download at or via their website

The Path to Emotional Intelligence by Watching People Get Punched in the Face

Bellator_75_results_photoThis essay, by Paolo Sambrano of Oakland, Calif., won the Co-Main Event Podcast’s second “annual” White Elephant Essay Contest, in the personal narrative category.

Sometimes I think I got into mixed martial arts just to troll my circa mid-1990’s dad, who would gently encourage/chastise me for not watching sports like the other boys in school. But this isn’t a story about how MMA reconciled my relationship with my father (although one of my fondest memories with him was beholding Jose Canseco’s MMA debut against Hong Man Choi during Dream 9, as part of their 2009 Super Hulk Tournament). Nor is it a story about the boys I went to elementary school with, although this is a story about relating to people. This is a story about how MMA helped kill my ego and helped increase my emotional intelligence.

Growing up, sports to me were defined as bodies in matching jerseys chasing after a circular talisman for 30 seconds, buttressed by five hours of commercials for Dodge Ram pick-up trucks. The consistent start-stop generated a low-grade anxiety attack for me. If sports didn’t involve the phrase “I’ll take the physical challenge,” Nitro from the American Gladiators, or the multicolored parachute used in elementary school PE, I wanted nothing to do with it. It would just take away from time spent playing Mech Warrior 2 on the PC.

In 2005, I remember seeing a billboard for the first season of “The Ultimate Fighter.” My only prior exposure to the UFC, let alone MMA, was perusing the special interest racks at Suncoast Video in the mall. There was an illicit energy in scanning the backs of the boxes, trying to suss out if this really was a real life “Bloodsport.” Exposing myself on a weekly basis to the show unlocked a visceral, visual feedback, that was way better than keeping track of the movements of a color-coordinated team moving that circular talisman into a designated scoring position. The fact there were no commercial breaks during fights sealed the deal for me.

My real fandom (and self-imposed suffering) didn’t begin until I discovered Pride Fighting Championships. Pride FC made me believe that anything could happen, if you define “anything” as Taiko drumming, children’s choirs, and soccer kicks. It wasn’t until Pride that I started to assimilate MMA into my own sense of self. Steven C. Hayes describes this as the conceptualized self: “The conceptualized self is brimming with content; this content is the story about you and your life that you’ve been selling to yourself. It contains all the thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, memories, and behavioral predispositions that you’ve bought and integrated into a stable verbal picture of yourself.” (Hayes 90)

I began to narrativize MMA as the central item in my entire self identity. Everything began to refract off of the fact that I was not only a fan of Japanese MMA (not that domestic UFC wrestle shit) but I was also more into Threadless shirts than Tapout, and more likely to listen to The Postal Service and New Order than “The Ultimate Fighter” theme song and Stemm’s “Face the Pain.” I was in love with the fact I wasn’t the standard MMA fan. At that point, the average MMA fan would have been considered kissing cousins with Juggalos. I was smashing expectations! I was a pioneer! And it worked wonders on my self-esteem. Until it didn’t.

Looking back, building an identity for myself based on things I liked over the things others didn’t like was like having a puncher’s chance in interpersonal relationships. If the other person had no idea what I was talking about, that was like scoring a one punch KO with a telegraphed right hand from Mars. But if the other person was familiar with the sport? Or if they knew more than I did? That was them slipping my punch and countering with a brutal left hook right to the ego, disintegrating who I thought I was. Despite my good-hearted love of the sport (I even started training in Muay Thai and boxing), I still largely didn’t know what was going on (blame a lack of sports growing up). I could recognize an armbar and a double leg takedown, but beyond rudimentary movements, I was far from being conversant in MMA with other people who knew the sport. I was projecting my developing sense of identity against other people, craving to be the “unique” one in the relationship, but fearful at being found out as a fraud. This insecurity was written about by Carl Jung, “Projections of all kinds obscure our view of our fellow man, spoiling his objectivity, and thus spoiling all possibility of genuine human relationships.” (Jung 181)

My love of the sport eventually plateaued along with the sport’s ascent into the mainstream. But with that, so did any semblance of perceived superiority for following the sport against people who didn’t. It is silly to try and feel niche when your sport’s flagship promotion is on the same network as “The Simpsons,” after all. Also my constant exposure to people (via the internet) who knew more than me (on top of liking the same things I did) helped kill whatever lingering ego was left in regards to my self identity. At this point, I know more about MMA than I ever have, and I still feel like I don’t know anything. And that’s okay. More than okay, in fact. That means I am giving myself the ability to learn from other people and not feel like my entire identity just crumbled before me. And maybe, that’s just coming out with a higher emotional intelligence than when I started following the sport.

Works Cited

Hayes, Steven. Get Out of Your Mind & Into Your Life: The New Acceptance & Commitment Therapy. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, 2005. Print

Jung, Carl. Man and His Symbols. New York, NY: Dell Publishing. 1964. Print

Lehrer, Jonah. Proust Was a Neuroscientist. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2008. Print.

