Video essay from a blog I wrote in 2013: nine ways professional MMA fights are fixed (give of which are common in the UFC).
Fixing a fight is a very different thing from fighters cheating. Fixed fights usually happen at the administrative level of fight promotions in order to maximize profits by bolstering the careers of popular athletes .
Everyone knows that sports entertainment pro wrestling promotions like WWE have scripted matches, choreographed sequences, and predetermined outcomes. What most people don’t know is how much of that sports entertainment business model exists in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, One FC, Bellator, and other MMA promotions today.
Ramsey Dewey is an MMA coach and fight commentator, and occasional musician based in Shanghai, China.
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When I started competing in Mixed Martial Arts, some friends said to me, “It’s all fake like the old WWF, right?” I remember being offended when I heard this. I gave them a heavy handed speech about how MMA was a truly authentic, unscripted combat sport, and I believed every word I said. However, after a decade in the game, I’ve started to see things from a different perspective. What the fighters do inside the cage is often only a small part of determining whether or not they will get a fair shot, a title shot, or be swept under the rug and forgotten completely.
You could argue that realism is the great thing about MMA ,as opposed to scripted fighting you see in works like professional wrestling. However, some would argue that spectators need scripting.
In his book “Beyond the Lion’s Den”, former UFC champ and pro wrestler, Frank Shamrock wrote at length about “training” an audience to recognize and ultimately accept the techniques and the drama of pro wrestling, in much the same way that television writers use TV tropes to “train” viewers to readily accept common plot conventions. (eg: a single punch to the face always knocks out an unsuspecting bad guy in the movies, whereas in reality the totally still conscious “bad guys” would most likely just get angry and fight back)
But MMA is totally different, right? It’s not fake. The fights aren’t choreographed. The outcome isn’t predetermined. Whether or not the fans understand what’s going on doesn’t effect the outcome of the bouts. Or does it?
Historically, combat sports have gone in cycles of real fights (shooting) to scripted fights (works) and back again a number of times in the last century alone.
Look at wrestling, for example. From the 19th to the early 20th century, British and American professional wrestling was Catch-as-Catch-Can, not freestyle, not Greco Roman. Catch wrestling was a no holds barred submission fighting sport. It was all real, brutal, and visceral. But it was a fringe sport. It wasn’t always exciting to watch. It didn’t draw huge crowds of spectators. After the great depression, things started to change, Catch wrestling became more of a carnival sideshow oddity next to the strong man and the bearded lady. With the advent of television and the over-the-top showmanship of wrestlers such as “Gorgeous” George Wagner, pro-wrestling started to draw a mainstream audience and quickly went the way of sports entertainment (scripted & choreographed) instead of actual sport. Promoters and sponsors felt that viewers cared more about the spectacle than the sport itself.
Gorgeous George using a calf slicer to pin an opponent in dramatic fashion in the early 1940’s
They may have been right. It’s often said that without a story behind the fight, to the casual viewer, it’s just two monkeys in the ring.
Since scripted pro wrestling still exists with a strong following, don’t expect the UFC to become the next WWE any time soon. However, wherever the money is, that’s where the organization will ultimately follow. Here’s how the money trail has rendered the state of MMA today. While it’s a far cry from masked men in tights doing acrobatics off the turnbuckles and pretending to smack each other with folding chairs, there are at least 9 practices in pro MMA (at least 5 in the UFC) that are borderline “fixes”
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