Monday, February 8, 2010

TV to Web MMA's audience culture

When talking about MMA, some people want to show they're more knowledgeable as a fan. Does that have any value?

Sharing the knowledge you have is what's important. MMA discussion as a competition is meaningless. Acting elitist and ignoring forums for a place of discussion is wrong, because there are people who want to share and learn.

Sayama vs Costello

When did MMA start? There's many different ideas, but I would say 1984. Satoru Sayama, a former Japanese pro-wrestler. opened the first pro Shooto gym. Seven years earlier, he took on kickboxer Mark Costello in a stand-up fight, where he couldn't use submissions. Sayama always had a vision of "real fighting".

Some people blame MMA as not being sporting, or coming from the imagination of pro-wrestlers. That is a ridiculous idea: do you ever think about who invented your favorite ball sport, and if they were "unsporting"? Sports are sports based on skill and quality of competition, no matter their origin.

Shooto impacted a lot of organizations, taking a step toward making MMA a sport. They developed world and regional sanctioning bodies, the first modern MMA gloves that allowed fighters to both strike and grapple. They even used an octagonal ring, a precursor to the UFC's Octagon.

Gachinko (Gachinko meaning in English "No Work" Program start at 1999.)

There was a boxing reality show in Japan called "Gachinko" that predates "The Ultimate Fighter" in the United States.

The show brought thugs and toughs from the streets, and former world boxing champions trained them. Many of the contestants acted over-the-top intense and insane, a common point between it and TUF.

I had no idea this format would be MMA's breakout program. I wouldn't be surprised if some American TV producers saw Gachinko before making "The Ultimate Fighter", since producers often watch foreign programs and bring the format to their own country to profit.

Dana White doesn't act like other sports owner, assuming a kind of boss attitude on "The Ultimate Fighter". That's not surprising, by any means, because it fits the audience. Many people believe that the UFC wanted to convert the pro-wrestling audience to the MMA audience.

A lot of people were interested in Shinya Aoki giving Mizuto Hirota the middle finger after breaking his arm. Japanese network TBS broadcast that incident on New Year's Eve. On New Year's Eve in Japan, every family gets together at home and eats soba, so it is the biggest time for all of Japanese TV.

Does TBS not care about what people watch? I don't think so. I think they intentionally broadcasted it. The internet has changed people's personalities, where now even moderate or unclever people are outspoken and aggressive. There is now a greater interest in that sort of personality that Aoki showed on New Year's Eve.

Aoki's personality itself is not an ordinary character for MMA. He has said himself he's wouldn't make a good "street fighter", but thinks of himself as a nerdy strategist. He's an eloquent speaker, and has massive knowledge of MMA, including the American MMA scene, which is rare for Japanese fighters. His attitude symbolizes the current era, and that's why he's leading the Japanese MMA industry. There may be other elite Japanese fighters, but none get attention like Aoki.

I've always said I support MMA as a sport, but at the same time, some idealists ignore the fact MMA needs to make money. MMA is both a fighter's living and the audience's entertainment. Sport for sport's sake is just a fantasy. Of course, there is often no relationship between being popular and being talented in MMA, so we need to consider both sport and entertainment.

Other sports audiences want stats, analysis and mechanical subdivisions. With MMA, intense characters and promoters' quotes make people talk. Do baseball fans care that much about what Bud Selig says?

Because of that, MMA fans who want analysis need to discuss the sport with each other. The sport's media is not good enough to tell about all MMA's charms. The sport's history is short enough for fans to access and create a culture of analysis and influence. It is us, as a vocal audience, that influence the shape of the sport. So, dive in.

Big thanks to Jordan Breen for English and editing.

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