Wednesday, July 15, 2009

MMA: A nerd sport?

BoingBoing recently posted about the result of UFC 100, specifically the outcome of the Mir/Lesnar fight. I was surprised by the post and shocked by the vociferous comments decrying the presence of that type of content on such an esteemed blog. I had to ask myself a question: Why is MMA not a nerd sport? Why is there a perception that it is the recreation of former football jocks who like malt liquor and firearms (without, of course, any awareness of the history or performance characteristics of their ordnance)?

Personally, I think MMA is a very nerd-oriented activity. My thoughts:

1. MMA is the first 21st century sport. I know, I know. Purists will talk about the early UFCs, Vale Tudo, and PRIDE. But the Unified Rules were introduced in 2000. It was these rules that essentially turned MMA from a side show into a sport with sanctioning bodies protecting the best interests of the athletes. But it's also 21st century sport in a number of other ways.

2. MMA is Internet friendly. Indeed, I think one could track the rise of YouTube with the rise of the UFC. The very structure of an MMA match -- three five minute rounds but likely to finish within 10 minutes -- make the sport incredibly amenable to video sharing on the Web. It's hard to get an entire football game on the web but MMA matches are generally a cinch.

3. MMA requires minimal time investment (to watch at least). Following football, hockey, or soccer takes some serious commitment. There are a lot of games and each game is long. MMA is generally centered around relatively few events and, as noted, individual matches are relatively short. I would love to follow hockey but I really don't have the time anymore. A lunch hour and YouTube can get me caught up on MMA.

4. MMA is stats heavy. At the end of the day, MMA is about betting. And betting involves lines and spreads. You need to know the stats and the percentages to be fully informed of what's going on. The sport is about far more than just watching guys bashing each other. This same argument, of course, could be made to most other sports but they lack other features such as temporal efficiency and YouTube friendliness. And there is still opportunity for people who can figure out the stats. I don't think anybody has really figured out how to handicap MMA athletes.

5. MMA has an incredibly esoteric vocabulary. Conversations about bouts often seem to be straight out of a William Gibson novel or Joss Whedon's Firefly. Start with some basic boxing terminology from Victorian England and throw in some wrestling vocabulary (freestyle and Roman-Greco). Then we start to get really interesting by mixing a fair does of Japanese and Brazilian Portugese, occassionally even Japanese as filtered through Brazil. Just this arcane vocabulary should appeal to a Tolkein fan.

6. MMA is constantly in transition. What wins today probably won't next year. The fights from the old days -- 10 years ago -- seem quaint because there has been such a huge change in technique. And the sport is still changing within what has become a stable set of rules. It's almost like there is a Moore's law of technique in effect. Every 18 months brings a doubling of skill and technique.

7. MMA is post-broadcast. The tired world of broadcast television has been notoriously bad at supporting MMA. CBS has tried with lackluster results. MMA is new media: Internet, PPV, and bit torrent. Surely that makes it worth consideration by nerds.

What's not for a nerd to like?

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