Nate Wilcox and I spent the afternoon having a discussion about whether there is too much pro wrestling influence in mixed martial arts (MMA). The presumption of the question is not whether some measure of influence is good (or really even avoidable), but rather at the level at which it currently exists offers a healthy balance. I would submit to you it does not. Nate has a slightly different take.
In the course of our discussion, we cover five major talking points:
1. Current feelings about pro wrestling influence in MMA and where the influence comes from. Nate and I share our general feelings on the activity, but also go into the history of pro wrestling as the historical antecedent of modern mixed martial arts.
2. CM Punk and Chael Sonnen. It's been widely reported professional wrestler 'CM Punk' will walk out with UFC middleweight contender Chael Sonnen to the cage before Sonnen's fight with Mark Munoz at UFC on Fox 2. Is this too far beyond the tipping point?
3. Pro Wrestling Influence on Boxing vs. on MMA. What is the difference between pro wrestling influence in boxing versus that of MMA? What about other sports?
4. Amateur wrestling and MMA as reluctant bedfellows. Despite an equally strong if not greater overlap between the amateur wrestling and MMA worlds, there is an imbalance in the reciprocal relationship between the sports. Is this unhealthy and what can or should be done to change it.
5. Satoshi Ishii and final thoughts. Nate makes the case that the pro wrestling model of building 'contenders' acted out in real life destroyed what should've been one of MMA's top heavyweight prospects of the last few years.
We are free to draw our own conclusions and no matter my protests, i'm sure the crossover from pro wrestling into mixed martial arts will inevitably continue. I'd like to just say, though, that what ultimately disturbs me about pro wrestling is that, at its core, it's unserious. Being unserious isn't a bad thing. Lots of wonderful things are unserious. And by serious, I don't mean stultifying academic debates among misanthropes. Sport, while entertainment, is still bound by unencumbered competition. It's a serious, real effort. Athletes succeed when they take serious approaches to their respective games; games, mind you, that are human struggles of might, luck and ability. They are only 'performance art' in the most minimal sense of the word. The enjoyment of sports is a spectator's delight, but when you began to supplant the nature and objective of sport with the unserious world of theatre or forced acrobatics, you erode sport for being itself.
A little influence? Sure, who does it hurt? It might annoy me, but I'll live. But blur the lines such that the nature of what we enjoy is as much theatre as it is competition, now you've got a problem. Pro wrestling fans are already here. The sport won't get any bigger waiting on more of them to come over. It's sports fans the UFC craves. Sports fans don't mind a little pro wrestling influence either, but they generally make clear distinctions between the two. At the margins (touchdown dances, etc.) they may not care. But ultimately they'll ask themselves: are we witnessing a sport in MMA that's worthy of being viewed with the same level of sophistication, athleticism and seriousness we are accustomed to with football or basketball? For them, the jury is still out. And infusing more pro wrestling in MMA will not help.