G-S-P. G-S-P. G-S-P.
About 250 young men chant Georges St. Pierre’s initials in this dingy North York bar. They are drunk on testosterone (although remarkably little else. Many bodies here are temples). Their pretty girlfriends look on, mostly bored.
Sitting in the corner by myself I fight of the urge to join them. We’ve all just watched Georges St. Pierre -- Canada’s George St. Pierre – kick the living crap out of his opponent BJ Penn. Vicariously the rush is real. When you get right down to it we’re a simple bunch, us men. Fighting and fornicating are pretty much what sustains us. There has been plenty of the former tonight. I’m not going to speculate on the latter.
Is it possible to be a casual Mixed Martial Arts fan? That’s the question I sought to answer as I ventured out three hours ago with my laptop in hand. The destination was any place with the UFC card on, Wi-Fi in the room and a carefree attitude about weird guys sitting by themselves writing on their computer. Surprisingly it didn’t take me long to find this nameless dive.
So I sat for two hours abstractly watching the undercard. All the time I tried to understand what it was that so passionately attracts people to this sport. Violence, I get (see paragraph two). But, if you look carefully enough you’ll see that MMA isn’t really all that violent. In its current state it more closely resembles an amateur wrestling match than it does the old school tough man competitions that so many associate with the sport.
The fighters dance and throw punches, but the true violence – the can’t look away it’s too compelling and I sort of feel dirty for thinking that way violence – is rare. I try to watch. I try to stay interested, but soon I find myself reading soccer boards and IM-ing with a drunk friend in Pittsburgh who’s telling me of his plan to be buzzed by noon for tomorrow’s Big Game (tm).
I’m finding the crowd more interesting than the fights. Other than myself, is there anyone older than 22 here? Although I’m sure there are female MMA fans, why don’t any of these guys date them (‘cause the ample amount of impossibly attractive women here are paying less attention to the fights than I am. Their boyfriends are paying even less attention to them). Why does everyone have a shaved head and Asian lettering tattoos?
The mind boggles.
The big fight is here. The crowd’s loyalties are clear (it’s all about the tribe). The volume cranks up. Everyone – me, the girlfriends, the bar’s staff – are transfixed by the spectacle.
St. Pierre is a slightly more ripped twin of 90 per cent of the men in the room. They all dream of being him. His every move in the ring is revered – often loudly.
Finally it’s on. And...
Well, it’s more of the same. Dancing. Feeling out. Nothing much to grab hold of as a casual (although the hardcore find it all fascinating). I sit in my corner wondering what flippant one-liners I can come up with to describe the action. My friend in Pittsburgh tells me about his soccer injury. I feel that I’ve wasted my night.
But, then the second round starts. Suddenly St. Pierre is more aggressive. More assertive. More manly. He’s got Penn on the ground. He’s controlling him. Punch. Elbow. Knee. The roar of the crowd blends with the noise from the TV. Our man is kicking ass, ‘nuff said.
The next 15 minutes are more of the same. Liberal guilt tells us that we should be pacifists. As we watch the Canadian dominate our gut tells us that passivity is against our nature. This is not a time for a rational discussion of anything, least of all why what’s happening is compelling. It just feels.
The fourth round ends with a series of blows delivered by St. Pierre. Penn looks defeated. The crowd screams out for more, harder punches. At the bell they rise up as one. The chants have begun. When Penn’s corner says no more you can briefly feel the disappointment. They wanted more blood. If I’m honest with myself, so did I.
G-S-P. G-S-P. G-S-P.
I don’t join in but I want to. Maybe the next time I will.