It seems like people I meet are always surprised to hear that I enjoy watching mixed martial arts and the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Perhaps it’s because I have some sort of a geeky demeanor, or I seem too “upper class” and clean cut to enjoy watching two people stand inside of a steel cage octagon and beat the hell out of each other. The truth is, I wasn’t always a fan of the sport, and had you told me ten years ago that I’d not only be a fan but would have attended ten mixed martial events (including 5 UFC pay-per-view events, witness 7 world title fights in person) and would yearn to become a historian of the sport, I would have…probably laughed at you or something, because for a long time I thought the sport was barbaric like most of the general public did.
I suppose my journey to being an MMA aficionado actually started back in 1998, when I became a fan of professional wrestling like most kids my age. I mean, seriously, who wasn’t watching Monday Nitro or Raw Is War back in the late 1990s? I always knew it was predetermined, but I loved the “sport” nonetheless. Over time, legitimate competitive sports took more of my interest, and my love for pro wrestling subsided sometime in 2003 or so (honestly, I don’t know what made me “stop” watching wrestling or even when I stopped watching regularly, but it was sometime when I was attending private high school and literally no one there was watching wrestling).
Let’s fast forward to 2008. I’m 19 years old, and starting my junior year of undergrad. My interest in wrestling sort of returns when I see Sting on an episode of TNA iMPACT! (he’s my all-time favorite wrestler), and mixed martial artist Frank Trigg (a former welterweight title contender) was making a cameo on the show as part of a storyline with A.J. Styles. I suppose this is when MMA was starting to catch my interest. I knew who guys like Tito Ortiz were, and somewhat considered myself a fan of Ortiz’s much the same way the casual boxing observer who knows nothing about combat sports considers themselves a fan of Floyd Mayweather or any other big name prize fighter out there. Weeks later, I saw that Brock Lesnar, the former pro wrestling superstar was headlining a UFC event for the UFC heavyweight championship. I bought the pay-per-view, and the rest for me was history.
I had actually seen an MMA event on tv before that when I watched the infamous EliteXC: Heat event a few weeks prior. Of course, MMA fans know how that turned out with Ken Shamrock being pulled from his fight with Kimbo Slice at the last second and being replaced with Seth Petruzelli, then Petruzelli knocked Slice out in 14 seconds, and then EliteXC went out of business shortly thereafter.
It’s funny too, because I knew nothing about MMA, much like the general public had misunderstood it. I watched Lesnar defeat Couture that night to win the title, and I was hooked on the sport. I started buying pay-per-views regularly, watching the live fight night shows, and even buying MMA magazines much the same way I had watched wrestling, bought wrestling PPVs, and bought wrestling magazines in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I even attended UFC 97 in Montreal, just a mere five months after becoming a fight fan.
Over seven years later, I still love the sport. I’ve not only read countless books on how the sport has evolved since the first UFC event in November 1993, but I’ve watched several prior old events. In the summer of 2015, I made it my goal to watch every UFC and PRIDE event from before 2008 so I could better understand how good various fighters from before my time as a fan truly were, so I could have my own opinion instead of relying on the opinions of those who have written books on the topic. A year later into that journey, and I’ve watched the first 12 years of the sport thanks to the UFC Fight Pass library, and I’ve enjoyed every second of it. I enjoy having friendly debates with other fans about who would win a match between a prime Fedor Emelianenko and a prime Randy Couture, among several other fantasy matchups that we unfortunately never got to see.
I’m not sure what’s drawn me to watching MMA. As a matter of fact, no one else in my close social circle even watches the sport, so it certainly wasn’t like in elementary school where part of how I started watching pro wrestling was because “all the cool kids” were watching it. I guess there’s just something about watching some of the greatest combat athletes in the world fight to prove their superiority that entertains me and keeps me coming back for more. Needless to say, you can be assured that I’ll be somewhere this weekend watching UFC 202 at a bar with other fans of the sport, enjoying every moment of what I’m watching.