From scripted storytelling to raw beat downs
In 2011 the Ultimate Fighting Championship signed a landmark seven-year deal with the FOX network, which will net the company around $90 million US per year in rights fees. But this contract also signals that mixed martial arts is big business and a changing of the guard is taking place, transitioning viewership from professional wrestling to mixed martial arts.
There was a time when WWE wrestlers were larger than life. When Hulk Hogan told kids to eat their vitamins and say their prayers, kids would more than willingly comply.
Somewhere along the line, the popularity of wrestling fell off and superstars like Hulk Hogan fell from grace.
This is where mixed martial arts (MMA) and operations like the UFC have taken up the mantle. Providing fans with a real sport, with real fighting, instead of choreography.
Nick Wheelan, 32, is a Muay Thai instructor at the Mike Miles Muay Thai and Kickboxing club and has been involved with the sport for over 13 years. Wheelan has seen Muay Thai dramatically increase in popularity due to the mainstream interest in MMA and the UFC.
“Fans of MMA hear about Muay Thai and understand that it plays a major role in many aspects of the sport, awareness for aspects such as Muay Thai has definitely been increased thanks to the massive following of MMA,” said Wheelan.
Wheelan also believes that fans see that the differences between MMA and professional wrestling are night and day.
“I think that fans like the fact that MMA fighters train extremely hard for their fights and that MMA is raw, unscripted and unpredictable,” said Wheelan. “The fans know that WWE is entertainment where athletes double as actors, whereas the sport of MMA cannot be faked.”
Brandon Flaig, 20, has always watched wrestling and said it is the illusion created during wrestling matches that kept his interest. Flaig has turned this life-long interest into a potential career and has recently been training with former WWE superstar Lance Storm at his Storm Wrestling Academy located in Calgary.
Flaig has seen MMA’s meteoric rise in popularity but believes wrestling can stand the test of time.
“People who watch wrestling, watch it for the theatrical aspect and the dramatic storylines, which is something that isn’t present in the UFC,” said Flaig. “You can’t really predict that the UFC will die or fade out but I think people will eventually move on to the next big thing.”
Though Flaig admitted the current state of professional wrestling is in shambles due to a lack of creativity and lazy writing, he said people need to respect the sport itself.
“People fail to appreciate the true art of wrestling, and how hard these guys work to put on a great show for the fans.”
First-year journalism student Ian Andrew Panganiban, 23, is new to MMA, training and competing for only four months, but believes the unscripted nature of MMA has led to its massive swell of popularity.
“I was a fan of wrestling before when I was younger, but I kind of deviated away from that now because it’s rehearsed,” said Panganiban. “When you watch UFC as compared to WWE, you notice the real aggression, the guys really get into it.”
Panganiban credited the work-out regiments and constant learning associated with MMA for keeping him coming back to the gym and putting his body through the grueling training. Something that has provided him with a sense of confidence.
“My motivation is that I don’t want to be that guy who gets his ass kicked, I want to be standing. I want to kick your ass.”