Grappling dummies: Instinct MMA debuts

There were once two promoters who looked at semi-professional hockey in Oklahoma City and had a revelatory idea: lose the hockey, keep the fights. They invited members of regional teams, had them punch each other into paste and thought they had it made.

The hockey games in Oklahoma City could draw crowds upward of 15,000. The hockey brawl drew 1,200.

The lesson: you can focus on a dimension of a sport you think is the most attractive, but what you don't realize is that it's attractive only in context. NBA fans love theatrical dunks, but if you had a venue comprised only of a slam-dunk contest, you would draw crickets.

The people behind Instinct Fighting, a promotion that insists its fighters will only kickbox with no grappling tolerated, are clearly not historians. Athletes will be fitted with 7-ounce gloves, allowed to punch and kick, and can toss opponents to the ground. The logic must be that audiences will appreciate the demotion of all that boring wrestling.

"More exciting than kickboxing," ads read. This is a considerable claim when you account for the fact that it is kickboxing. (Saying something is more exciting than itself is, I admit, intriguing.)

Stephane Patry, Instinct's promoter and the former head of Canada's TKO MMA promotion, might argue that the addition of throws provides a marked difference: I would argue that this is San Shou, Cung Le's base art, and that was not exactly a combat sport that caught the world afire. Tosses might actually have the opposite effect, with audiences disappointed the fight isn't allowed to follow its natural flow to the mat. We are now feeding a generation that identifies "real" fighting with cross-training. This appears diluted in comparison.

Instinct will promote April 17, the same night as a Strikeforce event on CBS and a possible UFC card on Spike. You guess which two of the three have very little to worry about.