Spectacle vs. Sport: Reconciling the two


There’s a fine line between spectacle and sport, especially in the world of MMA. But ultimately, does being a spectacle benefit the sport?

The goal of a spectacle is simply to wow and entertain, and momentarily answer the question: “What would happen if…”

MMA, by nature, seems to be built on spectacle: What would happen if a karate guy fought a judo guy? What would happen if you made muscle-bound Ken Shamrock fight a skinny Jiu Jitsu fighter in a gi? Though the goal in these early days of MMA were to see which martial art was most effective, the spectacle was the selling point.

Today, however, MMA has evolved from mere spectacle into a legitimate sport. This is in thanks to rules, regulations, weight divisions, and trained fighters who go through drug tests and weeks of preparation. All these factors aim to give fighters/ athletes an even playing field in finding who the best fighter in each division is. The goal is not merely to wow in the moment; the goal is to find champions, the best in the world.

We’ve come a long way in proving that MMA is a legit sport and not just a spectacle. But sometimes, the latter can’t be avoided. Take tonight, for example.

We are just hours away from an exhibition match between Filipino actors Baron Geisler and Kiko Matos at URCC Fight Night, a card that also features professional fighters who’ve dedicated their lives to the sport. The proposed goal of the bout: To have the actors settle their bar room spat and month-long war of words without hurting innocent by-standers.

This fight has garnered plenty of attention from fans and media. The card even moved to a bigger venue upon the addition of this match to the card. Mainstream media has even failed to give the pro fighters on this card much attention, as the celebrity grudge match has stolen much of the lime light.

Cheap shots, taunts, verbal abuse, and even a spray bottle filled with urine have been used to escalate this heated rivalry (and raise the interest of the fans and media). This is clearly a spectacle, one that most are buying into, and the URCC is treating it that way. After all, the promotion has categorized the bout as an “exhibition” match, which is a word synonymous to spectacle.

The question now is: Does this spectacle hurt our sport?

Both yes and no. When it comes to people who will hear about MMA for the first time with Geisler and Matos’ names and antics in the mix, then this is a terrible first impression for our sport. It also doesn’t do justice to the promotion and its athletes, both of whom aim to find the best fighters in the country. Plus, it takes attention away from the pro fighters on the card (but that’s mainstream media’s fault). As a spectacle, this bout seems to temporarily throw us back into the dark days of MMA. But then again, there’s a silver lining.

The same factors that are applied to MMA as a sport are being applied to this match. It will consist of two 3-minute rounds under pro-am rules, with a 1-minute break between rounds. Geisler and Matos have also gone through (short) training camps and have met their weight requirements to ensure an even playing field.

Another plus is that there are more eyes on our sport (incidentally, for both good and bad reasons), and if this gives our pro athletes more exposure, then Geisler vs. Matos will serve a positive purpose.

However, what will decide whether this spectacle is good for our sport or not is how Geisler and Matos will act during and after the fight. If they put on a good display of martial arts techniques and if they make peace after the bout, then the sport wins over the spectacle.

If both men congratulated each other after the bout, raise each other’s arms, and end their feud, then it would show MMA’s capacity to end feuds and teach people how to respect one another. The sport would benefit greatly from that, especially with so many eyes on it tonight.

But if this fight ends with both men continuing their anger and antics, then it would’ve all been for nothing. It would be purely for spectacle and not for the sport, and MMA would’ve missed a massive opportunity to grow in the public eye.

Mr. Geisler and Mr. Matos: The ball’s in your court; do it right.

Photo by Philstar

Gab Pangalangan

Gab Pangalangan is a former collegiate national Judo champ and the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of DojoDrifter.com. You can find his other works in the Philippines' leading magazines and websites.
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