When I tell people I'm an MMA fan, the conversation usually goes like this:
"What, like Ultimate Fighting?"
"Well, the Ultimate Fighting Championship is one promotion, but there is also Elite XC, Affliction, DREAM ..."
"But that stuff seems so violent."
"It may seem that way, but there have been way fewer catastrophic injuries or deaths than boxing, football or even equestrian events! The fighters are in great shape, so that lessens injur-"
"It's probably fixed, y'know."
That is usually where I change the subject, because I feel like when my acquaintance has to bring in gambling, they are grasping for straws. MMA bouts have as much or as little of a shot of being fixed as any other sport, so there is no point in singling out MMA as a sport that will be fixed when it is just as likely to happen in football. Then I wake up to find out that Florida Department of Professional and Business Regulation is starting a preliminary investigation into Seth Petruzelli's now-recanted claims that Elite XC management encouraged him to fight Kimbo Slice on his feet only. I also read that Michael Wilbon, a columnist for the Washington Post and host of ESPN's Pardon the Interruption claimed that Kimbo Slice threw the fight.
The fact that a state agency that oversees the State Boxing Commission is even checking into allegations of fight-fixing is scary. No matter what they find, the allegations are more damning than the findings. Opponents of MMA will be able to bring up the word fraud when they discuss the sport. With MMA proponents in New York trying desperately to get the sport regulated, this will not help.
In Wilbon's conversation with Miami Herald columnist and MMA fan Dan LeBatard, Wilbon compares MMA to WWE, and Slice's knockout to the Muhammed Ali's "phantom punch" knockout of Sonny Liston. These two comparisons cement the fact that Wilbon, though very knowledgeable in many other sports and one of my favorite columnists, has no clue what he is talking about. MMA uses no chairs, no fake plot lines or any of the fake things that dress up WWE. Ali's so-called "phantom punch" has been shown to be a well-connected jab on an already woozy Liston. Wilbon has fallen prey to "whichever way the wind blows" thinking when it comes to MMA. The problem is that he is a well-known, widely-read columnist, and his ideas can influence other sports fans. All the years of work that MMA fighters, fans and promotions have put into building up the credibility of the sport can be called into question with one quick punch from a national figure like Wilbon.
Now when I talk with people about why I like MMA, I will have to be ready to defend it against claims of fight-fixing. It's funny how one 14-second fight can completely change the conversation.
Photo via Sherdog.com