Jewish World Review March 17, 2006/ 17 Adar,
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
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
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
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