There’s life outside the MMA bubble…I swear, I saw it!

@MMAtylander

MMA fandom is a trap.

Sometimes it’s like a snare, snagging a limb without warning and holding its prey in place until the appendage is gnawed off or starvation ends the game.  Regardless of the outcome, it’s affects are quick and easily recognized.  Whether it be a highlight knockout or the transcendent personality of one of the sport’s legitimate sports icons that springs the trap, the beginning of a love affair with mixed martial arts can oftentimes be tracked back to a specific moment or event.

Other times it’s more like a Venus flytrap, enticing it’s victim to land with an appealing exterior and then ever so slowly tightening its grip until escape is a long lost opportunity.  The endgame is the same as the snare, only the strategy is a bit more clandestine.  MMA can swallow an unsuspecting sports fan whole, and it’s entirely possible they may not even realize they’ve been caught until they’re almost fully digested into it’s system.

Or, if enough time occupying the mainstream has finally elapsed, it may feel to some as if MMA was always just kinda…there.  How many Americans remember the first time they saw an NFL, NBA, or MLB game on television or when they became a fan of any or all of them?  How many Europeans remember the first time they experienced their version of football (and, before anyone asks, the answer is yes…Yes, it does cause me physical pain to refer to the sport known in my homeland as soccer as anything other than just that, so I expect my sacrifice to be duly noted and remembered.  It took an effort.)?

Those leagues and sports simply appeared in our existences, much like a younger sibling is apt to do.  Sure, you know they weren’t always there, but their absence is nothing more than a foggy, possibly manufactured, memory that is nearly impossible to pin down for true examination.  Maybe the first time you saw the new addition to your family was at the hospital, or maybe it was when your emotionally frayed father finally returned to Grandma and Grandpa’s house and opened the passenger’s side of the family minivan, revealing a brand new bundle of humanity safely nestled in your exhausted mother’s arms.  Maybe MMA is finally seeping into our collective subconscious enough that some of us can’t even remember when it all began for them, only that the UFC, just like a younger baby brother who has now grown into a capable, self-sustaining man, has just always been there.

That’s a kind of trap, too.  Let’s call it the “boulder on a rope”….No one is quite sure when the boulder fell from the sky and landed square on their head…All they know is that it did, indeed, find the bull’s eye and it left a mark that isn’t ever going away.  There may be memories before the blow, but good luck piecing them back together after that kind of impact (I just compared my little brother to a boulder falling from the heavens to upend my life and I couldn’t be prouder of myself.  I thought I had run out of ways to dehumanize his never-asked-for, mother’s love stealing ass, but here I am surprising myself.).

Family isn’t family because the blood in their veins matches yours; family is family because they hijacked the memories in your head to such a degree that they’ve shaped who you’ve become and made you forget what you were before they materialized.  In that sense, the community known as MMA is family to some…manipulating the past, present, and future with its bloody boulder, one whack at a time.

These are merely a handful of examples, though.  There are probably a thousand different methods for Mixed Martial Arts to grab onto a soul, each with its own particular peculiarities and set of prerequisites.  Just like there are countless ways to win in the cage, there are countless ways for the sport to succeed in hauling in new fans, and, more importantly, countless reasons for them to stick around once they’ve been struck by the force of Cupid’s spinning backfist while staring deep into MMA’s swollen, bloodshot eyes.

That’s the point at which each route merges.  Regardless of the style of each individual method of pro-MMA incarceration, the one feature that applies to all of these traps is their Lifetime Guarantee.  Maybe the guarantee of a life sentence is a better way to describe that…there is quite a distinction between promising to perform for life and promising to provide one.

Once Mother MMA snatches you up out of one of her many well-placed ambushes, however that may have occurred, you aren’t ever going to venture far from her side.  It’s impossible to look away from that stitched-up face long enough to lose complete grip on those 4 oz gloves of pugilistic love that feel so good wrapped around your tiny, mortal hands.  On the rare occasions that life outside of her bloody radiance is capable of piercing through the thick aura of spilled plasma and stench of glory, one is always only one head kick or superman punch knockout away from forgetting that there was ever a world outside of the cage at all.  Stockholm Syndrome becomes inevitable.  Tunnel vision isn’t far behind.  Soon, nothing else matters.  You aren’t going anywhere.

