I think it’s safe to say that I really love MMA. I train and compete on the grappling side, running off to an MMA gym most evenings after work (and weekend mornings), I follow fighters on social media, and I watch fights and grappling competitions often — but even I have my ebbs and flows with the sport. I haven’t actually sat down to watch a whole UFC fight card in months, and I’m embarrassed to say, I only found out that one of my all-time favorite fighters (Angela “Overkill” Hill) lost recently via twitter: I somehow missed her fight!
I’m not proud. Angela, you’ll get her next time!
But it does happen. In the most recent episode of Best Camp of My Life with Fernanda Prates (Fanbyte’s premiere MMA and other things podcast!) Fernanda and guest Zane Simon of MMA site Bloody Elbow discuss the very real phenomena of fan fatigue in this sport. They describe a sort of three year cycle for a new fan: when the sport is new to them, they eat up everything: all the media, all the fights, all the excitement and intensity that comes with MMA. They follow favorite fighters! They get excited when they do well!
And then, inevitably, folks become more exposed to the ugly side of it. To the exploitation fighters face, especially in promotions like the UFC, where all but the biggest superstars are horribly underpaid to do a very risky, damaging sport. They’ll see their favorite fighters lose and get hurt. They’ll understandably lose enthusiasm for what can be a very brutal, unforgiving, and unfair enterprise.
So, how does one balance a love of the sport with overall fatigue and a desire for better treatment for fighters?
Simon advocates for an approach that works for you: don’t necessarily try to watch everything, find what you like and stick to it, and enjoy. He also advises following some up and coming fighters, so there are constantly things to look forward to and get invested in. Having old favorites is wonderful, but they will inevitably retire, or lose in depressing ways until retirement happens. Keep a lookout for new talent.
Another part of this is finding a healthy balance between advocating for positive change in the sport: for example, supporting increased fighter pay, organizing efforts, and quality of life improvements for the people who do this — and respecting a fighter’s choice, especially when it comes to something as personal as retirement.
“[there is] this feeling of like ‘oh, well, if we’re not being critical, nobody will,’” he said, of being vocal about changing the industry. “If we’re not saying ‘hey this is not this is not good enough, then nothing is ever going to improve.’ So, there’s a part of that kind of dedication, but there’s also a part to that if, for me personally, that just says, ‘try not to be patronizing.’”
“…what if the fighter that you want to retire has literally nothing else in their life than this. And the moment they quit, their life is gonna fall apart because you can’t pretend that that isn’t that doesn’t happen. It happens a lot. And so you got to just be like, ‘you know, they are going to make choices… choices are going to be made that I may not agree with.’”