We finally have live sports in America. The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is back, a month after being postponed due to the coronavirus.
UFC, for the uninformed, is the largest promoting organization for mixed martial arts (MMA). Unlike boxing, which has clear restrictions on what techniques can be used, UFC rules are those used in most mixed martial arts and only slightly less restrictive than a fight from the “Anchorman” movies.
The rules exist mostly to prevent fighters from attacking easily damaged body parts (such as the eyes), or attacking in a manner likely to cause abnormally severe injuries. But the sport isn’t barbaric— though many are oblivious, there’s an incredible amount of depth involved in the different fighting styles and techniques. It’s pretty fun to watch as a newcomer, if a bit terrifying.
That said, UFC isn’t for everyone. Matches are often short — only a few five-minute rounds at the most, and some matches last only a couple minutes. Also, competing in MMA is a somewhat niche activity, which means few people have an in-depth personal understanding of how their fights work. This might seem unimportant, but understanding a sport is often a prerequisite for enjoying it.
One point in its favor is that UFC actually avoids some of the sexism endemic in professional sports. UFC is also one of the few recurring professional sports events in the United States that regularly promotes women as prominently as men. Women get paid equally, too, something the U.S. women’s national soccer team — which is probably more popular than its male counterpart — is still fighting a court battle over. There are more televised men fighting than women, but when compared to the relationship between the NBA and WNBA, and given that most people couldn’t name the professional womens’ leagues for hockey or softball, UFC does alright.
So how did they even have UFC during coronavirus? For one, the fights were held in Florida, where restrictions are already being relaxed. For another, all the fighters, comedian and MC/host Joe Rogan, the referees, coaches, medical staff, etc. were all tested prior to participating. Finally, there was no crowd.
This aspect was acknowledged by those participating — the lack of an audience took away some of the energy, but didn’t change the intensity of the fight. Instead we heard the genuine little oohs and ouches from the announcers, and the real sounds of contact between fighters. Normally these are hard to hear over the buzz of the stands, so here it lent a reality to the entire event.
I don’t recommend UFC to everyone. It’s frightening how beaten and bloody the competitors are at the end of a match, and the flurry of motion can be confusing to first time watchers. But there’s not much else to do, so maybe it’s worth a shot. The next fights will take place again in Florida on May 13 and 16.