Ronda Rousey: The Movie

“Women have soap operas; men have wrestling.”

–  Ringside wrestling fan quoted in the documentary, ‘Beyond the Mat.’

MMA is a ‘new’ sport to Melbournians. The cage is now legal in the state of Victoria and UFC 193, to be held at Etihad Stadium on November fifteen, is around the corner.

The inception of a new popular – popular, not mainstream – sport is a very rare thing, perhaps not something ever before seen in my lifetime. You can mention other sports, like kickboxing, but it never really broke through. Kickboxing never drew the crowds, turned the dollars or, most importantly, provoked the discussions.

My last fight-related blog post was about locking horns with a newspaper journalist on the validity of the UFC. Essentially, that argument was the process of coming to grips with the question, ‘What does it mean?’

He said it has something to do with AFL packs, centipedes and porn, while I think that he’s missed the point entirely.

Wrestling has long employed what are referred to as ‘storylines’. Certain wrestlers are endowed with a story so that their matches bring a kind of good-versus-evil, dark-versus-light narrative into the ring with them. This has proved overwhelmingly popular with audiences.

Boxing has also employed similar narratives; the HBO preview for Pacquiao versus Mayweather employed similar yet far less crude devices. We’re all familiar with the idea that sport dramatizes our own struggles, however prosaic and private they are in contrast. Good versus evil is always going to be popular; not only because it gives you a moral universe as simple as a dartboard, but the problems pinned to it are literally resolved with a punch in the face.

Wrestling is the epitome of ‘so bad it’s good’ entertainment; most people that are yelling are smart enough to know that they are participating in a goon-show. We have also been eminently aware that the hits are as fake as the hostility. ‘Only the falls are real,’ as Beyond the Mat goes to great lengths to demonstrate.

Taking a leaf out of the professional wrestling promotional manual, the preview film for UFC 193 presents a potted history of the childhood of its headline fighter, Ronda Rousey. In soft-focus slow-motion, linked by gentle dissolves, young Ronda watches judo through the window of a martial arts school and then applies her skills to a little boy who has evidently hit her.

Anyone who knows anything about Rousey knows that the real deep chord for her is the suicide of her father while she was a young girl, a chord callously struck by former opponent (and subsequent punching bag) Beth Correia before their bout on UFC 190.

UFC has operated under the slogan, ‘As Real As It Gets.’ It’s a great line, and if you stack it up, it’s actually true; UFC rules provide an engagement as close as you can get to ‘no-holds-barred’ while establishing enough rules to ensure a sporting contest, which is the real reason eye-gouging, fish-hooking and strikes to the spine, groin and back the skull will never be allowed.

There is one part of the new UFC 193 preview that is so badly placed to the point of being surreal. In the second-last shot Holly Holm bounces into view, presumably on the other side of Rousey’s Octagon. What’s her story? Is she a parallel for the little boy that has abused Rousey? Is this a sufficiently sophisticated narrative for a sport in which we know everything is real?

Mark Hunt’s autobiography, ‘Born To Fight’, has been published recently to coincide with his bout on UFC 193. The book details the savage abuse he suffered at the hands of his father, and how the sexual abuse of his sister was at the core of a family dynamic riven by violence. I’m guessing that’s not going to figure in the next preview.

**

The Catalan flag, the Senyera, is composed of four red bars on a yellow background. The story goes that in the ninth century, after the siege of Barcelona, Charles the Bald drew his fingers down the yellow shield of Wilfred the First in an act of gratitude for his help, steeped as they were in the blood from his wounds.

The flag of the People’s Republic of Vietnam is red for the blood that was shed, while the yellow star represents the yellow of the skin of its citizens. A single yellow star, suspended in a rectangular sea of blood.

The same is true of the US flag, as well as that of the United Kingdom. On flags from around the world, blood is the inspiration behind the colour that represents revolution, courage and sacrifice. Regardless of different (often adversarial) political systems, separated by geography and economy, the symbolism is the same.

If you pursue the storyline ‘As Real as It Gets’, blood is the dominant motif. It’s the seal of reality; it’s the essence and the element that informs both sides of the debate that continues to fulminate around MMA.

It’s the blood that runs back down your throat and into your stomach that lets you know your nose is broken. The smell of the metal on your gloves. The sensation of it tightening on your skin as it dries, or the reek of it when it’s all over your chest, mixing with your sweat. The rusty-brown spots drying on the canvas after being dropped during the previous bout of the night that you’re trying to ignore while the referee gives his instructions.

The blood is elemental; the blood is real. The question is, in the UFC storyline, what does it mean?

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