Reason.tv: Three Things Politicians Could Learn from the UFC - Lex McMahon on the rise of mixed martial arts

In the mid-90s pundits and politicians had nearly forced mixed martial arts to tap out. Ardent boxing fan Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) led the charge against the new sport, slamming it as "human cockfighting." Cable companies shunned the sport and nearly 40 states banned it. And yet today, MMA has not only survived, it's become a global juggernaut, dominating pay-per-view events, and perhaps even proving safer than McCain's beloved sport of boxing.

Lex McMahon has witnessed the rise of mixed martial arts firsthand. McMahon runs Alchemist Management with CEO and three-time Grammy Award winner MC Hammer, and the two manage some of the best fighters in the world, including Nate Marquardt, who headlines Wednesday night's UFC Fight Night 22 and Brendan Schaub, who takes on Gabriel Gonzaga at UFC 121 on October 23.

McMahon sat down with Reason.tv's Ted Balaker to weigh in on the improbable mainstreaming of MMA, how promoters learned that improving safety would attract more fans, and what this most cosmopolitan of sports does to foster an environment of innovation.

Approximately nine minutes.

Interview by Ted Balaker. Shot by Hawk Jensen, Alex Manning, and Paul Detrick. Edited by Balaker. Music by doublethink; available at Magnatune.


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  • ||

    I am a huge MMA fan. I just watched a venue from Canada this weekend that had probably the best fight I've seen this year between David Heath and Solomon Hutcherson. Awesome scrap.

    In the days that McCain was railing against it, MMA had no rounds, rules (only a few), or weight classes. Today it's a legit sport. My sister (A 5th degree TKD black belt) calls it "nonsense" while her org is losing members. Maybe someday she'll figure it out.

  • Paul||

    Someone more famouser than me once said that traditional Martial Arts instructors are "historical preservation societies".

    "You must punch this way, because master 'so-and-so' says you must punch this way."

  • ||

    It's true. She could very easily attract a new member base by hiring a BJJ instructor and BAM, you have striking and grappling covered.

  • Abdul||

    You're right.

    I thought that said BJ instructor and started signing up for classes.

  • ||

    Need to learn how to give good BJs?

  • Abdul||

    I was hoping to be the like the resuccitation dummy in CPR classes.

  • d||

    Puhleeze! Take your MMA-vs.-[insert-traditional-martial-art] bullshit to YouTube where it belongs.

  • Virginia||

    TKD? Taek Mai Dough?

  • Paul||

    The Kids next Door.

  • ||

    Tae Kwon Do. I like yours better.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    McCain and MMA is just one example of McCain being pissant, opportunistic, scumbag. McCain was ringside for the death of Jimmy Garcia in 95' and uttered not a peep about the safety (or lack thereof) in boxing, yet he used all of his influence to get MMA knocked off of cable and tried to get it taken off of PPV.

    McCain changed his tune in 2007 around about the same time as UFC started negotiating for a Budweiser sponsorship (whose wife has the large Budweiser distributorship again?).

    And your sister is just mad because TKD is one-step away from being ballet in loose clothes.

  • Paul||

    Was I the only person in America that liked the movie Fighting?

  • ||

    Never Back Down, a throwback to 80's cheese.

  • Butts Wagner||

    GYMKATA!

  • ||

    It's about time you guys gave a little coverage to my sport!

  • ||

    perhaps even proving safer than McCain's beloved sport of boxing.

    From a head inury perspective, yes. However, the cuts tend to be way nastier. But that's what ringside doctors and cut guys are for.

  • ||

    Rather have a scar than dementia.

  • Neu Mejican||

    Indeed.

    Although a head kick is as bad or worse than any punch by any boxer, they are harder to pull off, however.

    The main head-injury protection in MMA are the rules for TKO. None of the recover and go back in to get punched again and again and again that you get with boxing rules.

  • ||

    Threadjack. This is the most entertaining and brutally snarky book review I have read in a long time.

    http://newledger.com/2010/09/r.....-politics/

  • Paul||

    Props on the threadjack. The review is a pretty good read. However, I prefer my worthy jacks in threads about Tony Blair. MMA fighting is a subject I find interesting. With Mr. Blair, any distraction is a blessing.

  • Warty||

    To be more accurate, it appears to be the first draft of an essay written for a high school English class; the one turned in before the teacher makes all the pretty red marks in the margin that helpfully keep students from turning in final papers riddled with comma abuse, sentence fragments, and incorrect punctuation. Each subsequent page of this book contains one grisly crime against the English language after another.

    Why would anyone want to know what Meghan McCain says about anything, anyway? She should stick to showing her tits on the internet.

