In 2002 the World Wrestling Federation (A.K.A WWF) lost the court case, and the ensuing appeals to the cute pandas and had to re-invent itself. True, It was a change of one letter, which doesn’t sound like much, but I’d like to point out a couple of things that followed very closely:
The F (for “Federation”) became an E (for “Entertainment”)
The “wrestlers/Fighters” became “Superstars”
The female “wrestlers/Fighters” became “Divas”
Notice the significance? Not only did Vince McMahon change the name of this organization, but the terminology and jargon. That was done, in accordance with the fact that this promotion is in fact an Entertainment business, with superstars and divas as… well… stars.
The pro-wrestling terms “Mark” (coming from the carnival days – the mark of a deception/trick etc. a person “buying” the act) and “Smark” (“smart mark”, a guy who knew the whole thing is staged) quickly disappeared, and everyone began to openly discuss the “entertainment” aspect of the business as the factor directing it.
When Brock Lesnar joined the UFC in 2008, the majority of the MMA fanbase – pardon my French – lost their shit.
“Get back to fake wrestling!” was the sentiment. “We don’t need your WWE $h!t!”
See, MMA fans became ones because they wanted to see real competition between skilled fighters who actually used the different martial arts to prove superiority.
Fast forward to present day (Mid 2017 more or less):
The “Biggest fight in combat sport history” is between a Mixed Martial Artist and a retired Boxing legend.
The next biggest fight according to general fans vocal opinion – a 3rd encounter between two fighters who never seemed to have anything to prove to each other. Well, other than who can back his trash-talk better.
Already scheduled is a fight between current MW champion, Michael Bisping (who to this day defended his belt against a 45 year old almost retired legend and another 40 year old legend who came back from a horrible injury) and the legendary WW champion and all-time best – Georges St. Pierre (who is coming back from a 4 year break).
When some of us MMA fans pointed out that the direction UFC is heading in is far from where we think they should, we were met with a cold shower of responses “educating” us about the business.
“Conor makes a gazillion in a month”, “No one wants to watch Demetrious Johnson win another fight”, “Bisping doesn’t sell PPVs” and so on and so forth.
During the last couple of years, UFC (for the most part) went through a very significant transformation.
From the leading MMA promotion, attracting the best talent in order to provide consistently improving level of competition, thus becoming more popular, what we see now is an organization obsessed with making money in any way possible.
Fights are booked – so it seems – more frequently based on crowd demands and less on achievements or reason.
Fighters (seeing where the wind blows) understandably increase their “PR” or “Promo” work to get ahead.
I don’t know about you, but it really is starting to look like more of an “entertainment” business than a fighter’s promotion.
Which brings me back to 2008.
What happens is that the very same people who were ready to go after Brock Lesnar with tourches and pitchforks, chasing him back to his “WWE $h!t”, are now criticizing others for showing their dismay with this direction of entertainment first and sports/competition/MMA later.
As I wrote in various forums, for me, “This fight won’t make as much money as the other” is not a satisfactory reason. Call me crazy, but I still like MMA because I love watching two skilled individuals test themselves against each other. I know…
“Shut up already! You’re going to watch anyway!” Sure I will (Read my confession), what else is there to do? But I do think we deserve a more level headed approach. One where the important business decisions take more than just the bottom line into account.
Let WWE lead with “fake feuds” and “promos” and let’s focus on what we’re here to do. Sure, color your fights with whatever “background” and there’s always some trash-talking to do. But this is martial arts we’re here to watch and I, for one, still remember that it’s about respect. Respect for one’s self, for the arts and for the fans. What can I say?
When it comes to MMA I’m a “mark”.