As I wandered around my apartment last night in my typical Sunday evening despair, I found myself once more in front of the computer watching two people I didn’t know fight it out on You Tube. You know how it goes. Somebody sends you a link to a video, or you’re looking for that MMA highlight where Fedor gets spiked on his head at the end, and next to the video are other clips deemed “related.”
Now, we could argue all day about whether two dudes having a street fight in a vacant lot is really related to what Fedor does for a living, but that isn’t the point. The point is I found myself watching some of these clips and feeling bad about myself. Whether or not those two things are related, I can’t say just yet.
One of the videos that stayed with me featured (or at least claimed to feature) MMA fighter Jorge Masvidal against a big bruiser of a guy identified only as “Ray”, who is purportedly a student of Kimbo Slice, for whatever that’s worth. The fight lasts about eight minutes, which is about three minutes longer than it should, and which also features Ray knocking out some poor jobber a few seconds in. The video quality is poor. The crowd includes about twenty people who shout things that are sometimes encouraging and sometimes aren’t words. You can hear the bloodlust in their voices.
The whole thing is somewhat disturbing, and at first I found it more disturbing that a guy who is a serious MMA fighter (assuming that really is Masvidal, and I think it is) would participate in something like this. It seems like exactly the kind of thing MMA doesn’t need — its athletes engaging in illegal street brawls for internet porn sites. Masvidal (12-2) is a serious fighter. The American Top Team lightweight has beaten guys like Yves Edwards and Joe Lauzon, and he won his most recent match at this past weekend’s Strikeforce event at the Playboy Mansion.
But the more I thought about it, the more the line started to blur. Maybe it was the Playboy Mansion part. I mean, the difference between fighting on an internet video that gets posted to a porn site and fighting on a sanctioned card that takes place in a house that pornography built and gets broadcast on a mainsteam site (Yahoo!) is really not all that profound. It’s more a difference of scale and perception than anything else.
I’m by no means condoning these internet street fight videos. One look at the proceedings and you can tell how easy it would be for someone to get seriously hurt, not to mention that the fights are sloppy, almost rule-less affairs that aren’t all that aesthetically pleasing, either. But at the same time I enjoyed seeing Masvidal beat a bigger, stronger street fighter who had little more in his arsenal than big, looping haymakers.
Watching this seemed to justify something about MMA. What is the point of studying the art of fighting if not to be able to beat guys like “Ray”? That’s what martial arts is made for. Seeing Masvidal use superior technique, poise, and conditioning to take him apart reinforces what I’ve wanted to believe about MMA, which is that it is the most practical of the fighting styles. And this fight didn’t even include any ground work, where Masvidal might have really held an advantage.
But really, what’s the difference between these videos and the early videos of the Gracie’s demonstrating the superiority of jiu-jitsu to other arts? I’ve seen videos where they take on thugs off the street and tie them up in knots. It doesn’t look as violent or dangerous as bare knuckle kickboxing matches in someone’s backyard, but the two are not so far apart.
I guess my point is that while these kinds of fights (as well as the “Rio Heroes” events being held in Brazil) might seem like the worst possible thing for MMA and its image, they aren’t as bad or as unique as we think. For as long as there have been sanctioned boxing matches there have been illegal underground versions, and yet the existence of the latter didn’t destroy or discredit the former.
The greatest difference might be the audience it caters to. The person who shows up at the illegal street fight is often different from the person who buys a ticket to see a night of fights at the local civic center…but not that different. Just look at this video, even with everything that’s wrong about it. Listen to the people in the crowd, and think about the crowds you’ve heard at MMA events. Then ask yourself how far apart those two experiences are.