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 on.
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 contest.
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 former.)
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 ace jiu-jitsu.
Oh, and Zowie waited until he was 12 to change his name. I wouldn't take that long.
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