Your core will turn hard and you shall be as one with those of the “Bubble”.

Your Saturdays will become subject to three letters: U-F-C.  Some Sundays may be claimed for the cause, as well.  AXS TV and Bellator will claim your Fridays, so there goes the weekend.  As for the rest of the week, well UFC Fight Pass, Youtube, and comment boards will take care of that.   Time with friends and family will be optional, but discouraged.  Non-fighter/non-fan girlfriends/boyfriends are strictly prohibited.  Any applicants for such roles will be expected to convert within a fortnight or be deemed ineligible for participation in your life.

Interest in or participation in other sports will be expected to be kept to a yearly allotment of witnessing the Super Bowl and giving the World Series results a cursory glance on Twitter before moving onto more important MMA matters, like arguing with Chael supporters about the merits of honesty and ethics in this post-Zuffa world, or publicly pondering  on which category of incorrect Skip Bayless’ views on all things MMA are: troll-style wrong, or donk-style wrong?   Your t-shirt will likely read “Property of Tapout” and your fidelity and heart may be promised to Joanna Champion, but your ass will belong to the cult of Mixed Martial Arts.

No chants or crazy robes required.  Only your undivided attention until the day you die.  And the ability to refer to and recognize all fighters by first name only, of course…that’s an important one.  In this sport, lasts names are only for promotional posters and casual know-nothings.

If you’ve already moved past the hypothetical and were only recently caught in our little web of organized violence addiction, then let me be the first to extend a hearty “welcome home.”  You can set your computer monitor up  in the back row, third cot on the left.  As you’re new, we’ll allow your Ronda poster on the wall, just make sure to leave room for your neighbors’ decorations.  We’re expecting a shipment of Irishmen any second now, so we’ll need the space for all of the framed photos of Conor McGregor standing over Aldo at UFC 194.  Conor doesn’t have a fight scheduled, but he just participated in a Q&A with Helwani so that will surely increase the population here at the compound.

Oh, and if you see Tim Sylvia wandering around as if he’s lost don’t be afraid.  He still hasn’t realized that he made the jump from fighter to fan yet.  Just point him towards the cafeteria and tell him Andrei will be here soon.  The free Monster Energy will keep him occupied until then.

If any of the above applies to you directly or seems to be creepily similar to what you’re witnessing in your own life, you probably already know that it’ll take a miracle (or tragedy, depending on your perspective) to break free now, recruit.  This isn’t fucking boxing…this is for life.

Unless that life (i.e. the tragedy mentioned above) decides to disagree.  But first, more about our little bubble…

As described above, the “Bubble” is deep and it is dark when it comes to anything not involving 8-sided cages and 1/4 lb finger-less gloves.  Unlike other sports, even the ones that encourage obsession like NASCAR and the game I refer to as soccer, MMA’s “Bubble” can, and usually is, a demanding, jealous, unrelenting bitch of a mistress that requires its devotees to display the utmost amount of dedication.  As a result, the MMA community has developed in a way that is basically unheard of in other sports or branches of entertainment.  Members of this clan are truly obsessed, and their knowledge of the game reflects that fact.

Expertise, or at least immense interest, is expected from hardcore fans of MMA in every facet of the sport.  Technique is just the beginning.  One is expected to be a connoisseur of the LIFESTYLE of MMA, not just the sport of it.  Hardcores are expected to be historians of the game, advocates of its ambitions, accurate predictors of its future, and ambassadors to the uninitiated to go along with the ability to consume the actual product with the professional sense and accuracy of a paid commentator or promoter.

Essentially, MMA boasts what is possibly the most educated and consistently correct fan bases in all of sports and that can be attributed to the fact that members of the hardcore base are pretty much insane.  Like OCD-level, leave no detail unaddressed, no mistaken comment unpunished, base-your-self-esteem-on-this-shit-or-get-the-hell-out-of-my-forum-newb type of insane.  Crazy bastards, all of ’em.

