The role of combat sports in determining The Best Fighter Ever, Ever, Ever does not, as some would have you believe, come at the exclusion of revenue. Fighters do not exist in a vacuum. They do not fight, Bronson-style, in alleys and dilapidated shipping docks. They fight because an audience is paying to see them fight. Those funds subsidize a prize. This is why it is called prizefighting and not charity fighting or honor fighting.
(Fighting for honor is great: just don’t tell your HMO you broke your foot on a guy’s head because “he was looking at my woman.”)
Some athletes still insist on having an existential crisis. Take Jim Miller, UFC lightweight, who recently disposed of Duane Ludwig. Miller told Fanhouse’s Ariel Helwani that he is of no particular mind to “entertain” a crowd. “If we hit the mat and the people are booing, it’s the fans who don’t quite understand the sport yet,” he said.
Ack. Rule number one of audience relations: never, ever blame them for anything. That “customer is always right” crap is pacifier-sucking consumer coddling at its worst, but people believe it. It’s always better to humor them.
Besides, Miller assumes that audiences are getting vocal because they don’t “get” what’s happening. Fans have gotten a considerable education in the details of grappling in recent years: hours and hours of weekly footage on Spike has made that possible. It’s not uncommon to hear wizened crowds cheering subtle escapes and submission attempts. With spectators more patient than ever (at least in some markets), if you hear boos, you are either standing perfectly still or taking between two and four rounds to remember your job description.
Any lull or boredom in fighting comes down to one thing: broken engagement. Fighting involves personal risk. If that’s not a concession you can make, then you’re essentially expecting to make a career out of extended self-defense demonstrations. Not that lucrative.