MMA Opinion: Want to Join an Elite MMA Fan Club?

Shutterstock by Johnathan Bell
Burt Watson might be a good secret code word to check if someone is an actual fan of Mixed Martial Arts or not. Maybe if you are trying to gain entrance in the super-secret 'hardcore-not-casual' club, a first level of security could be to name Bruce Buffer or his signature phrase (which, to be honest is just a loud statement of fact more so than a phrase) – Bonus points for knowing which one (only is one) numbered event Buffer missed. To root out spies and potential threats to the sanctity of this club one might have to give three names of opponents to either Ronda Rousey (heck, we might just ask if someone would leave the 'H' out of her name) or Demetrious Johnson. So we are clear here, these initial statements may have already excluded quite a few from the club. So be it.

Back to Burt Watson. Or Stitch Durant. Or Josh Gross. Or Mauro Ronallo. Or the endless list of fighters or staff of any promotion that were non-champions, manufactured stars, or support staff that have fought and bled in MMA competition or were instrumental in serving those that did. There are so many unknown people associated with MMA. Chuck Liddell has recently spoken about when he knew he was a star. It simply had to do with someone recognizing him who was unexpected. Someone who was not wearing a TapouT shirt – which for the uninitiated used to be a secret passcode to the club in a bygone era. George St. Pierre on the other hand – in order to keep himself grounded – notices at grocery stores how many people do not notice him. Saying something along the lines that an old lady with a shopping cart has no idea who he is. These two had the experience of stardom – whatever that means in MMA. What of those who don't?

Again, back to Burt Watson. For as popular as Mixed Martial Arts has become relative to its inception merely a couple of decades ago, it is still not fully mainstream when considered in a context of sports and entertainment globally. And without question, its stars are not at the stratospheric influencer level – and yes, this includes even Mr. McGregor (Quick! Extra points and without looking: how many N's in his first name?). You may have to dig a little to read of the unceremonious dismissals of Burt Watson or Stitch (Jacob "Stitch" Duran) from their posts at UFC events. If you do, you will likely see that the secondary actors in the history of MMA are not put on any pedestals or displayed in any halls. In fact, they can pretty-well be kicked to the curb.

We are a few years removed from Mike Goldberg being let go from the UFC broadcast booth. His tenure is not without its own brand of criticism, but his voice was in the fabric of the sport's beginnings. And then, he was just gone. We might expect this status decline in sloping fighters, but broadcasters and cutmen? The list could go on that includes the number of MMA supporters who helped embed the sport and its actors on our consciousness. From journalists like Ariel Helwani – ever vilified for daring to act like journalists are known to do – to late Senators whose value is only seen once they embraced the sport. Everyone has those people in their lives that, while not front and center, play valuable roles in their story. The classmate in school who did not join the bully. The coach or instructor that gave genuine encouragement. The neighbor that helped lift something heavy even when you did not know their name. MMA has lots of those supportive characters too. If we are not careful, those players who ought to be valued will be marginalized. Fans and paying customers can unwittingly be force- fed something and have their opinions hijacked which can perpetuate the cycle.

It might be worth reflecting for a moment on the fact that we rarely see the cooks in the kitchen at our favorite dining establishments. Strange because we may recommend said establishment and opine that it has "good food". Maybe the promotion president restaurateur is out front greeting and assuring people they are getting their money's worth and are the face (for better or worse) of the business, but it behooves the customer to know what they are paying for (and who). While it can be a bad thing when there are too many cooks in a kitchen, it can also be bad when cooks that are there are not respected or appreciated. Eventually we might be handed frozen entrees labeled "fine cuisine" and think we are in a fine dining club. It is always incumbent in the process of building something that its participants grow in their acumen related to their subject. It may not be required to remember who Nate Quarry is or which states currently have not adopted the Unified Rules of MMA (how ironic – you know, because unified), but in order for healthy progress, some growth from casual toward hardcore in the fandom department might be a good thing. This could start with getting to know Burt Watson, Stitch Duran, or Josh Gross. If you know those names, welcome to the club.

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