COLUMN: Perry Bergson — July 9, 2012

Perry Bergson
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As popular sports go, there are few as divisive as mixed martial arts.

I don’t sense much middle ground here.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the sport is largely the domain of men younger than 35.

I saw one study that found three men like the sport for every woman. It also discovered that 35 per cent of Americans call themselves MMA fans.

Recently I was in a vehicle with a pair of other gentlemen driving to supper. One is in his thirties, I’m in my forties and the other is in his fifties. A knowledgeable discussion on an upcoming UFC fight ensued.

I couldn’t help but think that we were like a sasquatch sighting to a UFC executive; three newspaper professionals outside of the usual age bracket who enjoy the sport. Let’s just say that a wide swath of the mainstream media haven’t shown much interest in the sport.

I do understand why a certain percentage of the population will never be fans.

People either get combat sports or they don’t. Of the percentage who do, some are diehard boxing fans who will never accept the MMA interloper knocking down the door.

I grew up during one of the glory periods in boxing history.

The heavyweight division in the 1970s boasted names like Muhammed Ali, Joe Fraser, Ken Norton, George Foreman, Jerry Quarry, Ernie Shavers, Ron Lyle, Chuck Wepner, Gerry Cooney, Larry Holmes and even Canada’s own George Chuvalo.

In smaller weight classes there were people like Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard and Alexis Arguello.

The fights were usually free on ABC or CBS, so a sports fan could follow his favourite fighters.

The glamour division in combat sports is invariably the big guys, and with the historical confluence of great heavyweight boxers in the ’70s, it gained a tremendous following.

What emerges in the following decades is a cautionary tale of greed, disorganization and declining talent.

Now it’s in a position where one super fight exists that could rekindle some of the love. The problem? Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr., can’t agree on a terms.

In the meantime, Pacquiao was absolutely swindled with a horrendous decision loss in a recent fight.

It’s little wonder that the casual fan like myself has lost touch.

I first saw the UFC on VHS tapes after the original card was held in Denver on Nov. 12, 1993. That event saw a slim Brazilian fighter named Royce Gracie beat three larger opponents by making them submit.

Nearly 20 years later we have a new breed of MMA superstar who would be unrecognizable to the pioneers of the sport. The fighters take a multi-discipline approach to the sport that might see them training in boxing, wrestling, Muay Thai, jiu jitsu, karate and judo.

Canada’s present-day George Chuvalo is a clean-cut bilingual Montreal fighter named Georges St-Pierre. The UFC superstar (22-2) holds the welterweight (170-pound) title and is one of the poster boys for the sport.

GSP, as he is called, is soft-spoken and unfailingly polite.

He’s respectful to his opponents and has become a celebrity endorser of mainstream products such as Gatorade and Under Armour.

While the sport still boasts its share of anti-heroes, more often than not a match is between two guys who like to fight but who are also trying to make a living. To them it’s not a feud or bloodsport; it’s the way they put food on the table.

Fans and non-fans with an open mind will soon be able to decide themselves with a quick drive over to the Art Hauser Centre.

The Hard Knocks Fighting Championship comes to Prince Albert on July 19 and I’ll be curious to see how the promotion does. Several local amateur fighters will be on the massive card and it will be the experience of a lifetime for them.

It will also be my first chance to see the sport live after many years of watching it on TV.

If the attraction escapes you, you’ll hear no criticism from me.

But I reserve my right to enjoy a flash knockout or watch a fighter move a leg or arm millimetres at a time until they lock in an inescapeable submission hold.

There is a savage truth to combat sports that you won’t find in many other places.

   • • •

It was an oversight on my part not mentioning last week that Jessica Iron Joseph will be contributing a weekly column to the Daily Herald.

The Prince Albert freelance writer will be focusing on First Nation and Métis affairs, ranging from the issues of the day to entertainment profiles to more personal columns.

Jessica is a terrific writer and I’m excited to see where she takes the column each week.

You will also notice a new feature on the editorial page every Saturday. Longtime Rural Roots cartoonist Joanne Panas will be drawing a local editorial cartoon for the Daily Herald. She sent me several samples of what she has in mind and I thought they were terrific.

The first one ran on Saturday.

Finally, the Daily Herald’s newest reporter Matthew Gardner arrived in town on Monday. The former Toronto resident begins his duties on July 16.

Organizations: CBS, Daily Herald, Prince Albert Gatorade Art Hauser Centre

Geographic location: Canada, Denver, Montreal Toronto

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