Here’s Your Number 4

Let me let you in on a little secret about America’s #4 sport. No, it’s definitely not hockey, or that vampire sport that sucks the lifeblood out of American sports (soccer), poker, pool, bowling, or even NASCAR.

It’s gotta be UFC, or Ultimate Fighting Championship, whose time has come. This ultimate X sport is jammed with unbelievable action, athleticism, personalities, and yes, sometimes brutal physical violence. Think modern gladiator. Or even boxing back when the personalities and competitions were intriguing.

This 17 year old sport is far from being your Daddy’s tough man contest from back in the day, and has come along way from it’s beginnings as a competition for bragging rights as to which martial arts discipline reigned supreme. It seems to be poised to get some respect, even as some States deem it too intense to sanction events to be held within their borders.

I happened across it many years ago after the very first competition when I was trolling my cable channels and found it on a spanish speaking station. Did this deter me? Heck no, I dialed the volume down and tried to figure out what was going on. It was a bizarre collection of super heroes at the top of their training disciplines. Stuff like muay thai boxing, boxing, jiu jitsu, kick boxing, wrestling, and a host of other Star Wars character sounding names I’d never heard of.

I quickly figured out that there were three ways a bout was decided (In order of coolness): 1) By judges’ decision after the bout is complete (yawn). 2) By knockout. (always a treat) and 3) By submission, or tapout (awesome). The third happens when an opponent has you in a hold that is so extreme that you start tapping the canvas or your opponent, because you’re going to have something break on your body, or you’d really like to be able to breath. This tapout motion closely resembles your dog’s leg when you find that sweet spot on his belly.

So my first experience was ok, with a skinny little dude whipping much bigger opponents by wriggling around and grabbing body parts until the bigger dudes tapped out to keep these same parts attached to their bodies. Come to find out, this guy named Royce Gracie and his family are legends from South America and have a jiu jitsu style named after them.

The first bouts were elimination tournaments where you fought until you lost. Ok, that is exactly like your Daddy’s tough man competitions.

I saw parts of a few of these contests throughout the years, giggling at those that paid for them by pay-per-view, while I watched them free (with no sound). For this reason alone, I told myself that I’d hit a Spanish class, but of course never did.

Then early this year, late at night, I happened across this reality series called The Ultimate Fighter which I watched and got hooked on. Similar to The Contender, but much more action packed. They stuck a whole slew of fighters in two weight classes into a house in Vegas and were offering a six figure UFC contracts to the winners in each weight class, middleweight, and light heavyweight. The catch was that these guys could not watch tv, read magazines, listen to music, or have any other “normal” distractions. All they could do is train, and get on each other’s nerves. They would have competitions where the winner got to decide who would fight from each team, with the loser being eliminated. It was at this point that I was able to get my wife watching the drama of the reality tv portion before she’d tapout by not watching the fighting part.

Very long story not very short, after many twists and turns and high drama plots, the final two competitors competed on UFC’s first live broadcast on cable tv on Spike Tv. The light heavyweight bout was a literal knockdown dragout that kicked the interest level up a notch (Yeah, I know, that’s food channel jargon).

The UFC of today consists of what is known as Mixed Martial Arts. No longer does a black belt in judo allow you to roll into the octagon (UFC’s version of the ring) ready to fight. Now you need to be trained in various styles and disciplines to be able to effectively compete. You have to know how to grapple, throw, kick box, box and anything else that might allow you to leave alive, victorious, hopefully with all your faculties intact.

Shortly after that, the coaches of the two teams competed for their title on pay per view that I finally paid for. The new season of the Ultimate Fighter starts this Sunday on Spike. Watch this thing and you’ll get hooked. If you don’t, you’ve already tapped out. But trust me, if you do, start setting aside pay per view bucks……..you’re gonna need them.

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