Jewish World Review March 17, 2006/ 17 Adar, 5766

Greg Crosby

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Knock yourself out | Professional prize fighting, otherwise known as boxing appears to be declining in popularity. As time goes on, it appeals less and less to the younger sports fans. Famous boxing promoter, Don King, blames an aging demographic, the loss of recognizable names in the heavyweight classes and a disappearance from network television for the downward trend in the sport’s popularity. King was quoted in The Wall Street Journal as saying, “Since network television left boxing, people can’t identify with the fighters.”

It’s true that prize fighting doesn’t have the big superstar names that it once had. There is no one in boxing today with the name value and draw of an Evander Holyfield, George Foreman, or Mike Tyson. As a kid, I remember my Dad watching the fights on television every week. These weren’t championship bouts, just local fighters working their way up. It didn’t matter who they were, it was the sport itself that kept viewers like my father tuning in week after week. It was a big deal. If Dad liked the guy in the white trunks, I rooted for the guy in the black and it became a kind of father and son evening. I can still see my Dad boxing along with his fighter while sitting in his chair.

For those who have often thought that the sport of boxing was far too brutal, this decline in its popularity will no doubt be good news. But wait. Here’s the bad news. Another sport appears to be taking its place – a far more brutal sport. It’s called “Ultimate Fighting” and it makes boxing look like patty-cake.

Ultimate Fighting matches are far more violent and faster paced than boxing. Furthermore, the new sport is gaining a loyal following among the younger set, including some celebrities. Basically, Ultimate Fighting is a combination of karate, jiu-jitsu, judo, wrestling, boxing and plain old street fighting. The goal is to overwhelm the opponent by doing whatever it takes. There are a few no-no’s like eye-gorging, biting, and head-butting. But that’s about it. The match ends in one of three ways; either in a knockout, a surrender, or in a scoring system presided over by a panel of judges.

The thing evidently started as total free-for-all brawls staged in bars and Indian casinos several years ago. Once regulators got wind of them and threatened to force them into strict government restrictions, the sport’s promoters decided to scale back some of the more vicious aspects and adopt formal rules. Chokeholds, elbow punches, arm twisting, and martial art kicks to all parts of the body are still allowed. But now there are weight classes, and scoring in much the same way as traditional boxing. They also have a doctor present at ringside.

These Ultimate Fights are not held within a traditional boxing ring; they are staged inside something called “the Octagon,” which is an eight-sided, fenced-in cage. I used the term, “staged” but I must hasten to add that these matches are anything but staged. They are real competitions, real contact with real punches and real kicks and real choking. No phony wrestling stuff here. There is an official association called the Ultimate Fighting Championship and it is this body that is promoting the sport in venues across the country. To date the UFC events are fully sanctioned in 20 states, including, of course, Nevada.

Ticket prices can go from $50 to $750 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas to see a championship bout. Several of the big hotels in Vegas have held matches which have taken in millions at the gate. Casino gamblers can wager on these fights as well. There is even a weekly reality show on one of the cable networks which feature contestants trying out for the UFC circuit.

All this makes my memories of watching the Friday Night Fights with my Dad seem so innocent, tame and quant. Two guys standing toe to toe dancing, bobbing and weaving around a ring, wearing boxing gloves the size of pillows, and throwing carefully executed punches within strict rules and guidelines. Boxing done correctly isn’t about hammering; it is more like a physical art. Ultimate Fighting is all about beating the other guy into the ground. No finesse, no subtlety, no dancing. Just aggression and anger. No wonder the younger generation is so into it, it’s like a real-life video game.

So what’s next, “Ultimate Fighting with the Stars?” Stay tuned.

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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. A freelance writer in Southern California, you may contact him by clicking here.

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