Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Subtle Art of the Freak Show Fight

Ah, the freak show fight. The fights that MMA fans love, hate, and love to hate. With the sport becoming more and more mainstream, all sorts of people want a piece of the pie. MMA fans hate the freak show fights because it seems like they set MMA back a step. What business does Jose Canseco have taking an MMA fight? At the same time, people just can't look away. I watched the Canseco fight numerous times, because there's no guiltier pleasure for me than seeing him get pummeled by a 7 foot 2 inch Korean kickboxer. With all the talk of Strikeforce considering matching up the aforementioned Conseco and Strikeforce and NFL vet Herschel Walker, it got me thinking about the effect the freak show fight has had on MMA.

The freak show fights are extremely popular in Japan. Japanese grappling ace, Genki Sudo, a natural 155 lb. fighter, once took on 400+ lb. boxer Eric "Butterbean" Esch. The legendary Royce Gracie battled Sumo legend Akebono. Bob Sapp was a staple in the olden days of PRIDE and K-1. Even though the fights were meaningless in the big picture, the intrigue of the fights and fighters were enough to attract attention and viewers. The wave is hitting America too. We've got former pro wrestlers, a bearded street brawler, a power ranger, a disgraced baseball player, and a football icon (just to name a few) all taking a stab at MMA. While people like Lesnar, Lashley, Jason David Frank, and even Slice are taking the sport seriously, people are beginning to wonder where to draw the line.

The ultimate freak show fight was definitely the Kyle Maynard fiasco. In case you missed it, this kid was a wrestler who had amputated legs and arms, who still became a decent wrestler, and had a dream to compete in MMA. He got his wish when a small Auburn promotion allowed him to fight. The advertised the hell out of him, and set him up to be the main attraction. While I thought it was indeed an inspirational story of a man who refuses to let his disabilities stop him, I still had one pressing question: How in the f**k did ANYONE expect this kid to win? He has no arms, so he can't block punches or defend/attempt submissions. His only offense would be to lay on his opponent and pray he has zero knowledge jiu-jitsu and wrestling exist. That was the first time I ever thought a fight should be held in a circus tent, and not an arena with MMA fans. By the way, Maynard's opponent was merciful and let the fight go to a decision, which Maynard lost unanimously.

So what's the point of these fights? Is the scrutiny worth the reward for these promotions? Absolutely, the bottom line being money. Even after slamming him repeatedly, Dana White signed Kimbo Slice to a contract. Does he think Kimbo can make a run at the title? Probably not. Will Kimbo rake him in tons of money? Hell yes. So, how could a promotion exploit an amputee knowing full well he had little chance of winning? The bottom line is people love to watch to see if the "freak" can fight. I was giddy when I found Jason "The Green Ranger" Frank's MMA fight on YouTube, as he was a childhood hero of mine. I was even giddier when he won. If a promotion is desperate enough, they'll try anything to get a big break. I guess Biggie Smalls said it best: The more money we come across, the more problems we see. As long as people will watch these crazy freak show fights, and they will, promoters will continue to put them on.

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