The Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat have played a fast paced, intense first half, tied going into the locker room.
The second half is ready to tip- off, the Mavs take the court and across from them…the Harlem Globetrotters. Huh?
To add to the confusion of the fans, especially those who casually follow the sport, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade will periodically play for the ‘Trotters in this third quarter.
What in the name of Dirk Nowitzki is going on here? Isn’t this a legitimate game? Is Ashton Kutcher coming out of the stands, running out to mid court with a microphone and telling the sold out crowd they’ve all just been Punk’d?
It would be a farce, a detriment to the NBA and all who follow the game. No way, no how this would ever happen of course. But in the world of MMA a similarity exists that hovers over the sport like with a warped question mark. A puzzling issue to the novices of the sport, and to those who are still watching mostly from the outside. Pro wrestling remains an accepted and in some circles welcomed, first cousin to the MMA family.
Just as the Globetrotters are highly skilled entertainers, who would clean up in any typical pick up game against even some old college players. WWE stars and others pros of the ilk are talented, strong men who would wipe the floor with the average guy who considers himself tough. However what they do for a living is an act. If somehow this news is akin to you learning the truth about Santa Claus, sorry to inform but you are the MMA fans not helping the growth of the sport.
There is a wide, distinguishing gulf between wrestling and ‘rasslin’, although admittedly there is real blood in both. It’s just in the latter, it’s accidental when that punch isn’t pulled or the mark is missed.
Wrestling is a key foundational sport for the majority in MMA. Collegiate wrestlers are to the sport what college hoopsters are to the NBA. These athletes are using institutions of higher learning as feeder systems to a pro career. Wrestling is a freakishly disciplined sport that is to be appreciated as an amazing training ground for future MMA stars. ‘Rasslin’ is for those who stay in tremendous shape but usually have more of a genetic flair, a need to show off more than show up. They prefer a scripted match to an unpredictable one.
Recently on the Dream card, shown on HDNet, in the midst of the real MMA fights were ‘rasslin’ shows. Further complicating the matter, real MMA fighters Josh Barnett and Tim Sylvia participated along with other legitimate K-1 and MMA competitors. Most of this is about the cultural differences of Japan and the U.S. The Japanese while knowledgeable about MMA still enjoy a good show. Their line of MMA and ‘rasslin’ has always been a blurry one at best.
Sports are obviously entertainment on some level but in the Far East, the normally reserved fans admire the spectacle of it all; the pyrotechnics during the MMA walkouts are for them as enjoyable as the fight. That’s why Japan has the longest walkouts imaginable and some have actually lasted longer than the bouts. Some of their stars like Minowaman routinely bounce back and forth between MMA fights and scripted events without any questions asked. Bob Sapp is a hero there for his theatrics and massive frame and a failed MMA career matters little if any to his devoted followers.
MMA has always welcomed pro ‘rasslers for their fan appeal. Ken Shamrock is that rare cross-over to the legit cage that succeeded. The recently retired from MMA Brock Lesnar was a UFC champion however brief, but left with speculation he never fully immersed himself in it. He did however bring a curious audience with him. Devotees of MMA were delighted he never mastered the real deal of it all. Bobby Lashley another star on the scripted side has never come close to all the success predicted for him, and by him, when he came to the real fighting community.
Some greats in MMA like my friend Bas Rutten has participated in the ‘rasslin’ version in Japan. So has Don Frye. They are both of the era where the money fighters make today didn’t exist during their prime. A fake fight sometimes paid more. Maybe that’s the incentive for Barnett, Sylvia and the rest now (and good for them). No one can blame a person for making a legitimate living even in a phony situation.
The influence of pro ‘rasslin’ still strikes a chord with many MMA fighters; witness the public personas of Jason Miller and Chael Sonnen. For his walk out to fight Mark Munoz– the winner getting a title shot against UFC Middleweight great Anderson Silva– Sonnen will be accompanied by WWE champ (and how does that work anyway?) CM Punk.
Incredibly there are MMA media outlets that have played this as a headline story, and how good it will be to have WWE representation at a UFC event. They claim it will attract more fans and pump up interest to those who already follow it. Even Vince McMahon has given his blessing to this sideshow of a walkout. Of course he would, McMahon is a true master of hyperbole and business. He knows it benefits his money making machine by being associated with MMA, it’s smart publicity. A few of my HDNet colleagues thought the ‘rasslin’ portion of Dream was a blast, they had no qualms about mixing legit and staged, couldn’t see any overall harm to the sport. .
Fine, it could be fun or simply silly. But what is achieved for MMA? Nothing. To those tuning in for the first time to watch MMA on the Fox network, it will cloud their perception. Where does the show end and the real stuff begin? It will revert to the question asked by many of my friends when I embarked on the MMA beat for HDNet over six years ago–“Is this real fighting?” “They use blood capsules like in the movies?” or “It’s kind of like big time wrestling isn’t it?”
Some asked that again after seeing the inclusion of the scripted “fights” with the real ones at the Dream event. For them it was the Mavericks playing the Globetrotters. “Were those former UFC champs in that ‘rasslin’ fiasco?”
Sometimes we need a break, like a popcorn munching, forget reality movie, where the hero outruns yet again another explosion fireball. We don’t have to think about the practicality. There are those times where we don’t want to dissect how the play develops or the strategy of the submission. Sometimes it’s more fun to watch the Globetrotters or the WWE. And both are as polished in their craft as those who stand on a Broadway stage.
In all sports there is an intrinsic excitement value. We need the vicarious thrill of fast breaking teams, high scoring games. We love fighters who are not only talented but have the charisma, the showmanship. Because they are really doing what most of us could only fantasize about doing.
No props, no posturing. MMA has advanced without gimmicks. They aren’t needed or wanted by those who’ve come to appreciate that escapism can never replace the real drama inherent in the very real world of sports. And MMA didn’t get to this very real place as the hottest growing sport in the last decade by having to pretend.
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