By Ryan Busuttil:
A common complaint of MMA fans, especially when Brock Lesnar made the jump from the WWE to the UFC in 2008, is to not associate Mixed Martial Arts with professional wrestling. “Wrestling’s fake”, “Only idiots watch wrestling”, etc. are among the comments that I’ve read over the years anytime professional wrestling is mentioned on an MMA news site. Fans had another opportunity to express their frustrations last week when Spike TV announced that former Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion, Muhammed “KingMo” Lawal had signed a contract to compete in Spike’s professional wrestling promotion, TNA, this year before moving over to Bellator when the promotion debuts on Spike in 2013. An MMA fighter going to professional wrestling and then back to MMA? What’s that about?
It’s called good promotion.
MMA fans need to come to grips with something: professional wrestling is more popular than MMA. More than 4 million people watch WWE’s Monday Night Raw weekly. The UFC still has a ways to go before they can get 4 million people to watch one of their cable events without Kimbo Slice being involved. Even TNA’s weekly show “Impact” earns more overall viewers than the Ultimate Fighter Live on FX. While MMA is a fast rising sport, professional wrestling has been near the top of cable ratings for over 15 years at this point. The WWE consistently has more Pay Per View buys than the UFC. The UFC’s most purchased Pay Per Views were when Lesnar, a former WWE Champion, was headlining. Coincidence? Probably not.
Where does all the hate for professional wrestling come from? Most MMA fans will tell you that they used to watch Hulk Hogan and Macho Man Randy Savage before they watched Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz. Fans of both are looking for the same thing: entertainment. When we watch a UFC fight, we want it to be entertaining or we’ll blast the fighters for not delivering. Professional wrestling is fake? Of course it is. That’s not being denied by anyone these days. Wrestlers are trying to entertain, just like Mixed Martial Artists. The only difference is their outcome is predetermined. It doesn’t make it any less entertaining.
Aside from Lesnar’s time in the UFC, professional wrestling’s influence on MMA can be seen in other forms, such as Chael Sonnen’s and Josh Barnett’s promotion style and the fact that the first edition of The Ultimate Fighter on Spike TV was on after WWE Raw. While Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar’s fight helped make the UFC, the viewers who tuned into The Ultimate Fighter were probably those who stuck around after watching WWE Raw. The UFC got some help from the WWE in more ways than one.
So, Spike TV signing King Mo was a smart move. Mo can stay in shape, entertain people and make some money in TNA until he can get back into a cage in a year. And Bellator, who are trying to find their own place in the MMA world, can benefit from the exposure that this deal brings them. Wrestling fans that follow King Mo for the next year may be inclined to see what he does in Bellator in 2013 and help the sport gain more popularity.
So MMA fans and pro wrestling fans, I ask you “Can’t we all just get along?”
Follow me on Twitter @MMARyterTags: Bellator, featured, king mo, wrestling