  • ||

    She really has no redeeming value beyond her tits. For some weird reason I find her oddly attractive. It frankly really disturbs me. She is so stupid and such a train wreck.

  • Warty||

    You've fucked girls who are trainwrecks, right? They're absurdly compelling, and I wish I could figure out why. It's caused me a lot of trouble.

  • ||

    Me to. And if I were single and ever met McCain and she were interested, she would cause endless headaches.

  • ||

    If we all held out for attractive and smart, the human race would die out.

    McMeghan is pretty cute if you like 'em meaty.

    But, yes, the review is fantastic:

    It is impossible to read Dirty, Sexy Politics and come away with the impression that you have read anything other than the completely unedited ramblings of an idiot. This being a professional website for which I have a great deal of respect, I searched for a more eloquent or gentle way to accurately phrase the previous sentence – but could not find one.
  • ||

    I am a sucker for big tits and good skin. She has both of those and nice features. From the pictures I have seen her weight seems to go up and down a lot. Sometimes she looks thin and downright hot. Other times she looks like a blond Monica Lewinski.

  • ||

    How about if you don't like 'em meaty?

    She was on The Daily Show the other day and couldn't stop giggling. It was very annoying.

    If you're going to be a ditz, be a skinnier ditz.

  • ||

    Gags tend to cut down on the giggling.

  • ||

    I like you more when you're being vulgar, John. Keep it up.

  • Warty||

    The UFC was far better back when it had no rounds, weight classes, or gloves. John McCain is a worthless cockbreath for claiming that it was less safe than boxing. Maybe after MMA has 10% as many deaths as boxing, then we can talk about which one is less safe.

    Hey, I heard a joke about boxing.

    Q: Why do boxers wear gloves?
    A: So they can beat each other in the face as hard as they can and cause traumatic brain injuries without breaking their hands. Ha ha ha!

    Fuck boxing.

  • ||

    The UFC was far better back when it had no rounds, weight classes, or gloves.

    And the fighters had careers that would span maybe two or three fights? No thanks.

  • Warty||

    You mean when they would get destroyed by Royce Gracie because they had no idea how to grapple? It got much better after a few years when people learned what to do.

    I agree that the current quality of the fights is much better than back in the day, but I don't particularly like the current format. It's a good tradeoff, though. I'm glad the sport is doing so well, and I'm glad they made the changes that they had to.

  • ||

    Have you ever watched DREAM, one of the Japanese venues? They have a ten minute first round and a five minue second round. The fight is judged in its entirety, not on a round by round basis. It's pretty fun to watch.

  • Warty||

    Nope. I'll have to do so. The Japanese MMA promotions are pretty good, by and large.

  • Juice||

    DREAM and Sengoku are pretty good, but they still don't compare to the old Pride promotion. That was probably the best that MMA can be.

  • Carl||

    HERE HERE! to the greatest MMA organization in terms iof fights, production and pure excitement!

  • ||

    I once watched "Gentleman" Jim Corbett fight an Eskimo fellow bare-knuckled for a hundred and thirteen rounds! Of course, back then, if a fight lasted less than fifty rounds, we demanded our nickel back!

  • ||

    I think it probably is no worse than boxing. I just don't get it as a sport. Boxing when practiced well, which is rare these days, really is a beautiful sport. MMA always looks to me like two apes rolling around in a ring. I just don't see the appeal of it.

  • Warty||

    I always enjoyed watching MMA, but I didn't really get it until I started doing BJJ. Ground fighting is no less beautiful than boxing in its own way, once you understand what's happening.

    My problem with the UFC is that too many guys use the clock as a weapon. They'll get a takedown, get in the guy's guard, and then just defend against submissions until the round runs out. Repeat x3 and win by decision. Boring. Lengthening the rounds would fix that.

    And you're right, boxing is great to watch when it's done well (i.e., not heavyweight). It just fucks up the boxers for life.

  • ||

    Lengthening the rounds would fix that.

    Or the ref can stand them up faster if no forward progress is being made.

  • Juice||

    That's what they do in Japan. If you haven't improved your position in 10-15 seconds you're getting stood up.

