A few years ago, when one of my sons, home from college and temporarily controlling the cable remote, turned to a channel telecasting a UFC — that’s Ultimate Fighting Championship — match and said, “Hey, Dad, look at this! Pretty cool, eh?” I was instantly appalled.
Here I was, a child of the late 1960s and early ’70s, who worked hard to exemplify, model and “teach our children well” values that centered on peaceful resolution of conflict, non-violence and respect and mercy toward others. Here he was, fascinated by this brutal, unmerciful no-holds-barred, physically destructive, so-called sport clearly designed to bring out the worst in its participants and observers, emotionally and otherwise.
It seemed to me a culmination of most of the video games he and his siblings played, and which we allowed them to play, although not without significant consternation and constant internal deliberation. It seemed our reminders about the differences between fantasy and reality and our somewhat muted disapproval meant little, though we had hoped to plant a seed that might later bear the fruit we sought. Here was proof positive that these hopes were being dashed.
Of course, speaking only for myself (and thereby exonerating my wife, their mother, on this point), I was not unaware that a certain degree of hypocrisy permeated my moralistic attitude. After all, hadn’t I watched innumerable boxing matches with and without the kids, waxing almost poetically to them about Muhammad Ali in his prime and marveling at the brutal bouts between Ali and Joe Frazier? Wasn’t I a huge football fan, a sport in which players don the modern-day equivalent of armor and hurl themselves at frightening speed and force into one another? Didn’t I take them to scores of ice hockey games, where fisticuffs is not only tolerated but also quietly encouraged as an acceptable means of “changing the game”?
Human nature being what it is, I rationalized that the violence in the games I enjoyed is only collateral to the principal intent of the competition — scoring goals or points — and that there are strict rules in place designed to protect participants from the worst consequences of that violence.
In my mind — still, in spite of any residual personal hypocrisy — Ultimate Fighting is morally inferior and should be socially unacceptable because the principal intent of the competition is to inflict serious physical damage on, and “ultimately” incapacitate, a participant for the base enjoyment of spectators. Former Clifton Park Assemblyman Bob Reilly was correct when he characterized it as only a slightly less visceral version of Roman gladiators fighting to the death.
It brings to the fore primitive behavior that many of us prefer to see suppressed. Maybe that’s why its proponents started using the moniker “Mixed Martial Arts” (or MMA) in place of Ultimate Fighting. It may not be putting lipstick on a pig exactly, but the metaphor in not inapt.
But do you know what? Who cares what I think?
It’s popular and that popularity is growing. Only two states — Connecticut and New York — do not sanction it; and staking that arguably higher ground hasn’t dented its popularity in the least.
It’s a free country and if one can’t discourage one’s (now adult) children away from it with arguments against glorifying violence and rank brutality, how can a state’s disapproval have any real effect in the end?
So, go ahead; legalize it and attempt to regulate it.
However, while we’re doing so, spare me from having to hear the bogus justification that gets trotted out for everything these days — namely, that it will be “a boon to the economy.” The governor said he understands the “theoretical debate” about the sport’s violence, but is looking at potential legalization from an economic perspective.
Well, governor, it’s not the violence that’s theoretical. Lorenzo Fertitta, the chairman and CEO of UFC, claims the impact could be more than $100 million, though he’s careful to call that “a ballpark figure.” It says here that the ballpark he’s talking about must be the old Polo Grounds in New York City.
What will prove even more fanciful is Albany County Executive Dan McCoy’s claim that legalizing the sport will promote healthy living among youths and young adults. As if being repeatedly punched and kicked in the head is a prescription for fitness. It might be a better idea to promote walking and running — sports with no adverse impacts to the brain — by building more footpaths and bike paths in the county away from dangerous roads with major traffic. But, hey, what do I know?
Legalizing UFC (or MMA if you prefer) does debase us as a society and edges us backward toward the cave that we’re only three steps out of as it is.
It’s a free country, though, and one might as well try to hold back the tides with bare hands for all the effect trying to ban ultimate fighting will have. But please don’t delude yourself that there will be no damage to our collective psyche or that it’s a means toward economic security.
There’s even more hypocrisy in those claims.
John Figliozzi lives in Halfmoon and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.