Correction: An earlier version of this column incorrectly said that in conventional boxing, championship bouts are usually scheduled for 15 rounds. Since the 1980s, they have been 12 rounds. This version has been corrected.
A new sport punched and kicked its way onto network television Saturday night. That is, if you call ultimate fighting a sport.
What’s ultimate fighting? If you’re a football fan, you probably saw the ads for the championship fight that the Fox network carried.
Ultimate fighting, or mixed martial arts, is like boxing or wrestling, but the fighters are in an eight-sided ring, called the octagon. They wear lightweight gloves that don’t cover their fingertips. And they do not wear shoes. That’s because, unlike in boxing or wrestling, the fighters are allowed to kick and knee their opponents. A fighter can even punch someone when he is on the ground. In ultimate fighting, almost anything goes.
There are some rules. Fighters cannot hit an opponent with their head or grab his throat. Or kick him when he’s on the ground. The fights last three or five rounds, and each round is no longer than five minutes. By comparison, championship boxing matches are usually 12 three-minute rounds.
The folks who promote ultimate fighting say it is safer than boxing or football. According to newspaper reports, Dana White, president of Ultimate Fighting Championships, or UFC, once claimed that ultimate fighting was safer than cheerleading.
Excuse me, but ultimate fighting is not safer than cheerleading. I’ve watched some ultimate fighting. It’s a brutal sport. In fact, I don’t think ultimate fighting is a sport at all. It’s violence presented as entertainment.
I know sports can be dangerous. The injury list in pro football gets longer every week. Baseballs are hard and can hurt when they hit you. Hockey and lacrosse, with their slashing sticks, look almost scary.
The speed and danger of these sports is part of the fun. But in those games, you are trying to win, not to hurt your opponent. Injuries happen, but they are usually accidents. In ultimate fighting, the match often ends when a fighter is knocked out or is in danger of serious injury. In other words, in ultimate fighting you want to hurt your opponent.
Please don’t tell me ultimate fighting is like boxing. I don’t like boxing, either. That’s another game where the whole purpose is to hurt another person.
By showing fights on Fox, UFC is trying to turn ultimate fighting into a regular sport and to make kicking someone in the face as normal as shooting a free throw. Close to 6 million people watched the Saturday night fight. Fox plans to show more ultimate fighting in the next few months.
Ultimate fighting is trying to get kids to be fans, too. There are ultimate fighting toy action figures.
Recently, there has been talk of people in sports “doing the right thing.” Why don’t we all do the right thing the next time ultimate fighting shows up on TV?
Change the channel.
Fred Bowen is the author of 17 sports books for kids. They include books on baseball, basketball, football and soccer.