Dana White grapples with controversy: “Two guys hustling it on the ground is boring”
When UFC president Dana White was in Toronto a couple of months ago, he was asked if his partnership with Flash Entertainment, the company that organizes the ADCC submission wrestling world championships, would help the UFC educate the fan base about the ground game used in MMA. White’s answer ended with a direct and crisp comment: “Two people hustling it on the ground is boring!”
Yet UFC 116, which can be considered a success, delivered a festival of submissions. Is it time to put Brazilian jiu-jitsu, grappling and its delicacies at the forefront of sports coverage?
When I first heard that Sheik Tahnoon Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a Gracie black belt and founder of the ADCC, had purchased 10 percent of the UFC, I started dreaming that we would start seeing ADCC grappling on TV. It was a perfect concept – casual fans of MMA have this real need for stand-up battles (which is completely fine by me), but as soon as a fight goes to the ground, we hear boos in some arenas, and we read that GSP is a boring fighter on forums.
The UFC should educate the fans about the science of the ground, and the minority purchase of Flash Entertainment was a perfect opportunity to show the American public what grappling is about.
Well, White killed it all in his answer to the crowd during the fans Q&A session at the Eaton Center in Toronto. Grappling is boring; White wants action, K-1-style action.
Fast forward to UFC 116. The card was one of the most important of the year, with the biggest, hugest (insert other superlatives) heavyweight fight in the “history of the world.” We had some heavy duty stand-and-bang material featuring Brock Lesnar, Shane Carwin, state boxing champ Chris Lytle and slugger Chris Leben.
But, as is often the case in MMA, the night did not go as planned. We were treated to a variety of beautiful submissions from simple to the advanced, from armbars to arm triangles to kimuras. The punches of Lytle hurt his opponent, Matt Brown, but it was a remarkable submission that put an end to the fight. While the stand-up war between Yoshihiro Akiyama and Leben was hard fought, the duel ended by tap out. Brock Lesnar, Mr. Big Scary Ground-n-Pound, exhibited fine Brazilian jiu-jitsu to finish Carwin, another knock-out machine. Obviously, exciting stand-up fighters also seem to see the value of the ground game and appreciate its quality when the moment is right.
Some people (Jonathan Snowden from Bloody Elbow, for example) thought the fight between Carwin and Lesnar was not technical. Well guess what – it was beautiful, it was magnificent, it was worth paying for, it was far from boring and that is a big part of what MMA is about. Not only grapplers but all fans should be able to appreciate the grappling aspect of MMA and showing fans what real grappling is about seems to be the best way to catch up with the years of Rocky and Jean-Claude Van Damme movies, the Mohammad Ali legends.
The boxing/kick-boxing culture has heroes (fake or not) that helped fuel the imagination of people and made the stand-up aspect of fighting prevalent in most action movies, hence everybody loves stand-up action. But grappling should have its legends (and we have some material with the Gracies). It should be more recognized, better marketed and more appreciated. It is time for the soft art to hit big media outlets. And the UFC would greatly benefit from playing a central role in this education process. Just to mention a few, here are a couple of initiatives that could be taken by the Zuffa company to help propel the grappling game toward a bigger fan base:
- First, whenever the company organizes an expo it also organizes a grappling tournament between its fighters. Why not show the tournament on the UFC website?
- They could have a segment during UFC events where the winner of the last event’s Submission of the Night explains and demonstrates the move that he used to win.
The grappling game is what differentiates MMA from K-1. The UFC should help us appreciate it more.