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Product of the Spectacle

The barn stank of manure and diesel, men stirred in their waiting, the few women present clung to their man. I was nineteen, I had sparred, been in scraps and ‘challenged’ martial artists to matches inspired by the Gracies, except I didn’t have the money to call it a “challenge”. Alone I walked towards bushy beards, bellies, tank tops and every second hand filled with a can. The feral energy had it’s own aroma, unwashed men covered by Brut and beer. The voyeurs and would doers watched on from the outside. Dirt was the arena, barrels, a single wood post, hay bails, a woman most likely named Cheryl and her camcorder. Chalk names, all made up, an esky full of grog… donations required. Tonight it was fight night. Though spelt, fite! No gloves, No judges, No rules. Except there were rules, Bogan Prize Rules, like those that Jim Figg or Jack Broughton fought under, except Aussie, before social media clipped men back to boys.

The first fight was reckless, two octopuses swinging, then crack! Like a clean hit of the snooker ball. A shirtless man fell face down into the dirt, a grey beard in a singlet rolled him into a recovery position, one hand still holding his can of bourbon and cola, he took a swig and bought the man back to life. The victor looked relieved, helping the loser to his feet they shared a swig from a beer can walking through a parting crowd. Claps, and words of respect mingled with burbs and farts.

Twenty-five years later I see a young fighter, dragged back stage surrounded by her peers still warming up for their turn. Crying, concussed, in shock, she is dumped on the floor as spit and spew rush from her mouth. Her anguish a spectacle, the state mandated doctor watches on as he goes through the motions of a virgin attempting to place a condom on a flacid penis. The unqualified experienced go to her aid, eventually removing her shin guards, boxing gloves, soon she is evacuated from the area. Her journey from the cage to the warm up area took her through a crowd of drunk voyeurs, screaming, squealing, either absent of instinct to move aside or with little care. She made it eventually.

Back in the barn, we walked over dirt, past pens, the crowd watching, drinking, vocal but too timid to let loose. The fighters may have been local tough guys or blokes horny for violence, but they had earned the mobs respect. Fortunately that night my fight was quick, two jabs and a right hand fell my foe. When I could see he was struggling, I went to his aid. Two of his mates joined in. He bought me a can of Coke, I was paid fifty bucks when that meant something and drove home with P plates on to watch Caddyshack on VHS. The cowboy days apparently, the wild west of the sport, before the rent seekers moved in and legitimised it. When it was “banned” but filling RSL’s and stadiums in the thousands.

Barbarians! The media called us, No Holds Barred fighters or whatever the term was before the clunky moniker Mixed Martial Arts was stapled onto the sport to satisfy imperial US legislators. They used the word Bloodsport as a slur, unaware that most of us fighters had been in part inspired by that film. Apparently the “Fastest growing sport” still, It’s been fast and growing since 1993 but whatever. Plenty of money in it, seldom for the fighters. No longer do the fighters have to spend a few minutes explaining the sport only to hear the reply, “so like WWF (WWE now)”.

When it was full of barbarians, their were characters, now we have avatars. Uncertain performers worried about the right moment a song reaches a spot for them to walk out, what the thread count will be on the logo for their “fight name,” A name, handle, whatever was something the crowd, promoters or media called you. Now kids have fight names ten years before they even fight. They enter the arena, imitating the superstars, or using a variation, the performance art as much for them, their mates and the cuckolds in the crowd who also imagine how they would enter if they ever fought. If. When they win, yippe, wow, like winning the lotto. The celebration of unchecked emotions as though they are the most surprised by the outcome.

It’s all about reactions now, an age of autism where social cues and emotional connection needs to be expressed for those who look at screens instead of into eyes. Commentators have cameras, so they can look like Chuck Lidell in his most cocaine raddled moment after each and every, each and every, each and every stoppage. It’s exciting because the men on the screen tell us so. We know how to react because we are shown by middle aged men reeling like memes. The subtle, nuanced and dignity itself lost to the ages.

Humility, humbleness, self control, honour, they are words. Whether they mean anything matters little but they are words, like “I am humbled to receive this award,” humbled is if you work and receive no award for it, that’s humbling. But the words are known to mean something to some, right? To be, that is hard. The jeering antics, performance art, reckless cheering after, only to suddenly pretend or maybe care to check on the opponent. Becomes token, symbolic. The fighter will always have more in common with each other than anyone else there that night.

The brands that make up ‘MMA’ are big business, popular, fighters, products. Commodities, short term assets that diminish over time. Each fighter needs a thing, to appeal. Social media and influencer life can elevate one fast. So long as you play that game well. The little boys and the males they call dad, will swipe, like and pump the devices with delight each time anti-social behaviour is on display, the hype like a nectar that keeps them stuck, Aldous Huxley could never have imagined the appeal of digital feed, feeding, gorging minds with the same and nothing, but it’s good for the sport right? Well that’s what the fans want to see, clearly.

The products want to get paid, so they can enjoy themselves before the CTE takes away the stories of ‘back when’ that new fans don’t care to hear. Those who believe performances and fighting alone will see them thrive, picked the wrong sport or better have been born in another time. In the past often it was tongue in cheek or a spectacle mask to be worn that did not burn into the soul of the man, now everything may as well be an avatar. The personality trait is getting paid, the hype is all that matters. The fans you see, they love it. Either hate to love, or love to hate but either way they pay the brands that book the products who end up fighting or, as is the case these days run a bar, promote a show so that kids can brawl in cage unpaid in front of a mob of drunks because the fastest growing sport no longer has dirt floors.

In the moment before I walked out, stood across from that man with his teary eyes full of rage, “Those of us who are about to die, we salute you!” I whispered from within my mind followed by, “I hope I don’t kill this man,” then we fought. Once it was done, we embraced. Back then we watched movies , read books, thought about philosophy and pondered the martial way, naive and romantic. Deluded? Two people fighting, that is the spectacle. And two fighters, would fight anywhere, I’d reason that real fight fans would show up to watch too. There is no moral, there is no winding up, just introspection, that was a thing people once did before they were told a diagnosis is more important than accountability.

May, 2024

Published inCombat Sports and FightingMiscellaneousPhilosophy, Society and Liberty