Last night the UFC invaded network television for the first time. Junior dos Santos absolutely clobbered champion Cain Velasquez with a right hand just behind the ear. It was a triumph - "It absolutely delivered everything I hoped it would," Fox Sports head honcho David Hill told ESPN.com. But from the margins you couldn't escape it. A persistent howl. MMA fans wailing about the loss of their sport.
It's a song as old as time. You hear it every time an Indy rock band goes from playing clubs to playing arenas. Then you hear it all over again when the same band graduates to stadium shows. It's a phenomenon that knows no boundaries, racial or otherwise. In hip hop, it's the rapper going from the mix tape to a Def Jam recording contract, then moving on to a spot in CSI: Harlem. In pro wrestling it's a "You sold out" chant delivered at the top of a fan's lungs. I wouldn't be surprised if there was a Hispanic version involving telenovelas and Tecate commercials. Its refrain is universal: I was here first.
For mixed martial arts fans, the dividing line has always been The Ultimate Figher on Spike TV. The "real" fans were there first, trading VHS tapes and navigating the indecipherable wall of tapes in a Japanese grocery store looking for the latest K-1 or Pride show. That's all changing now. We're all O.G's together, the guys who saw the sport for the first time when Chris Leben crashed through a door on TUF and the girl with the Pancrase bootlegs.
That all changed last night. Last night the UFC put its best foot forward to introduce the sport of mixed martial arts to the world. It's going to be a bit of a bumpy ride for hardcore fans, used to being catered to by a responsive UFC management. Like it or not, the fighters, even champions like Cain Velasquez, will need to be introduced to the new audience. So will techniques, strategies, and concepts most fans understand implicitly.
The idea that being on your back doesn't mean you're losing the fight? It's obvious to MMA fans. It's in our DNA. We've seen enough triangles, sweeps, and armbars to understand. But new fans don't know this yet. They are going to need to have it drilled into their heads (have some judges listening carefully too state athletic commissions).
Some times you're going to want to stick screwdrivers in your earhole as Joe Rogan explains the benefits of a leg kick. It's part of the growth process. The fight last night? If you're a hardcore MMA fan, that fight wasn't for you. It was for the rest of the world. The people who haven't fallen in love with our sport. The ones who need more than contextless scrapping, no matter how spirited or technical.
Is it unfortunate that new fans missed a great fight between Ben Henderson and Clay Guida? Of course. But that's the price that has to be paid for growth. UFC and Fox officials decided it was more important to introduce Velasquez and dos Santos to a waiting nation. It was the right call.
I loved MMA as an edgy underground sport. I'm going to love it with dudes in suits talking on a gaudy set before Eminem inevitably blares. It's time to let our baby grow up. Let MMA sell out. It's better for the fighters - they deserve it.