It should stand for Mixed Monopoly Arts
In my piece on “Django Unchained” a couple of weeks ago, I wrote a little bit about the disconnect that can exist between the outlets and objects of one’s personal enjoyment, as opposed to how those outlets translate to other facets of the real world. Deriving pleasure from something in a vacuum is one thing — maniacally, gleefully gunning down the Covenant in the “Halo” series, for example — but part of what supposedly makes us human is the way our cognitive capacity allows us to differentiate between not just real and make-believe, but between the context of a microcosm and the context of society at large.
Let me talk for a bit about a specific example. Repeat readers — again, I question your judgment — know that I’m a huge fan of combat sports, even though I throw punches the way a dystrophic hobo swats at pterodactyls, if that dystrophic hobo was also seven years old. There’s a UFC event on tonight; I’m trying to knock out most of this thing in the next five hours so I can watch it, and that’s probably influencing the subject matter a bit, not to mention the grammatical errors.
Now, my appreciation for sweaty, unbridled hematoma-making — specifically that sponsored and perpetrated by the Ultimate Fighting Championship — runs counter to my personal politics. I lean, not so vehemently or rhapsodically as to be an ideologue, a bit socialist, and the UFC is one of the worst violators of that principle on the market today.
The danger inherent in monopolies, I think, is one that economists of all stripes can get behind. Competition keeps the market healthy for both consumers and for businesses themselves. Different entities hawking similar yet distinguishable products force each other to constantly step up their respective games; it’s how technology, business, society and civilization itself all evolve. And there are parallel benefits for businesses and owners. Healthy competition and, admittedly, at least a niggling sense of business ethics, help keep the playing field relatively even, and prevent a monopoly, essentially — let’s call it what it is — a gradual, hostile takeover of the market.
Problem is, most successful businessmen didn’t get that way by being ethical. When the UFC became firmly entrenched in the mainstream consciousness around late 2006 — in the thick of the Chuck Liddell/Matt Hughes/Rich Franklin heyday — they quickly made moves to acquire every asset under the MMA umbrella that they possibly could. Prior to this point, a Japan-based organization called PRIDE Fighting Championship had been the UFC’s primary competitor. Indeed, they had actually pre-empted the UFC, and for a long time was the entity that all hardcore mixed martial arts fans agreed boasted the superior fighters (prime-era Fedor Emelianenko, Mirko Filopovic and Wanderlei Silva among others).
Due, however, to brilliantly aggressive marketing, sponsoring partnerships and, let’s face it, smart business decisions — i.e., signing fighters to exclusive contracts, something that should be a no-brainer for any organization if they don’t want to devolve into the hapless miasma of alphabet titles and nepotism that plagues modern boxing — the UFC began to gradually overtake PRIDE in popularity, and began poaching top talent like Dan Henderson, Silva, Filopovic, Antonio Nogueira and others. Eventually, in the wake of a scandal that tied PRIDE executives to the Yakuza and cost the organization its television deal, the promotion was all but dead in the water.
It was bought by the UFC in March 2007, its assets dissolved and top fighters absorbed. The name was all but killed, though you can still buy their T-shirts in the ufc.com store, if you’re that niche-y of a hipster.
A few months before that, the World Fighting Alliance (WFA), a California-based promotion was bought up by the UFC. You can see where this is going.
In 2010, World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) was merged with the UFC. In all fairness, the two had been owned by the same parent company (Zuffa) for some time, the WEC essentially functioning as a showcase for the lighter weight classes, and feeder organization otherwise.
Now the only other game left in town — aside from various regional promotions like Shark Fights and Jungle Fight — is Bellator, an organization whose format revolves around entertaining but inconvenient tournaments, and whose biggest names are a part-time professional wrestler and a guy whose fights are basically a more economical version of Valium.
In a way, this is good for fans. We get to see most of the world’s best fighters under one banner and, with very few exceptions, they fight who they’re told to fight. None of this bargaining and bickering over who gets what cut, PPV percentages, etc. And it’s not bad for fighters in some respects. Even making his UFC debut, a relatively unknown fighter is guaranteed between $10,000 and $20,000 to show, double to win. They also have corporate health insurance, a sure boon for anyone who gets punched in the head for a living.
At the same time, monopolies are not empirically positive. Fighters, as long as they keep winning and/or are exciting in their losses, are guaranteed a job. That security, however, comes rife with a lack of certain economic and social liberties. The UFC has a deal with a rival sponsor to your walk-out gear? You’re not wearing it. Want to turn down a short-notice fight, or one you know you’re not ready for? Fine, but get ready to be thrown under the bus by Dana White, president and de facto public face of the UFC.
I know — you’re asking yourself, and me, what the point of all this is. Fine.
We are complicated animals. Americans, especially. We’re still a heavily — we proclaim — Christian nation, but we murder more of our own than any other developed country. I went to school with a very talented, fundamentalist poet. The intricacies of our society are fractal-like, a morass that grows more entangled the more we try to unwind it.
I’ll reiterate: part of what makes us human is our capacity for complexity of self. We can, supposedly, derive personal pleasure from a certain act or element, while also being compassionate regarding the consequences such an act might have on others.
Human beings do not, should not, simply eradicate that variable, that complication, that inconvenience. Rather, we should weigh the boons of our own sacrifice against the harm that a lack of that sacrifice would cause. We are in the midst of such a moment now. You Might Also Like: