Last week, Luke Thomas (@SBNLukeThomas) and I (@KidNate) shot a video discussion about the relationship between pro wrestling and MMA triggered by the news that Chael Sonnen would be accompanied to the cage by WWE star CM Punk at UFC on Fox 2.
The transcript of the second segment and video follow. In this segment we compare the relatively minor annoyance of CM Punk walking Sonnen to the cage to the dubious goings on related to Steven Seagal being credited by Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida for teaching them front kicks. The transcript and video follow (video is queued to start at this segment):
Luke Thomas: So that's where we are today. Let's talk about the second talking point, this CM Punk, a guy I take for granted as very popular among that demo.
Kid Nate: He's the new John Cena. The kids say he's big.
Luke Thomas: You could substitute those names with letters and numbers and I wouldn't be able to tell you much about them but either way, let's take for granted he's obviously an important figure in that world and Chael Sonnen, who is who he is, I'll hand it off to you at the start and I guess I'll weigh in. This walking to the ring, which is only 20 seconds at the most really, who knows what antics they might pull in that 20 seconds and if they even show the ring walk, maybe they don't, who knows? What is your take?
Kid Nate: Well that's a good point. FOX is going to have some control over this and they might not want to show CM Punk on camera on broadcast TV. My take on this is it's not really a whole lot different than Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida bringing Steven Segal in when they walked into the cage and then crediting him with teaching them the front kick which is pretty much patently absurd.
Luke Thomas: I love that. Steven Segal shows up wearing racquetball glasses and people think this guy is showing the best fighters in the world techniques. That is a rich one.
Kid Nate: It is good. It was a great marketing angle for his movies and I respect the guy. He's accomplished in something or other I'm sure, but it really pushes the limits of plausibility hard but this isn't really that much different. Sonnen, who at this point is a convicted felon, he's failed drug tests and flagrantly lied to the commissions on record under oath. At this point, he's not even pretending that anybody takes anything he says or does seriously. It's a put-on. It's a con and he's got his tongue in his cheek and he's winking back at you. He's not making any pretense. He's just here to say outrageous stuff, pull shit out of his ass and say, "Look, it's gold!" and fling feces, stir up the crowd and then move on.
In the context of Chael Sonnen, it's not particularly shocking. To me, it's somebody like Lyoto Machida who's a part of the Shotokan tradition, his father raised him to learn karate from the age of three, that's a lot more hinkey for him to bring Steven Segal in and credit him with teaching him a move which I feel Machida's father taught him when he was six than for Chael Sonnen to come in with a pro wrestler and everybody knows it's fake. There's no scam there. They're just trying to get some shine. They're just trying to give pro wrestling fans a reason to tune into the show as far as I can tell.
Luke Thomas: That's obviously what the effort is here. The major problem for me, do I think this is particularly harmful? No, and again, they may not even show the ring walk. He is in the co-main event so they might. If it was Michael Bisping-Demian Maia, who knows but either way, I don't think this is the worst thing ever but what almost troubles me is that whenever you see things like this, whenever it's introduced, any kind of direct overlap, "Oh, The Undertaker came to a show." What is his real name, Jeffrey? I'm not calling him The Undertaker. Shogun might be the only guy that I don't actually call him Mauricio just out of bad habit.
In any event, the problem for me is they never take time to recognize the pro-wrestling fans who are MMA fans (as well), they never ask themselves ‘is this appropriate?' Because you have to admit, at some level, some measure of equivocation between MMA and pro-wrestling would be unhealthy for either parties and it seems to me that there is never any moment where, when there's crossover, they pause to question whether that's appropriate, ever. You never see them ever say to themselves, ‘well, hang on a second, do we really want this? OK, it's OK this time.' Now, obviously again, we're talking about a situation that pretty much on its face is not that big a deal. But have you ever seen that impulse, that trigger mechanism where pro-wrestling fans among themselves ever ask if there's a healthy infuse and the answer is, "no," because if you view both things as virtuous and if you view both things together as unproblematic, you're not in a position to question whether or not this is appropriate for audiences unlike yourself.
And I can tell you, I can tell you, you have to ask yourself, partly it's MMA's violence that mainstream sponsors haven't come along but I can tell you sports fans are not stupid. They're not stupid. They recognize and they like pro-wrestling, too. It's not about liking pro-wrestling. It's about the context in which they enjoy it and I don't think they like it in the context in which they enjoy sports. And this whole part about moving to FOX, this whole part about growing the UFC to the next level, you can't do that on the backs of pro-wrestling fans. They've got them already, they're not going anywhere. Now, you can spike them here and there for like a Brock Lesnar event or, you know, for Chael Sonnen and CM Punk, you can spike them. But you pretty much got the ones you're pretty much going to get.
