Bob Ryan is a member of what can be considered the mainstream media. He makes frequent appearances on Around the Horn, which airs on ESPN at 4 p.m. central time throughout the week. Mr. Ryan attended UFC 118 which was held in Boston, where Ryan is stationed out of, to report on the event. His article is up on their website and it's about what you would expect from an old timer like Ryan.
The article starts out well intentioned enough. He begins by talking about the UFC's expansion into the upper northeast market and how big of a caveat it is for Dana White. He speaks rather well of the UFC president throughout the article. He makes sure to bring up the famous Boston sports celebrities in attendance like Tom Brady and Shaquille O'Neal. One thing I'll give Ryan credit for is that he doesn't assume the position of being a guy who actually knows much about the sport.
The big hook for UFC, if I understand things correctly, is that it is an all-encompassing form of combat. The bell rings and you assume a boxing stance. But UFC also combines wrestling and a wide assortment of martial arts. So a great deal of time in some matches is spent with the combatants groping around on the floor.
I'm sure there are more than a few people who will cringe at his use of the word "groping" and I'm sure it was intentional on his part but it's not necessarily untrue. At least he is admitting that he isn't well versed on what goes on in the cage and he's trying to paint a picture as such. That's all well and good but he ends up falling into the same schtick that we're used to seeing from older sports reporters such as himself.
Oh, yes, the Octagon. They don’t just fight in a ring; they fight in a cage known as the Octagon. A cage lends an air of danger and, yes, savagery. It’s a very clever concept, actually.
This isn't nearly as bad as it could have been. In fact, I was still confident at this point that he wouldn't dump on what he was seeing that night. Alas, it was not to be.
Now you can’t say everything goes. They did away with eye-gouging some time back. But kneeing and elbowing are prime tactics, and, c’mon, what’s so artistic about that? If you love a flat-out barroom brawl, replete with wrestling, kicking, kneeing, elbowing and, yep, punching, then this may be the sport for you. But to some, a little of that goes a long way. Frankly, after watching an evening of UFC, up close and personal, I came away with a better appreciation of boxing.
Again, he makes the same tired mistake we've seen so many others make before him. He doesn't research what he's writing on before he writes on it. Eye-gouging has never been legal. It's maddening to see a mainstream reporter write such a thing. We can overlook that though. But to say there is no artistry in what mixed martial artists do really exposes his complete lack of knowledge of the sport. He's a boxing guy that doesn't want to admit the things that make MMA more enjoyable. His mind was never open to what he was going to see. He makes sure to drive home his point that punching is what matters most in the UFC later in the article. Again, he's clearly a boxing fan that refuses to open his eyes to that which he does not understand.
The most intriguing thing to come out of this article, and what applies the most to this site, is his observation regarding the similarities between the UFC and pro wrestling.
UFC has borrowed very heavily from wrestling, and why not? Vince McMahon hit upon a winning formula with music and pageantry, and story lines, and there is no reason why it wouldn’t transfer nicely to UFC. There has to be a great carryover fandom. Why would someone settle for the phoniness and absolute idiocy of the wrestling show when you can see better athletes engaged in legitimate combat and still get all of the trappings the WWE has to offer?
You know what? He makes a good argument. I have no problem at all with what he's saying here. There is certainly a great carryover in fans. I'm one of them. Is pro wrestling always idiotic like he says here? No, it's not. There are plenty of times that the stories being told on WWE programming are enthralling and well worth the time. But they can't compare to the UFC in terms of the product being presented. The UFC, simply put, does it better. They have better athletes and the competition is something that we can all connect to.
He also makes a good point about the music and pageantry. The UFC does a great job at making everything feel really big and every fight feel like it's important. The time devoted to entrances by each fighter and each guy getting to pick the music they come out too is very much for show. That's not necessarily a parallel that can be made directly to professional wrestling but the fact remains that they are drawing on it. It's not just about the product in the cage it's about the atmosphere that surrounds it. There's no denying that.
Ryan doesn't outright bury the UFC. He ends his article with this:
Dana White is obviously doing something right. The full houses nationwide and the hefty pay-per-views have made UFC a big deal. But it’s like a lot of other things in life: it’s not for everybody.
I suppose he's right. This sport is not for everyone. But you could say that about anything, couldn't you?