AP Photo/Mary Altaffer
There's no doubt Dana White draws attention to MMA, but in this case, he's not helping matters.
A surprisingly balanced examination of violent entertainment appeared on CNN.com on Monday. Inevitably, mixed martial arts was the center of discussion.
"Everyone loves a fight," Dana White told the website. "It's in our DNA. The example I like to use is that if you're in an intersection and there's a basketball game on one corner, a soccer game on another …"
Ugh. Nobody has gotten more mileage out of that sermon than White. (It's also more than a little silly; if there were an alien attack on another corner, people would watch that. Pointing out that we enjoy gross spectacle is not exactly helping the cause.)
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The conclusion of the quoted Poindexters is that audiences enjoy "taboo" entertainment, something unseen in ordinary life and expressed as an extreme form of activity. But violence is really just the base level of drama and conflict, which virtually everyone finds enthralling on some level: soap operas, movies, sports. No big mystery.
What stands out is White's assertion that the UFC is pristine from a medical standpoint: "We take pride in the fact that there has never been a death or serious injury -- outside of a broken arm or leg -- in the history of the UFC," he said. Cal Worsham's collapsed lung at UFC 9 would disagree. There's also the matter of the long-term traumatic brain injuries, glimpses of which we're only now beginning to see. Is the sport safe enough for public consumption? Certainly. Safer than boxing? Probably. Safe?
No. Not even close.
MMA's biggest problem is a skewed public perception: It is neither as barbaric and slack-jawed as its detractors suggest nor as sterile and humane as its supporters argue. The danger in mindless repetition of its safety record is that we continue to ignore some very real issues relating to neurological and orthopedic damage that aren't as obvious as a broken leg or unconsciousness. Getting punched and kicked is not the brain's favorite way of passing time. It might let you know that at 25, or it might wait until 55, but it will eventually clue you in.
This ignorance is a product of the crusades of the 1990s -- both against MMA and the fans' struggle to keep it relevant. When your party line is a constant stream of rhetoric about how "safe" something is, the message isn't likely to change even when the facts do.
Part of the blame should be shouldered by promotions, which encourage fighters to "be exciting" and "aggressive." Do any fighters interpret that directive as being more dynamic with their ground game? Of course not. The language is intended to give us an endless stream of Griffin/Bonnar clones, fighters toiling in stand-up even when it's hardly in their best cognitive interests. Somewhere along the way, Sean Sherk transformed from a devastating grappler to a guy winging undersized arms at opponents. He wants his bonus checks. He wants to stay employed. Treating the octagon like an NCAA mat isn't the answer. And so we're getting more violent fights, in which strikers who have little business striking are eating leather for round after round in a career that's going to pay the wrong kind of dividends later.
Is all this mayhem adversely affecting us in any way as a culture? Probably not. Every generation has its standards, and those standards are almost always throttled by the new, "offensive" entertainment of the day. I imagine some parents forbid their children to watch the gunfights on prime-time television in the 1950s. It's a story that gets recycled.
What MMA can be targeted for is the creation of the posturing cretin who stalks Vegas hotels in obscenely tacky T-shirts, invisible lats and the confidence of someone who has taken at least five jiu-jitsu classes -- the same guy who finds blood and suffering amusing rather than galvanizing. My fear is not of a violent culture, but a tasteless one.