The Ultimate Fighting Championship comes to townby Alex Christofi / March 7, 2013 / Leave a comment
Pedestrians spill out of Wembley Park station. Lots of men are wearing hoodies and loose fitting jeans, with cropped hair and the occasional scar where hair won’t grow. Blue lights flash past as we converge on Wembley Arena. The UFC, or Ultimate Fighting Championship, has come to town.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship is the best known of the mixed martial arts (MMA) events, which were conceived to answer the old pub dilemma, “Who would have won in a fight between Bruce Lee and Mohammed Ali?” Every martial art claims to be the best fighting style on its own terms, but it had, until MMA, been a matter of dispute as to which might actually win in a no-holds-barred brawl. The answer seems to be a combination of boxing, wrestling, Muay Thai and Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
In the early days of UFC almost anything that might allow a fighter to emerge victorious was permitted. There was no limit to the number of rounds. John McCain, the failed presidential candidate, campaigned against the league in the 1990s, and succeeded in having the event banned in the majority of US states. Las Vegas casino owners the Fertitta brothers then bought the rights to the UFC—the contract included a clause which stipulated that any dispute between the two brothers would be settled in a jiu-jitsu match of three five-minute rounds—and they began the long process of rebranding UFC as a serious sport.
Rounds in the octagonal metal cage are five minutes long. There are eight weight classes. But even in an increasingly regulated spectator sport, only the most extreme strategies are disallowed. The rule book’s brief list of fouls includes “putting a finger into any orifice,” “spiking an opponent to the canvas on his head or neck,” and “attacking an opponent who is under the care of the referee.” It explicitly states that you are not allowed to throw in the towel without the referee’s consent.
Notice, too, that the rules say “his.” There are women fighters, but this is a hyper-male sport. Poor Ernest Hemingway might not have known what to make of our modern world, where fishing must be humane and sustainable, bullfighting may be banned and the US president himself is pushing for gun control—but he would have felt at home with mixed martial arts, which harks back to an ancient masculinity.