It’s this type of fanaticism for their sport that has caused the legendary MMA “Bubble” to develop its density.  Almost nothing can get through, and anything that does is nothing more than an insignificant break from the real action for many of it’s dwellers.  This willingness to ignore almost anything outside of their sphere is the source of the hardcores’ knowledge and the foundation of the strength of the bubble they inhabit.

Ironically, that obsession also serves as the needle most capable of popping that bubble for individual hardcores.

It obviously takes thousands of hours of watching fights and surfing online to acquire the type of knowledge and passion the average hardcore possesses.  Reserving that kind of time for a single activity clearly has it’s drawbacks…like that fact that there is barely any time for outside activities.  Except breathing.  They still breathe.  Except when Robbie Lawler fights. No breathing when Robbie Lawler fights.

This is the point with which life most often disagrees and tragedy (again, perspective…) strikes.  I’ve experienced this kind of setback to my MMA studies recently, and the experience was eye opening.

Ya see, there are these things called jobs…the adults among us will be very aware of these invaders of time and opportunity.  For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, here’s the jist of it: Jobs are where your parents went almost everyday when you were still growing.  Hell, maybe they still do.

Most jobs require “employees” to spend around 40 hours a week, or roughly 6 UFC events!  On top of the hours, there are expectations of performance from these people called “bosses”.  Hardcores have high expectations for themselves, so that’s not a new concept, and bosses are like moderators on the forums, so that should be easy enough to understand.

Here’s the kicker, though: the expectations you find at jobs rarely, if ever, have anything to do with MMA and lots of bosses don’t even know what MMA is…Worse yet, the ones who are aware of the existence of Mixed Martial Arts quite often don’t care.  They only care about whatever the specific purpose of your job is.  That is the only purpose they allow their employees to concentrate on.  No MMA consumption or discussion for eight hours a day, at least, as long as these tyrants are around.

I don’t know where these kinds of people are spawned, but I imagine it’s in the 10th circle of Hell.  Where else could such monsters come from?  There is a theory out there that they were created by the Culinary Union in an attempt to thin out the UFC’s fan base, but their persistence even after the Fertitta’s unloading of the company undermines that line of thought greatly.  I’ve, therefore, been forced to return to my belief that bosses are nothing other than demons residing among us.

One could understandably question why I or any other sane MMA fan would ever subject ourselves to such loathsome activities and the unholy associations that are attached to such activities.  Thankfully, the answer is easier to comprehend.  We do it for the money.

That’s the stuff hardcores use to buy PPV’s, tickets to events, and a subscription to Fight Pass.  Some even buy food with it, if they bother to eat.  Personally, I find subsistence  in the undying memory of Pride FC and the knowledge of the existence of MMA’s own Never Never Land, known internationally as Dagestan.  Khabib Nurmagomedov’s presence on this earth alone is enough to keep my belly full, but that’s just me.  I hear that some prefer the lies of Chael Sonnen to keep them going forward.  It’s simply a matter of taste.

Dietary habits aside, jobs suck.  Unfortunately, girlfriends and parents will often find themselves experiencing unreasonable thoughts about how it isn’t their responsibility to provide a hardcore with the means to feed their obsession.  While dumping girlfriends and disowning parents is as simple as sending a few justifiably angry text messages, this can oftentimes result in homelessness.  And since Bum Fights is the worst promotion in history, finding a job becomes a necessity.

This is the fate I experienced somewhere around the middle of the year 2016.  While I had held a job for years that allowed me to make my own hours as long as my non-MMA work was finished in a timely manner, my new profession would be different.  It would require an effort to conform to my new benefactor’s policies in order to receive a paycheck.

My life was about to change.  was about to change.

In the beginning, the misery was unbearable.  Every second was something missed.  The news feed rolled on without me.  Podcasts came and went without my participation.  Prowling Twitter for breaking bouts and online beef between opponents became an activity so scarce that I wondered if it had ever happened at all.  Had it all been a dream?  As time eeked forward and the questions of purpose began to pile up, my resolve began to degrade.

