How Can You Watch That Stuff?
Mixed-martial-arts fighters take a terrible beating not only from each other but also from the UFC’s labor practices
During its transition from dystopian freak-show to mainstream sporting event over the past decade, the Ultimate Fighting Championship opened its pay-per-view fight cards with a 20-second montage of a Roman gladiator suiting up in a murky coliseum green room. Strains of opera swelled as the anonymous warrior raised his armored knee from the sand, drew his gilded sword, and walked out toward the light. The screen then cut to a highlight reel of epic knock outs over a Nu-Metal track whose lyrics (“Face the pain no escape can you step to this / Face the pain / Face the pain / Ripping me into pieces”) are burned into the skull of every MMA fan. The intro, meant to indicate the intensity of the sport and the combatants’ macho dedication, unintentionally revealed how UFC -management—and fans—thinks of its fighters. There have been many “noble” images of combat in our long, violent history. The UFC went for the one of an ancient imperial spectacle in which slaves fought to the death.
On April 10, 2010, the UFC held its first (and to date, only) event in Abu Dhabi after Flash Entertainment, a company owned by the emirate, purchased a 10 percent stake in UFC parent company Zuffa. More memorable for fans than the awkward and listless title fight between middleweight champion Anderson Silva and Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace Demian Maia was the image of the first five or so rows of the audience. On all sides of the fighters, visible through the cage, were dozens of oil-rich sheiks standing and cheering in traditional formal white dress. It was like watching a live-action Street Fighter.