Nov. 2, 2018

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Why I Wrote It

After each story, you'll receive a note from the writer. This is from Josh Tucker, about "Unwatchable."

Mixed martial arts has produced some monumentally bad fights. A whole lot of them. Especially before the turn of the century when the sport was still fumbling with its identity and most fighters were transplants from other disciplines, fiascos were common. While I’m more selective about what I watch these days, I’ve sat through an unreasonable number. This one has haunted me, though.

I’ve been thinking about Renzo Gracie vs. Sanae Kikuta since I worked my way through the (then much smaller) UFC and Pride back-catalogues in the mid-2000s. Even among reviled flops like UFC 11—where a very tired Scott Ferrozzo pinned an even more tired Tank Abbott to the cage to continuous boos, and there was no one willing or able to face Mark Coleman in the tournament final—it stands alone. It’s a singular test of what the sport would tolerate, what everyone involved would tolerate, like a kid playing pick-up basketball who decides to call a foul on every shot.


It got me thinking about the meaning of sports and its limits, and the equilibrium sports have been forced to hold between competition, business, and entertainment. About hack-a-Shaq and twenty20 cricket, Garrincha and the process of balancing eSports to keep the metagame from calcifying into repetition of a single overpowered strategy. About how pedestrianism—days-long competitive walking marathons—was once a hugely popular activity, and how, despite the fact that this whole series from David Roth was firmly tongue-in-cheek, maybe a llama prancing to DMX or two emus being extremely silly could be sports. It also got me thinking about about Andy Warhol’s Sleep and Matthew Barney’s The Cremaster Cycle, and how things can be valid or meaningful without necessarily being accessible or fun.


I think sports are probably better and more interesting for that lack of clarity. I firmly believe that Gracie vs. Kikuta was sports, and that, beyond just their own bottom line, there’s value in the ideal that the Gracies were pursuing. I’m also very happy that I will never have to watch it again.


Josh Tucker

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