This went on for months.  Day shifts turned to evening shift, and then back to an even earlier day shift.  I was able to avoid missing actual events, but the context was lacking.  Imagine watching a Hendricks fight and not being sure of just how much he missed weight by.  Was it 2 lbs?  Was it 4?  I’m ashamed to admit that I had to look it up and gain my knowledge secondhand instead of witnessing the weigh-ins myself.  Shameful…

Worse yet, I often found myself struggling to remember fight cards.  No longer could I recite entire scheduled cards 6 weeks before bell time.  Sherdog became my crutch.  That’s right…the Cliff Notes of MMA, the Idiot’s Guide to Upcoming Events, the Google of Fighter Records, Sherdog.com saw me return time and time again to remind my sad self of information I had viewed multiple times…It’s one thing to forget a duel between debuting prospects.  It’s quite another to completely forget what the feature Fight Pass bout is.  That’s unforgivable, and I apologize to everyone that I let down.

As horrific as those tales are, though, they pale in comparison to what was coming next.   It was the week of UFC 200.  3 cards in 3 days.  The UFC’s equivalent to the Olympics, the World’s Fair, and the Super Bowl, only far more consequential.  Even my previous experiences hadn’t dampened my excitement.  I was prepared this time.  The old me, the real me, was chomping at the bit to make his return.  I was ready…

One devious schedule change later, and I was relegated to my lowest point yet.

The date was July 7, 2016.  UFC Fight Night 90.  Dos Anjos vs Alvarez.  My first taste of rock bottom.

For the first time in my memory as a proud member of the hardcore community, an event was missed.  An event was missed by…me…

Sure, I watched the replay, but that’s nothing but a hollow attempt at forgiveness.  If it isn’t witnessed live, it’s only highlights and highlights just don’t freaking cut it!

Distraught for days, even making sure to watch every single second of the The Ultimate Fighter 23 Finale and UFC 200 was not enough to raise my spirits.  I was a battered soul.  I was a failure.

The weeks after are a blur.  Ashamed to show my screen name online, I began to withdraw.  Did the others know?  Were they angry?  Of course they knew…of course they were angry…I was a disgrace to myself, MMA, and all of my former colleagues.  I gave up on myself at that point.

Slowly my obsession began to wane.  Sadly, I began to abandon my old ways.  I began to neglect MMA.  As pathetic as it sounds, other activities seemed more important.  I started watching more TV Series.  I finally beat some Xbox 360 games.  I read a novel for the first time since high school.

I was even beginning to concentrate on my work…not the important kind, either.  The paying kind.  I used the money I was making not on PPV’s and other MMA related products, but on dates with women instead.  I chose women over MMA…Sex over fighting.  It sounds laughable now, but I swear it’s true.

I was emerging from the bubble, and I had found peace with that. MMA would be better off without a has-been like me.  I was convinced of it.

I was still catching the events, but something had changed.  I wasn’t the encyclopedia of knowledge I had once prided myself to be.  I wasn’t pining away after events wondering why post-fight conferences never started on time or fretting over medical suspensions and post-fight bonuses. I was simply going to bed after the shows.  That is the extent to which I had descended.

The process was long and painful, but finally complete.  I had somehow, unconsciously, gnawed the limb free. I was no longer a hardcore;  I was now a…casual…a casual with nothing to show for my time as a hardcore but shame and bloody nub where my pride use to be.

I had learned something, though.  Something I hadn’t previously believed was even possible to contemplate.  There really was something outside the dark, yet warm confines of the “Bubble.”  It hurt at first, a great deal, but life away from MMA was actually becoming bearable.  Sometimes it was actually enjoyable.  Even refreshing in a way.

Suddenly, it all became easier to compute; people on the outside are the normal ones.  Well, that was already a known fact, but seriously, they’re way more normal than they get credit for. They’re the not-addicted-to-a-sadistic-sport kind of normal.  They don’t spend weeks in anticipation of two dudes stepping into a literal cage to wage combat with their bare hands.  They save that anticipation for new Harry Potter books and Star Wars movies.  Normal shit.