Black Holes, Vodka and Ghetto Style

Cage Fighting Held At Wembley ArenaThis essay, by Philip Hanna of Dublin, Ireland, was the runner-up in the Co-Main Event Podcast’s second “annual” White Elephant Essay Contest, in the personal narrative category.

Physics is pretty cool. I have always held that statement to be true and to this day I still believe it. When it comes to everything else involved in this story, I’m less convinced, so I’ll hold on to the physics. It will be my constant on this retrospective journey through my entry into MMA fandom.

It was the summer of 2009, I was reasonably young, reasonably in shape, I probably had a job, I was definitely a student, and like many students, I loved vodka. All but one of those statements remains true today. Transparent liquid gold, you promised so much. I believe it was a Saturday so being the nerd that I was (am) I was home alone, enjoying some of the aforementioned liquid wonder. It was after midnight, I was all set to watch a documentary on black holes. It was on one of those channels no one ever watches so I was undertaking the arduous journey to number 452 or something, I never made it that far. On a little known channel at number 407 I came across something I had only heard of in legend. Two dudes were standing in a cage and beating the fuck out of each other.

“That’s ridiculous!” I proclaimed to no one.

Of course, I never changed the channel and I had no idea that for better or worse my life was about to change forever.

I found out later that I was watching a rerun of Cage Rage[1], a now defunct British MMA promotion that actually had some serious talent at times, including Vitor Belfort[2] and Anderson Silva[3]. The event I found myself watching on that fateful night had neither of those guys on it, at least I don’t think it did, I really had no idea what I was watching but I found myself oddly fascinated by the whole thing. I had another drink as the next two fighters entered the cage (the place where the rage happened). Fighter A was uninteresting but fighter B, for the most innocuous and pathetic reasons, was immediately ‘my guy!’ His fighting style wasn’t wrestling, or kick boxing, or muay thai, no. It was “ghetto style.” This Dave Lister[4] looking motherfucker was simply a street thug with an interesting hairstyle who managed to take advantage of the fact that there wasn’t much MMA talent in Britain at the time[5]. If you could take a punch, you were in.

I was transfixed, I had another drink.

I wish I could remember that crazy fucker’s name. Alas I have tried and failed many times to find out, but I cheered, oh how I cheered. Of course he was going to win–he was a bad ass.

I guess the nicest thing I can say about him was that he certainly wasn’t finished in the first round. Not for lack of trying on the part of fighter A, mind you. Fighter A beat the living hell out of this guy for as long as I can remember, somewhere in round two I found nature calling with a vengeance and upon returning to my glorious sofa, two new half naked dudes were throwing them bungalows. It didn’t matter, I was hooked on what I essentially though of as a freak show. I managed to find it again on various weekend nights and watched as much as I could, traditionally with vodka. I was fascinated by the ground game, always anticipating a brutal knock out and I even found certain elements hilarious. The cage announcer Mark Aplin[6] never introduced a fighter without making a mistake, statistically you would think he would get at least one right, but he never did. It was misplaced genius comedy. I would later come to remember him as sort of an anti-Buffer[7]. No make up either. I think he’s dead now.

I began to follow certain fighters. There was no doubt who my favourite was–one reverse elbow into Tony Fryklund’s[8] face and Anderson Silva was my new hero. He inspired me enough to Google him, and three letters seemed to be very prominent in the results: UFC.

By now the forgetful year of 2009 was slowly but surely giving way to the warm breeze and misplaced promise of a better 2010. I had watched all of the Anderson Silva fights youtube had to offer and was cautiously exploring the world of UFC. One thing initially put me off, it wasn’t the America-ness of it all, the ridiculous hype train roaring behind each and every fight. It wasn’t even the fear factor guy going ape shit. Oddly enough it was the production value, it was too clean, Buffer never even made a mistake and no one was fighting “ghetto style.”

It almost seemed as if these fights were fair and even. It would take an adjustment period. If I could pick one fight that was probably the turning point it would have to be UFC 107[9], B.J. Penn[10] vs.  Diego Sanchez[11]. When I witnessed that crazy little Hawaiian fuck open up a titanic gash the size of a small country on “The Nightmare’s” face[12], I was hooked.

It was a long and slow process before I could really call myself an MMA fan or a student of the game. Things like appreciation for jiu-jitsu and fight strategy are really an acquired taste. It’s been a crazy ride ever since. I never thought of myself as the stereotypical MMA fan. After all I’m a nerd who was supposed to be watching a physics documentary on black holes. I have come to realize that we really are all nerds[13]. Well, the hard-cores are. The less said about the oft mentioned casual MMA fan the better.

I was just a young man who wanted to drink alone in peace and learn about black holes. Instead I stumbled upon another phenomenon from which I can never escape. 


5. (Daniel Welling, 2013)
8. (Sal De Rose, 2011)
12. (2009)
13. (Ben Fowlkes, 2012