MMA Opinion: Is Sport Spectacle or is Spectacle Sport
No beating around any bushes here. This is sparked by the Jake Paul phenomenon sweeping the nation. Probably good to just come out and say that at the outset. But circus and silliness aside, it does beg the question: What part of combat sports is supposed to be spectacle and what part is supposed to be sport? Is there even a mechanism to calculate such things? Is this an either/or proposition or is it supposed to be both/and? It may be there is no internal ethical dilemma in most viewers or fans, but without doubt – if the discussions leading up to these events in recent history are indicative – there is at least some question in the moral consciousness of fight fans when they come around.
The boring and less poetic understanding of the term ‘muse’ is to simply think. Of course when it is romanticized about and used in artistic or creative contexts, the muse is that ember of inspiration that cultivates the passions of... blah, blah, blah. This is about fighting, so we can set that contextual usage aside for now. Muse = think. So, it is no surprise to learn that to amuse is to cause a lack of thinking. Amusement is quite literally the putting off of thinking in favor of – dare we say – feeling. With this framework, it can certainly be seen that some element of our favorite things related to combat sports simply must be considered spectacle. Our passions as fight fans are almost never merely inflamed by the punches and kicks or the nuts and bolts of fighting.
So, even for the most ardent purist, it is undeniable that spectacle plays a part in our love of the fighting arts and the sports that include them. If you are a real fan of baseball, you are likely able to see between the ‘long ball’ and the exciting plays at the plate that there is nuance and science to the game. The deeper you go, the more you see. Pitch count, intentional walks, crowding the plate, etc. All things that have zero excitement to them. None of those things will ever make the highlight reel on the evening sports news recaps. Likewise, in fighting and MMA in particular, it is not likely that Jim Miller is making the promotional packages or SportsCenter coverage. Need proof? Miller holds the UFC number-of-fights record with 38. No coverage. Because it has no spectacle? Hard to think otherwise.
It is an uphill climb trying to dutifully complain against spectacle and lobby for honor, respect, and meritocratic import in combat sports when entertainment is built into it. Does this mean if we can’t beat them, we have to join them? Is the genuine fan of fighters and their craft supposed to be alright with events involving sideshows, concerts, and one-off events with no competitive import? Is there not some balance we can strike between entertainment and competition? These are the questions that hit the ethical part of the psyche... the part where we may not in fact be amused. Maybe we can cling to the ever-present buzzword ‘organic’ and try to have our spectacle develop from a place of reality. Maybe we can stay on the sales staff at Honor Fighters and Fighting, Inc. At the very least, we can do a little self-examination if we find our favorite moments in sport involve fake robots, dancing, pyrotechnics, etc. and ask what we are watching for just before we complain – or write – about it.
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