MMA Is Not Pro Wrestling and Shouldn’t Be, or Did UFC 117 Show That Every Fighter Needs Kayfabe in His Arsenal?

My main man Luke Thomas has been tweeting about his desire to keep a clear distinction between MMA and Pro Wrestling: "I'm going to start swinging…

By: Nate Wilcox | 13 years ago
MMA Is Not Pro Wrestling and Shouldn’t Be, or Did UFC 117 Show That Every Fighter Needs Kayfabe in His Arsenal?
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

My main man Luke Thomas has been tweeting about his desire to keep a clear distinction between MMA and Pro Wrestling:

“I’m going to start swinging a machete if we keep pretending MMA is professional wrestling.”

“The other issue that folks need to consider is the longer you pretend there is a cozy relationship btw MMA & pro wrestling, the longer you put off integration into the larger sporting audience. They will not accept it on those terms. And who can blame them?”

Beau Dure piles on:

UFC fight build-up is sometimes nasty. Lesnar and Frank Mir had some pointed exchanges, and Lesnar went way over the top in celebrating his win. But it’s generally a different vibe. Even Sonnen and Silva embraced after the fight, with Silva going out of his way to praise a fighter who had spent several months ridiculing him.

As a journalist who has come to love this sport, I’m with Luke. I can deal with pre-fight confidence-building boasts, but not with pro wrestling-style histrionics. I’d bet I’m not the only one.

Yesterday, I made a 180 degree turn from my previous awe and wonder at Sonnen’s fight-hyping performance because I was worried that his deliberately damaged credibility made casuals more likely to think that UFC fights were fixed. 

Now, after seeing the preliminary reports of the amazing business that UFC 117 did, I just have to say: whoops, Kid Nate was wrong again. Sorry, Luke and Beau. You guys are a very good measure of the thinking of sports broadcasting professionals and journalists, but in the end, commenters and journalists will follow the crowds and the crowds are buying up the pro wrestling influenced UFC.

Brent Brookhouse pointed out to me that many of us MMA fans who consider ourselves a little smarter than the average bear are offended on some level by the notion that we too are being played like a bunch of WWE marks. But here’s the brutal truth: human beings fall for this brand of trickery no matter what our background, intelligence or education. Pro wrestling techniques are just propaganda and they’re the software inputs that you can enter into large groups of human beings to get desired outcomes like: pay attention to me; buy this product; or invade this country. Just be glad Chael Sonnen is selling PPVs and not making the laws of our land.

My dear personal friend, BE commenter mmalogic pointed out my errors and made some big claims for Sonnen’s influence on the MMA game:

Chael Sonnen just proved kayfabe is as important as BJJ, wrestling and striking. (maybe not as necessary to make it… but just as important)

Kayfabe plus credible performances equals gold.

Do you realize all the outrageous shit Muhammed Ali used to say and do (chael is a kitten by comparison)? Get your heads out of your asses.

Kayfabe in MMA today is what BJJ used to be in the 90’s… Few understand what they are seeing and less than a handful of those that do can actually execute it (chael being one of a few who can).

The future full time fighter will have his BJJ training, Wrestling. striking AND the art of kayfabe.

Yep… it’s is a martial art now. You just need to be a credible fighter to make use of it.

As was pointed out in the comments, logic is misusing the term kayfabe which is actually the art of pretending that worked matches were real, to reference fight promotion, but I’m fine with it. Pro wrestling gave up kayfabe in the 1990’s when it became “sports entertainment” we might as well steal the term and reapply it in a new way for MMA.

More in the full entry including commentary from Jonathan Snowden, Bryan Alvarez and the man formerly known as Black Lesnar:


A few weeks ago, Jonathan Snowden made one of those posts that totally infuriated everyone at the time. Well he’s been proven completely right:

Sonnen is manipulating fans and the media-that much is certain. But he’s not doing it to be the heel (pro wrestling jargon for ‘bad guy’). Chael Sonnen wants to be the knight in shining armor, rescuing the sport from the man he sees as a “gangster,” part of a tribe of “savages” that speak a language “half a step up from Pig Latin.” Sonnen actually believes his xenophobic banter will make him the hero, not the heel. Sadly, he may be right.