Their idea of a good time is maybe a couple of drinks and dinner, not an eight hour RIZIN event in Japan that features Gabi Garcia taking on a Japanese fan who won a radio contest to compete in the ring.  While hardcores are debating the tough issues like rather or not knees to the head of a grounded opponent and soccer kicks should be legal in North America, these Joe Schmo’s out here are taking their kids to Little League practice and hoping they can make it home in time to take the roast out of the crock pot.

Has there ever been a hardcore that even admitted to owning a crock pot?  Hell, I was bragging about living off of the life essence of a Russian hitman earlier.  I don’t own a damn crock pot.  I barely own any food that isn’t either dipped in chocolate or well past its expiration date.

This isn’t even a contest.  It’s settled, folks.  These people have their shit together.  They live complex, diverse lives that have meaning on many different levels.  They’re not pigeonholed into one hobby or pastime, and if they were, it wouldn’t be the type of head bashing hardcores spend sleepless nights craving.  These are people of the world, with a wide range of experiences and modern points-of-view.  Some even put money away for their children’s education and into retirement funds.  I bet most even pay their taxes.

The fact that these people even exist amazes me.  Who knew that hardcores have been surrounded by such level-headed, responsible adults this whole time?  While MMA fanatics have been utterly consumed by witnessing and partaking in one of mankind’s most ancient, primal urges as often as possible, the normal people have been building a whole civilization and making all of our lives better.

Spending these last several months out among these saints has been a blessing for my life.  It’s really brought things into perspective.  Especially now that I’ve returned to the line of work that allowed me to participate so heavily in the hardcore community before being forced out by the realities of a real job.  I appreciate the opportunity to return to being my own boss in a way that I wasn’t capable of before.  If I hadn’t been forced out of the “Bubble” I never would’ve been able to learn these lessons.

One lesson stands above all from this experience, though, and if I had to base one piece of advice on the my last few months, it would undoubtedly be this:

If you’re a hardcore living life in the echo chamber of the “Bubble” you should absolutely….

Stay precisely where you are and don’t even think of sticking your neck out into the sunlight.  

Normal people are the bane of human existence.  It sucks out here.  Plain and simple.  Harry Potter sucks.  Crock pots suck.  Paying taxes and raising kids sucks.  Star Wars…ok, Star Wars is awesome, but it’s no Wandy vs. Chuck.

Seriously, the “Bubble” is all consuming and will suck your soul right out of your skull, but god damn, life in the real world is the most boring, unnatural existence that could ever be imposed on a living creature.  It’s certainly no life for an Earthling.  40+ hour work weeks?  Visits with the in-laws?  Visiting Las Vegas on a UFC weekend and catching the Celine Dion show?  Admitting that you’ve been to a Celine Dion show?

That’s not normal.  That’s just sad.

I’m coming back to the darkness.  I’m going to immerse myself in the brutal, one-dimensional world of the “Bubble.”  I’m tired of expanding my horizons.  I just want to watch elite level athletes break some faces already and then talk about nothing but that face-breaking until the next scheduled face-breaking comes around.

I don’t want to read novels. I don’t want to worry about girlfriends.  I don’t even want to talk to other humans face-to-face anymore. Too risky.  They might mention the stock market or something.

I will never leave the cold embrace of my spot in the “Bubble” ever again.  I may be obsessed with violence and brutality and not much else, but I’ve learned it’s far better to be a fight-loving recluse who only knows his peers by their screen names than it is to be some normal dude who doesn’t know the difference between a front kick and an arm bar.

Stay in your holes, hardcores.  Don’t come out.  Make the “Bubble” your whole world.  There is nothing out there for people like us.  Break up with your significant others.  Stop speaking to your parents.  If you have to choose between getting a job or being homeless, pick the streets my friends.  You can watch the fights at my place or through the windows of a BW3’s.

Believe me friends, there is a whole other world out there filled with all kinds of people with all kinds of different goals and dreams.

Fuck that world and fuck those people.  You’re a hardcore.  Now act like it.  Forever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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