Show or sport?

Is Japanese MMA more about show than sport?  The case is made: After Heath Herring's debut lose to Jake O'Brien on an Ultimate Fight…

By: Luke Thomas | 16 years ago
Show or sport?
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Is Japanese MMA more about show than sport?  The case is made:

After Heath Herring’s debut lose to Jake O’Brien on an Ultimate Fight Night, I was astounded by his post-fight interview where he said he wasn’t accustomed to the style of fighting in the UFC, as if to imply that fighters in Japan don’t strategize and simply stand in front of one another, throwing bombs till someone drops. For anyone who’s seen the much-publicized Pride fight between Don Frye and Yoshihiro Takayama, who repeatedly and simultaneously bludgeoned each in the face, this shouldn’t be a surprise. In Japan, MMA is more akin to pro-wrestling (which seeks to thrill) than sport (which seeks to compete). Putting on a “show” is clearly prioritized over legitimacy and competition. Hence the continued presence of freakish sumo-sized combatants and fighters with embarrassingly poor losing records in all the top promotions in Japan.

There’s some truth to this, but the argument is a little overblown here.

In fairness, PRIDE does have a tendency to put on freak match-ups.  Giant Silva had more PRIDE opportunities than most of your better American welterweights and if they could, Butterbean would be on every fightcard they put out.  For whatever reason, the Japanese seem to find real entertainment in freakshows and mismatches.

But while I acknowledge this shortcoming on the part of Japanese matchmaking, these questionable match-ups are more of a distraction to the rest of the respective fight cards.  Moreover, PRIDE has given us some of the best fights (i.e. the best match-ups) in MMA history.  In the past ten years, I’d venture to say the best heavyweight fights mostly took place in PRIDE, not America.  PRIDE has also held sensational tournaments where dream match-ups took place in every single event.  More importantly, PRIDE’s live shows almost always seemed to confer a real importance about the contests.  I’ve seen PRIDE shows where the presentation is similar to that of Wimbledon.  And when was the last time you heard the national anthems of UFC fighters in a championship bout played before the fight?

The fact is that while PRIDE is guilty of putting on Godzilla vs. Mothra freak fights, they also can take credit for some of the best MMA fights in history as well as treating MMA as the elite sport the rest of us believe it to be.

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Luke Thomas
Luke Thomas

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