Walking the Line
With Pro Wrestling’s biggest weekend been and gone, I’ve been reminded of the pageantry possible of squared circle shows. Spectacle, true spectacle, is what wrestling moments are made of. It’s interesting to note though, that such elements haven’t been fully incorporated into combat sports events. I say fully, because there are elements that have, of course, been lifted for professional sports purposes: a ceremonial walking of the fighters to the ring/cage, entrance music, and often times gimmicky elements that tell you something more about the fighter’s personality.
Now, whilst I don’t think wrestling can really stake a claim to inventing the walk to the ring, there’s a case to be made that an entrance is something that belongs to the world of Pro Wrestling. Whether it is Shawn Michaels zip lining to the ring at Wrestlemania XII or Rusev in a tank at the most recent, a grand entrance is part of the package of a big show in Wrestling.
This is not entirely the case for MMA though, in particular the UFC. The UFC has yet to truly dive into the deep end of entrances. Right now, MMA has what they like to refer to as the walk out.
A walk out typically has the fighter make their way to the cage, wearing the t-shirt of one of their sponsors – probably a cap too, and brand logos covering their gear as well – to a song that may or may not reflect their personality or background. There’s really not too much to the walk out, though that doesn’t mean there haven’t been memorable ones in the sport’s short history.
July 19th, 2014. It’s only the second time the UFC has visited the emerald isle – the last being in 2009 – and ticket demand has been high. It’s main event time and out walks Diego Brandao. He’s the first Brazilian to win The Ultimate Fighter – a tournament held in the format of a reality television series – and he’s taking on the hometown boy. He is not a fan favourite. Even at the weigh ins, the day before, he brandished his country’s flag as though it were a weapon against his opponent’s tricolour and the audience reacted exactly how you’d expect a primarily Irish crowd to react to such displays. He’s set the stage nicely.
The lights dim and Irish eyes are smiling as The Foggy Dew begins to play. A cheer goes up as the green, white, and gold is shown on the screens hanging from the ceiling. A roar goes up as the hometown fighter, Conor McGregor, appears on those same screens, armed with a cheeky grin, as he walks his way to the cage. The pipes of the Chieftains fade into Hypnotise by The Notorious B.I.G. and “The Notorious” Conor McGregor steps onto home soil.
If there’s one thing they’ve really began to make their own, it’s remixing songs for their fighters, creating that big fight feel for when they need it.
January 3rd, 2015. In the home of prize-fighting, Las Vegas Nevada, met two men. One is an Olympian with an undefeated MMA record of 15-0. The other is the Light-Heavyweight Champion of the World, who boasts a record of 20-1 – his only loss a disqualification – the longest reigning champion in his division’s history, with the most defences, and topping the pound-for-pound best fighters list. Daniel Cormier, the challenger. Jon “Bones” Jones, the champion. A very real rivalry that had been building for quite some time, which not only saw them exchanging very heated words on more than one occasion, but even included a brawl between the two at a media day.
The challenger dashes to the ring, seemingly tired of waiting. He’ll have to wait a little longer though. The music hits. It switches from one song to another, almost as if the champ is struggling to define himself. Then the drums. Dum-da-da-da-da-dum. The champ is here! Da-dum-da-da-da-da-dum. The champ is here! The Champ is Here by Jadakiss. Jones has made his statement. He makes his way to cageside.
Perhaps it’s in these smaller moments – and by smaller I mean comparatively, as they lack the fireworks and props of a wrestling affair – that MMA has found itself its own identity. They’re still finding their footing as they walk the line between entertainment and sports. As large as the personalities can get, they never become caricatures. As interesting as the stories become, they’re still small and somewhat personal.
In its earlier years, MMA certainly moved with more of an entertainment crowd. It’s those Pride days that we’ll be examining next time.