There’s been a lot of talk recently about booing during major MMA events. After UFC 73 and the behavior of the Sacramento crowd I really began to think about what can be done to educate the crowd better.
Personally, I think the booing of ground fighting will decrease as the years go by. If you look at the markets in the Midwest, which was an area of the country where MMA was kept alive after it was on the verge of extinction, they are pretty good when it comes to understanding the psychology of a fight.
Hell, I even thought the Trenton crowd was pretty good when it came to the booing. Obviously, I had other issues with them but it seemed like I was quicker to dismiss some of the lack of activity in fights than they were.
From what I can remember, the first mass boos I heard didn’t happen until the Roman Zentsov vs. Branden Lee Hinkle fight and I didn’t think they were booing the fight because it went to the ground, but because the ref wouldn’t stand them up when Hinkle wasn’t doing anything.
Educated crowds understand the nature of a fight and realize it’s not pro wrestling. They realize these guys are going at each other full bore and that a fighter needs to be allowed to fight his or her game.
If you look at the booing in Sacramento, it could be one of two reasons, or both. Perhaps some of the fans simply weren’t educated when it came to the ways of MMA or maybe they understand MMA, but just don’t like ground fighting. MMA is pretty big in Southern California (although maybe not as big as some people think) so I think the fans in attendance at the Sacramento card might get it. But if you look at the Strikeforce promotion, they have a tendency to promote fighters who come from striking backgrounds.
If you look at Strikeforce’s most popular fighters such as Frank Shamrock, Cung Le, and Paul Buentello, they are all noted good strikers. In the case of Shamrock, he was originally a submission wrestler but has focused heavily on his striking in recent years and has a martial arts school in the San Jose area. On the last Strikeforce/EliteXC card, the only fighter with a strong ground resume that appeared on television was Josh Thomson, who wrestled at Stanford. But Thomson’s Muay Thai has gotten a lot better so even he’s doing a lot of striking in his matches. And for years Strikeforce used to co-promote K-1’s events at the Bellagio in Vegas. Maybe Sacramento just doesn’t like the ground style?
In the NFL, some cities in the Northeast prefer smash mouth football. Out West, I think the fans prefer wide open passing. Maybe we’re seeing a similar trend in MMA? Different regions prefer and appreciate different styles?
But even if Sacramento booed because they love their strikers, they are still likely an exception as to why fans decide to take a shit on fights when they go to the ground. Ignorance could play a huge role. I know in my case I really didn’t have a true appreciation of ground fighting until I trained in Jiu-Jitsu. Once I started training I didn’t watch fights the same way from that point forward.
Asking people to take Jiu-Jitsu just so they can fully appreciate a fight isn’t feasible. So what can be done to speed up the learning curve?
Part of the issue is visual. When you watch a show on TV you usually get to see the best camera angle if a fight goes to the ground. When you see a match live, it’s a completely different story. From what I’ve been told, the UFC does a great job of having video screens placed throughout an arena so that fans can get a look at the best angles. Things are different at some of the smaller shows, though. At Bodog on Saturday they only had the overhead screens on the scoreboard. From my vantage point, I could see fine and relied on the scoreboard monitors whenever a fight went to the ground. However, I am now hearing from a lot of people that couldn’t see the screen.
If you’re seated at a show and the fight goes to the mat, you can’t really see much because everyone stands up. So you have to stand up and even then you can’t see much if the fighters have their backs to you. I hate to say it because I cringe whenever someone else says it, but there are really times when it looks like two guys are humping.
Whenever a fight goes to the ground at a live show and it’s in an area of the ring or cage where people can’t see much movement, it creates an uncomfortable silence in the building. It’s like time suddenly just stops. I feel like yelling something out sometimes just to break the tension. Perhaps that plays into one’s decision to boo?
So what can be done? Well, make sure there are multiple video screens at a live event, for one. But video is only one aspect. Sound is another element.
I have an idea that I’m not even sure is logistically possible, but how about simulcasting the audio from a telecast to all the fans in the arena at times when the fight goes to the ground?
I know a lot of Internet fan boys are mixed when it comes to Joe Rogan. Some people love him and some people complain about everything little thing he does. From my perspective, he does a great job and excels at explaining to viewers just exactly who has an advantage when the fight hits the mat. He also does a good job of pointing out what a fighter is leaving themselves vulnerable to.
A guy who I think might even do a better job at breaking down ground fighting during a bout is Frank Mir. I’ve been really impressed with his work during WEC telecasts.
So if you’re televising an event and you have an expert on the mic breaking it down for the viewers at home, why not flip a switch and pipe the audio throughout the arena and let the fans here? Once the fight goes back to standing, just flip it off.
Another idea on a smaller scale could be to mic the corners and the referee. Hearing instructions being yelled to a fighter from the corner when the fight is on the mat might create a higher level of excitement. Also, hearing the ref issue warnings to fighters could garner a big reaction from the crowd and add to the drama. If a crowd is unhappy with the pace of a fight on the ground and they know a fighter is at risk to being stood up, they might not be as prone to boo because they could want to wait and see what’s going to happen.
The last thing is educting fans when they aren’t at a show. Having commentators on a telecast who have technical knowledge about ground fighting is a must. Some fight promotions are covered in that area while others are not.
I’d also like to see the UFC step up their efforts in educating fans about wrestling and Jiu-Jitsu but maybe doing a video series of tutorials at UFC.com. Luke Thomas from BloodyElbow.com made an awesome point during his “Any Given Saturday” Internet audio show. Back in the day, the UFC used to air a pre-taped segment during its PPVs called “On the mat with Marc Laimon.” This was a favorite of mine because Laimon did an awesome job of explaining key elements of ground fighting. I have to say, I learned a lot from those little segments he used to do. Brining something like that back for the telecasts or their web site would be welcomed.
Also, they show a lot of training footage during airings of The Ultimate Fighter. When they talk about how a fighter needs to improve his ground game they might show you a brief clip of a coach going over something with a fighter. Why not extend the segment a bit and actually allow the audience to see and hear the whole sequence in which a fighter is being instructed something pertaining to Jiu-Jitsu or wrestling?
I know I’m not the only one with ideas. Let’s hear ’em.