Oh, Do Shut Up
Gotta get this one off my chest:
If I read one more person who says something to the effect of “yes, Brock Lesnar draws more eyeballs to the sport of MMA than anyone else, but he’s bad because he could scare off potential new fans and stop the sport from being regulated”, I’m going to scream. Listen: this is the exact same argument which went on in the gay community (as it does in most minority groups, identity or interest-based, with aspirations to something more) for decades between the people who- speaking REALLY broadly here- wanted to be activists and confront prejudice loudly, and the people who thought the best way to win acceptance was to cancel Pride Week before it scared the straights. It would be a lie to say that time and events have completely vindicated either position; but they have proven that a great deal more was possible more quickly than the conservative elements of the movement believed was the case. And that’s GAY PEOPLE. Ask yourself, which has more historical respect and acceptance in mainstream American society, combat sports or open homosexuality? Which is more famous, Muhammad Ali or Ellen Degeneres? The Stonewall Riots or the Thrilla in Manilla?
The gay rights movement needed and needs both sides the same way MMA needs both Georges St. Pierre and Brock Lesnar, the sportsman and the showman. The people talking about Brock as the doom of the sport sound exactly like the people who used to say that gay marriage was impossible in America in the next hundred years, and half of those people are now married, the poor bastards. Brock is not hurting anything. The obsessive boxing purists are going to die off and largely not be replaced in this country at least; the sport will survive a goofy Brock promo and some snarling if it can survive Tank Abbot’s (speaking of….) talk about a KO giving him an erection, John McCain’s vendetta and the entire Kimbo Slice era; regulation in Ontario and New York will happen, if for no other reason than because in the end the power of the dollar rules. The sports fans who watch Terrel Owens, “Captain Dickhead” Sean Avery, Ron “Malice in the Palace” Artest, Mike Tyson the rapist, Eric “Karate-kicked a fan” Cantona, John “IT WAS OUT” McEnroe, Didier Drogba, “Just Being” Manny Ramirez, A-Roid, Fraud Mayweather, Kobe “Denver hotel room” Bryant, Mark McGuire’s congressional testimony, Michael “The Jordan Rules” Jordan, Ray Lewis, Donte Stallworth and the rest of the menagerie will hardly be scared off by Brock being Brock.
The only counter-argument ever offered is that fans make excuses for sports they follow but not for those which they don’t; left unsaid is how you get fans to follow a sport in the first place without stars like Lesnar who draw new fans because of their personalities- because with due respect to Brock, it’s not like he’s considered by most people to be the best heavyweight, nor does he have the most exciting fights. Without something to get attention you end up as MLS- the most stagnant, going-nowhere league in the country, whose highest rated game this year on cable TV drew 327,000 viewers- or something like a quarter of the people who were willing to pay $50+ to watch UFC100.
And at this point, after 16 years in business, after having already drawn major public attention on several occasions before for good reasons, bad reasons and Brock reasons (when they signed him, and for the Couture fight), whoever’s going to be turned off by MMA is already turned off, and yet somehow that number isn’t large enough to stop UFC buyrates from continuing to rise or to stop CBS from being so entranced by the ratings of B-level MMA that they’re willing to forget about the Kimbo debacle, Ken Shamrock allegedly holding them up for more money and Seth Petruzelli’s “they paid me to stand” comments in order to make a deal with Strikeforce- who don’t have a single star the caliber of Brock! UFC just got on TV in Mexico, on the biggest mainstream network, and drew peak ratings (for Brock’s fight) greater than the ratings on the same day on the same network for a competitive soccer international. They just got their first Chinese TV deal which reaches 80 million homes. They just set their all-time highest buyrate, the biggest ever outside boxing, in all likelihood. They ran a new country for the first time this year- Germany- and enhanced the presence of the sport in Europe. Where, exactly, is there evidence of anything other than strong, internationally-diversified growth for the sport of MMA and the company UFC both in home markets and new markets?
Ultimately this whole pointless and frequently witless debate boils down to a minority of MMA journalists blue-skying nightmare scenarios about what might happen some unspecified period of time in the future when some unspecified portion of the populace decides that Brock is just too rude to be tolerated, although they were actually ok with that whole bleeding-violence-half-naked-men-in-a-cage-punching-people-when-they’re-down thing. It would be uncharitable to say the people who envision this are talking to the voices in their heads, but they’re certainly not talking about any recognizable or identifiable section of humanity, sports fans or otherwise, in this country or others. The lessons as always are: visibility matters, publicity matters, personalities good and bad are the getters of attention, no matter what you’re selling not everyone is going to buy it, and there’s more important things to worry about in life and business than whether you’re scaring the straights. The lessons of history across wildly different circumstances are not exactly ambiguous on this one.
But…don’t let that from stopping you.