Then and now: The effects of oversaturation on MMA fandom

Nick Diaz 2Amidst the fading chatter of McGregor-mania and Jon Jones’ recreational habits, another topic is slowly creeping onto the Twitter-sphere. At the end of the week, a pair of the finest fighters ever churned out by this young sport will go head-to-head on the biggest stage of them all. Anderson Silva and Nick Diaz – both enduring, polarising and brilliant, both making highly anticipated returns from long sabbaticals. So why are we barely talking about it? There was a time, around six years ago – maybe more, maybe less – when Dana White stood beaming at a gaggle of reporters. As they fired scattergun questions his way, the UFC President visibly struggled to contain his glee. Business was booming and all he could think, and talk, about was expansion. More events, more markets, more shows. When he let slip that there was no reason the future couldn’t play host to dates with dual UFC events, our collective jaws dropped. Two events in one day? Awesome. More MMA! Was ten hours of fights in a day too much? Nah! Would they charge twice to watch two shows on PPV? Probably not… at least one would be on free TV, surely? That was largely the extent of the critical thinking that went on at the time. For the most part we were happy to lean back, close our eyes and drift off to a future where there was no such thing as waiting for a fight fix. Instant, continuous gratification; that’s what we wanted. And that’s what we got. Rewind Rewind: It’s 2002 and I’m 18 years old, living just outside Den Haag, The Netherlands. I consumed every bit of MMA I could get my hands on, which in those days was not a lot. It could still take up to 20 minutes or more to download a single song, barely legible copies of individual UFC fights could take hours or even days and there was no such thing as Youtube. My local video store carried plenty of European MMA; Dutch Free Fight and ‘no holds barred’ tournaments from Russia and the Ukraine. UFC tapes were few and far between, and were usually imports that cost a fortune. The guy who ran my rental store was a huge fan, and occasionally got hold of bootleg UFC and Pride events months after broadcast that he’d rent out ‘under the counter’. Being an MMA fan at this time was like being part of a secret club. New shows were truly a gift. A couple of years later and the net was a bit faster. More importantly, people had seen a gap in the market and begun selling homemade DVDs of MMA events on eBay. You could buy them long before broadcast and they’d be on your doorstep less than a week after airing, usually in a snazzy case too. Eventually the sellers built up private mailing lists in order to circumvent eBay charges. There was nothing on earth like tearing open those brown jiffy bags and pulling out a copy of Pride’s 2004 Heavyweight Grand Prix Finals, or the UFC’s first Ortiz/Liddell fight. These weren’t just events, they were moments. For those of you lucky enough to live in North America for the boom period, obtaining MMA (legally or otherwise) wasn’t an issue. Even Pride events were available on a short delay at a knock-down price. Still, that ease of access didn’t lessen how special UFC cards used to feel. Much of that anticipation was fan generated, rather than artificial hype or flashy promotional materials. A lot of it came from the forums. Ah, the forums… remember when they used to be cool? Rammed full of true MMA enthusiasts, fighters and classic threads. Drunk Tank Abbott. Bas Rutten answering technique questions. UFC 2 veteran Remco Pardoel and the notorious Enson Inoue chronicling their legendary street fights. Contests would be scrutinised, debated and dissected for months; every angle covered, every point argued. When the bout actually happened, the payoff was incredible even if the fight wasn’t. The two or three months of build-up was often as enjoyable as the event it preceded. Fast forward Fast forward: Its 2015 and two fighters counted amongst the sports’ best and most entertaining are to clash in just under a weeks’ time. The buzz is largely non-existent. It’s not that Nick Diaz and Anderson Silva aren’t needle-movers; quite the opposite in fact. Silva was never quite the box office draw in the US that the likes of Brock Lesnar, Georges St. Pierre and Chuck Liddell were, but he was for some time considered (and sold) as the greatest fighter on the planet. Silva was – and arguably still is – a true superstar of MMA. Diaz too is an interest magnet. Some hate his petulance and over-estimated sense of importance. Others love his renegade attitude and his willingness to push back against his paymasters. Diaz is – for a top-level athlete – MMA’s ultimate maverick. So where is the chatter? Where is the buzz? Where is the anticipation? Maybe it’s there in our heads, but why isn’t it translated to the written and spoken word? Where are the great articles fans used to digest for inspiration? There’s an easy and cheap one-word answer: Oversaturation. That’s the line pushed by the anti-UFC set and those who would find something to complain about if Dana White hand-delivered them each a $100 bill. But what does it mean? When did the abundance of fights that we begged for become the reason we seemingly no longer care? Quality or time? Many will say it’s a quality problem. They’re wrong. It’s simply an issue of time. Perhaps UFC cards of 2004 were more ‘stacked’ than those of 2014. But remember; a lot of those recognisable names on the undercards had not yet earned their notoriety. Besides, if you weren’t in the arena you often didn’t get to see them until the home video release. ‘Stacked’ is a relative term though; if you’re interested in a fight, you’re interested in a fight, regardless of what others think. In 2015, we’re not given the time to foster that interest. The relative lack of interest in Silva vs Diaz isn’t a slight on the fight or the fighters; its fan fatigue. You can’t cite a dilution of quality here; all of January’s four main events are top notch. Silva vs Diaz – a marquee super fight the likes of which we used to salivate over – has the bad luck of being the fourth time in as many weeks that we’ve been asked to get excited for a blockbuster main event. A billion dollar check is great, but if you got one every weekend you’d eventually run out of ways to enjoy it. MMA media content was and is a large catalyst for discussion and debate amongst fans. Ten – even five – years ago, December and January would have been loaded with well thought out deconstructions of Diaz vs Silva; in 2015 we just don’t have the hours, or the energy. It’s frustrating as a writer, but I feel the greater damage has been done to the fan in me. As much as I love Fight Pass, as much as I love being able to enjoy live MMA almost every weekend of the year, there’s a part of me that longs for the days of ripping bootleg DVDs out of brown envelopes. Not because of a decline in quality… I just miss having the time to get excited.

Written by Brad Wharton

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