The next level, and frankly the more lucrative level both in terms of sponsors and in terms of the right kinds of demos, are sports fans. Now, will the CM Punk thing help attract them? Maybe there's an argument to be made that it could. I tend to think it won't affect it either way. But if you're never asking yourself and not just any kind of influence here, not just pro-wrestling influence, any kind of influence, is this the appropriate kind of influence that we want? I think those are important questions, especially for a sport that even if peaking is in some phase of transition.
Now, I will say again, it's not that big a deal in and of itself. But, you know, one thing to know is that the UFC insulated themselves. In the main event and co-main event, you have four guys: Rashad Evans, Phil Davis, Chael Sonnen, Mark Munoz, who all wrestled Division I college. You have three of them who are All-Americans and two who are national champions. What do you think I want to talk about when I do radio interviews at sports stations? You think I'm going to mention CM Punk?
And more to the point, do you think that guys at 710 ESPN Portland, Oregon care about CM Punk walking to the ring with Chael Sonnen? They don't. They want to know what they're watching is respectable enough to cover. That is the reality. Is this enterprise, despite the fact, ask yourself, with record audiences, with records on pay-per-view, maybe even with a year of decline, some sense of record TV ratings, why is there still so much hesitation? Is it just violence? I don't think it's just violence. I think it's a huge component of it. I think they wonder, is this activity, Mixed Martial Arts, is this what we're viewing, is this worthy enough as an activity despite its financial successes to be covered legitimately?
And even if you disagree with, mainstream media's hesitation to get on board, it sure would be nice if The New York Times had an MMA blog. It sure would be nice if it wasn't just The LA Times on the West Coast giving big coverage. It sure would be nice to get a bunch of big audiences we don't really get right now. That's kind of my point. Every time you see a pro-wrestling influence directly on MMA and you never ask yourself, ‘well, hold on, are we going too far or not?' In this case we're not, I don't think, but if you're not even having those kinds of questions then you're not in a proper position to weigh whether or not audiences are being affected in the right way. I can take a girl to a Redskins game. Can I take a girl to an MMA match if she thinks this is basically pro-wrestling? Really?
Kid Nate: It depends on the girl.
Luke Thomas: I don't mean getting laid, look at the ads the NFL rolls out with now women in jerseys greeting each other at the door with these different kinds of handshakes. They're making a concerted effort to reach across to get families, women, to get older people, younger people. They want all the demos, they want to be it to be a full affair. If UFC ever wants to share anything like that and realistically they probably never will but even if they want to approach that, is making this ‘real pro-wrestling' the way to do it? I would humbly submit to you that it's not.
Kid Nate: I think nothing would kill the UFC faster than for evidence to emerge that a match had been worked, the fix was put in in a match. I think in 10 or 15 years the UFC could survive something like that. But right now, I think that would be a death shot and I basing that just on talking to guys like my brothers who are in their 50s, sports fans, big boxing fans I know who I'm friends with who are 10-15 years older than me and these guys, they're somewhat entertained by MMA but they keep asking me, "Is this fixed? Is this fixed?" and that's because every time they've seen men grapple in a ring, it's been fixed their entire lives.
There's not that context of boxing and obviously boxing is a deeply shady sport and there are fixes and thrown fights in boxing. Any time you've got two men and a referee in a ring or two women and a referee and a ring, it's not that hard to fix a game. It's not like fixing an NFL game where you have to have 10 or 15 players involved. You just need one guy really. One guy can throw a fight all by himself without the referee or the other fighter even knowing so that would potentially be devastating. Honestly, I think the sports fans are not even gonna know who CM Punk is. I doubt the FOX commentators are gonna talk about it and one point I want to make about wrestling fans, I think they're kinda more sophisticated than other fans.
Luke Thomas: Really? Have you been to a show?
Kid Nate: There's this perception of the eight year olds but a lot of people like pro wrestling because they know it's fake and they enjoy the layers of truth and manipulation and watching the con.
Luke Thomas: I would challenge you to go to a WWE event and see if that theory still holds.
Kid Nate: It's a benighted demo that I feel a great of pity and sympathy for. How about that? At the same time, there's a lot of people in there that are like me. If I go to, I was in Barcelona a couple years ago and I spent most of my time in the town square watching the Three Card Monte acts and the gypsies that were ripping people off because I find the con art fascinating. I've been in PR for 15 years. The cons and carnies are professional colleagues. I think there are people that enjoy the duplicity and the levels of meaning and truth in pro wrestling and they're a little more sophisticated. They know when the fix is in. They know when it's not. They know what to look for et cetera. The larger picture is that's a really small minority of wrestling fans and an even smaller minority of MMA fans.