Not since the progeny of singer David Bowie was christened Zowie --
swear to God -- has popular culture suffered a name as patently
offensive to good taste as YAMMA Pit Fighting, the latest in the
me-too march of MMA offerings.
Too harsh by half? Perhaps, but with two months to go before YAMMA
makes its official debut at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City,
N.J., there's precious little else about the promotion to comment
Pit Fighting founder Bob Meyrowitz -- there's one for the résumé --
has been evasive in questions pertaining to the YAMMA fighting
surface, alleged to revolutionize how we view the combat sports. No
participants have been officially announced, though it's known that
Meyrowitz plans on dusting off combatants from the UFC's heyday for
a series of "Master" class super fights. The event will also use a
single-night tournament to crown champions, a dubious honor awarded
more for luck than skill.
Couple this with the rumored reunion tour of New Kids on the Block,
and you'll forgive anyone who mistakes 2008 for 1994.
I don't mean to indict Meyrowitz without a fair hearing: YAMMA
could indeed be a spectacle worthy of admission, and I'm as big a
sucker for MMA nostalgia as the next guy. But the rational part of
my frontal lobe has to express concern that Meyrowitz -- who
participated in both the UFC's staggering early success and its
later, dismal failure -- is in danger of pandering to a market that
no longer exists.
Consider the tournament format. Once a staple of pay-per-view, the
conceit is virtually extinct, a Darwinian victim of combat
evolution. While having an athlete compete three times in an
evening expedites the emotional investment for fans, the downtime
between bouts often acts as a black hole for second thoughts and
injuries. If a fighter breaks his hand in the first minute of a
three-round bout, he's likely to fight through it. Given the
opportunity to consult with a physician and his corner for an hour,
though, he's likely to decline advancing to a second round
Presuming the fighter makes it through a truncated tournament
(Meyrowitz plans on single-round quarterfinal and semifinal bouts,
with nine minutes allotted in the finals) … so what? The prestige
of being a violent marathoner is going to remain in the shadows of
what the public perceives as the true mark of martial arts
perfection: being a UFC titleholder.
It's rumored that two of those former champions, Oleg Taktarov and Don Frye (Pictures), will meet during one of the
Masters bouts on April 11. Having worn out several previously
viewed VHS copies of their career primes, I'll watch -- I'll even
be appreciative of Meyrowitz recognizing that fights should be
between contemporaries. (Tito
Ortiz (Pictures)-Ken Shamrock (Pictures) III depressed me more than a
recent reduction in my Zoloft dosage.)
Unfortunately, I'm one of a micro-percentage of observers who even
remember Taktarov and Frye. Today's MMA fan has synapses that fire
up only when exposed to the UFC brand and its stable of basic-cable
draws. The IFL attempted to peddle the creaky musculature of
Maurice Smith (Pictures), Marco Ruas (Pictures) and other mid-‘90s talent. No one
really cared. "Tank" Abbott will be tackling Kimbo Slice on
Saturday. Notice that it's not on pay-per-view.
Meyrowitz still has an interest in the stories of these formative
athletes. To some extent, so do I. But our demographic is painfully
threadbare in an era where Michael Bisping (Pictures) and Rashad Evans (Pictures) can headline a card and pull in
several hundred thousand buys.
Finally, there's the arena itself, a slice of canvas shrouded in
mystery. Will it sport piles of broken glass and inebriated buddies
hurling bricks at opponents? Athletes on bungee cords? Or will it
resemble nothing more than an oversized mat with sloped walls? (My
money's on the latter, though I'd probably pay double for the
I don't begrudge Meyrowitz his ambitions, and anything that
eliminates the perpetual eyesore that is the Octagon has my instant
gratitude. But if recent history has taught us anything, it's that
any kind of martial arts attraction not emblazoned with "UFC"
across its banner is doomed to bankruptcy.
My advice for Meyrowitz, Gary Shaw and anyone else looking to chip
away at Zuffa's market share: Instead of losing millions over the
course of three or four ulcerous years, take a big pile of cash and
throw it at two high-profile athletes or cultural stars. Use their
recognition to offset consumer apathy over your debuting promotion.
Have Mike Tyson fight Kimbo Slice or Tank in a bare-knuckle street
match; have Jean-Claude Van Damme fight Wesley Snipes; have Danny
Bonaduce fight a tranquilized grizzly. Be as shameless as you can
-- people paid millions to watch Tyson and the early UFCs for the
sheer spectacle of it. While you're at it, throw a few million more
at a cable network to run barker ads.
Whatever you decide, YAMMA folks, don't try and promote a
legitimate sports contest. It didn't work for the XFL, it didn't
work for the IFL and it didn't work for the ABA; their bigger
brothers have insurmountable leverage. Challenging them has become
as foolish a notion as believing your kung fu is finally going to
Oh, and Zowie waited until he was 12 to change his name. I wouldn't
take that long.
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