This week it was announced that rapper DMX and admitted killer of black teenagers George Zimmerman would have a boxing match. The bout has since been called off, but it brings to light something that the sport of boxing faces nearly every day – an issue that will likely soon plague MMA as well. That issue? The bastardization of the sport for the sake of money. You see, every now and then boxing promoters will orchestrate “celebrity boxing” matches, not so much (or even slightly) in the spirit of competition as in the spirit of cashing in on someone’s dwindling fame. It’s an ugly practice that will always have some level of appeal. And its encroachment upon the world of MMA is inevitable.
Over a decade ago, the FOX network had a show dedicated to this brand of degradation of the “Sweet Science”, and on it viewers were able to see the likes of Todd Bridges (of the television series “Diff’rent Strokes”) taking on rapper Vanilla Ice and ice skater Tonya Harding take on President Bill Clinton’s mistress Paula Jones (back when he was governor of Arkansas). Matches like these were – and are – a far cry from the pugilistic contests the Manny Pacquiaos and Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s of the world engage in. They’re spectacle for spectacle’s sake, and akin to going to the Russian circus and watching an old man wrestle a bear. Do they harm the integrity of the sport? Not really, but they don’t do it any favors, either.
And when those types of bout seep into the realm of MMA, they’ll be even more deplorable. Because as we learned with UFC 1, two unskilled people engaging in an MMA bout is a thousand times more pathetic than two unskilled people engaging in a boxing match, and for the last 20 years, we’ve tried desperately to evolve past that ugliness.
It’s hard to say when a true celebrity MMA match will happen. The closest we’ve come is Kimbo Slice, and when it came to possessing actual fighting skill, he was much closer to an actual athlete than, say, a governor’s side piece. But it will happen eventually, when the lure of money and fan interest intersects at some point beyond the threshold of integrity that’s thus far kept such bouts from going down.
If and when that day comes, then we’re just going to have to grin and bear it.