Well Snowden wasn’t exactly right. It took a brilliant in-cage performance from Sonnen to win over the fans.

Bryan Alvarez (subscription only) desribes the crowd reaction to Sonnen and Silva:

The fans hated both guys going in, Sonnen more than Silva. Silva was hated but he also got a star reaction, whereas Sonnen’s reaction was seemingly half hardcore fans hating him for his shtick, and half casual fans who maybe didn’t really know who he was. Within a minute, when he started taking it to Anderson and shocking the world, he became a massive babyface. During the course of the fight Sonnen hit Silva 289 times according to Compustrike, which was, seriously, more shots than Silva has taken in all 11 of his previous UFC fights put together.

And Alvarez talks about the quick tap controversy

He tapped once and the referee stopped it, but from my angle I hadn’t seen the tap and immediately thought, “Oh fuck, a pro-wrestling finish to a match with a pro-wrestling build — not good.” Fans went nuts, and one guy even threw a pen into the Octagon at the referee. It was looking to be a really bad situation. Joe Silva was in the middle of rushing to a production guy to tell him to get a replay on the screen ASAP but the production guy was on top of his game and had it on the screen before Silva even got to him. Once the fans saw the tap the situation was quelled. Sonnen looked like he was going to claim he didn’t tap, which is a Team Quest trademark, but in the end he didn’t argue the decision too much. Afterwards he said his heart was broken and that Anderson was the better man, but when specifically asked about it he said “no comment.” I have a feeling that in a week his new schtick is going to be that he never tapped, he was winning the fight and he got fucked by a crooked ref.

And Alvarez reports on the direct connections between Sonnen and pro wrestlers:

Sonnen, a huge pro-wrestling fan and a total worker who once tried out at the Power Plant

, in the week before the fight called Roddy Piper for ideas on promos to cut on Silva. Piper had no good ideas. He also told people that he’d watched old Ric Flair interviews and stolen the gimmick where you say something completely outlandish, it’s recorded on tape for everyone to hear, and then when you get called on it you deny ever having said such a thing. His promos got more absurd with each passing day, but the fact is that any buy over probably 550,000 can be completely attributed to those absurd promos. The WWE wrestlers and even people in the office became huge fans of his and were texting him all weekend wishing him luck against Silva.

Black Lesnar broke down the exact way that Sonnen used those techniques to “put over” Anderson Silva:

Anderson Silva is a babyface; however he doesn’t draw the numbers a dominant champion like he should. There are many theories as to why that happens; some blame language, some blame race. My theory is that Anderson isn’t as strong a face needed to get fans to by his shows. One of the tenets of a good babyface, in fact the biggest one, is pathos; getting the paying crowd to emotionally connect with you as a fighter. Fans of pro wrestling remember seeing King Kong Bundy break Hulk Hogan’s ribs before Wrestlemania 2. Most logical fans knew that Hogan would win because it was the biggest PPV of the year and the babyface always goes over, however Hogan was able to give glimmers of doubt as to if he would actually win in his moments of weakness. That draws fans into purchasing PPVs.

This might be the end of my Chael Sonnen series for now, so here’s the full thing in all its glory, I’m talking to the Nobel Prize committee about it, cross your fingers:


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About the author
Nate Wilcox
Nate Wilcox

Nate Wilcox is the founding editor of As such he has hired every editor and writer to work for the site. Wilcox’s writing for BE is known for its emphasis on MMA history, the evolution of fighting techniques and strong opinions. Wilcox developed the SBN MMA consensus rankings which were featured in USA Today from 2009 to 2011. Before founding BE, Wilcox was a political operative working for such figures as Senators John Kerry and Mark Warner and an early political blogger. He is the co-author of Netroots Rising, a history of the political blogosphere from 2003 to 2007. Wilcox also hosts the Let It Roll podcast on music history for the Pantheon Podcast Network.

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