  • alan||

    You know what that sounded like? Well, you are not going to like this but the comparison is apt:

    http://encyclopediadramatica.com/Americunts

    Soccer (pronounced: "football"), is the number one sport in the world inwhich skill is paramount, and is played by kicking a round ball around a pitch to score goals. Touching the ball with your hands results in a penalty. However, since Americunts are fat (need a break every five seconds), stupid (need to be told what to do in every play), unskilled (notoriously bad using ther foot hence can only manage the easier task of using hands) it wasn't tailored for them and so resorted to another British game called rugby (but without the skill, and in tights) instead. American football AKA Gridiron is a boring, bizarre, stop start, unskilled, activity that caters for fat non-athletes who can't play sport. Only American "fat fairies in tights" play due to cultural obligation having invented it, no choice. If Gridiron didnt suck, it would be played outside the nation it was invented where there is not a cultural OBLIGATION...but no one does because it blows. The only Gridiron league that hasn't collapsed like all the others outside America (the low profile CFL) was culturally imposed by Americunts on those poor Canadians, no one plays in Canada and its overrun with Americunts

    By the way, that attempt at satire in that article is some of the weakest shit I have ever read. I have said worse and funnier things about this country than anything conveyed there and I happen to love it.

  • ||

    Americans can't do aerobic sports. I guess that is why we play basketball so poorly. I actually don't mind soccer. But Soccer fans make me hate the sport.

  • alan||

    Exactly right. I loved to play soccer as a kid, but I have little interest in watching it. Last game of the World Cup, ninety minutes without a score, wow.

  • ||

    Violent ground acquisition sports such as football are merely a crypto-fascist metaphor for nuclear war.

    That's why I prefer tennis, fencing, and polo. You fucking peasants.

  • Paul||

    What, no Jai Alai?

  • ||

    Only when a player takes one to the chest. Now that's entertainment.

  • Carl||

    that is reserved only for the most interesing man in the world

  • alan||

    I play Tennis, but not the other sports, so can I be an honorary kulak?

  • ||

    No fencing, no dice. Sorry. I fenced for Johns Hopkins, and have to maintain standards.

  • alan||

    Rats. I only know how to sword fight like a prissy Spaniard.

  • ||

    Holy shit dude, why don't you full up on the English gentleman routine and play squash already?

  • ||

    I hate squash. It's the only racket sport I don't like. The fucking ball is made of that shit material that just dies off the wall. And of course, my athletic club has 8 squash courts and a squash league, but only 2 racquetball courts and no league.

  • ||

    Pansy: Oh, Sir Vincent, you came for me!
    Vincent: Oh, good Mistress Pansy, I could not have ridden faster! Four horses have I exhausted this day from Nottingham!
    Pansy: Oh, the way you leapt to my chamber, so full of... of... manliness!
    Vincent: I could scarce restrain the rushing of my feet! These twelve long years have been like chains abound me!
    Pansy: Oh... Oh, and the personal problem?
    Vincent: Oh, much, much better.

  • ||

    WC finals are like the Super Bowl. Both teams are so hyped up they are rarely any good. Some games can be entertaining. A couple of the US matches were fun.

  • alan||

    Been a few really good Super Bowls recently. The 2003 one was astoundingly nerve wracking. The Giants/Pats one was another good one. So was the one last year.

  • alan||

    Overtime by the discretion of the referees.

    There is something too basic about the sport that likely explains its appeal to the masses in other nations that don't have the tradition of competition in a multitude of fields to fall back on.

  • DADIODADDY||

    Soccer sucks, there I said what everyone else is merely thinking.

  • CrackertyAssCracker||

    I love football. Even though I occasionally like to watch soccer, I love bashing it too. But that isn't good football trolling at all. It didn't even get me a little mad for a half a second.

  • Paul||

    I remember the UFC in its early days. I think (if I remember correctly) that Jim Brown did some commentary from the booth. I seem to recall that the commentators themselves were marveling as to how this new sport played out in the ring.

    "Gee, when people fight without rules, it almost always goes to the ground!"

    I watched a match back in the early 90's where Royce Gracie ended up destroying everyone. Best ground fighter of his time.

  • Warty||

    Best ground fighter of his time.

    Well, the best ground fighter outside of his family. Rickson was supposed to be the Gracie who represented BJJ in UFC 1, but he pissed off his dad somehow and Royce got the pick.

  • ||

    Some trivia for you guys. You commonly see a bent armlock referred to as a kimura, right? In judo it's called ude garami. The name kimura comes from the name of the judo player who went to Brazil and broke Helio Gracie's arm with that hold.

  • Paul||

    Well, the best ground fighter outside of his family.

    Yeah, that may be the case. I'm not an expert on the empire Gracie.

    Alls I know is, the sun never sets on the Gracies.

  • Juice||

    It may not set on their coaching and training, but it's setting on their fighting. The Gracies have been losing left and right for the past 4 years or so. I think Ralek Gracie beat Sakuraba (the Gracie Killer) at DREAM in May, but that's about it.

  • ||

    He did, and you might have noticed that he did it standing. To me that stuck out like a sore thumb. A Gracie that can strike.

  • Juice||

    Yup, Jim Brown and ... wait for it ... Brian Kilmeade (currently of Fox and Friends).

  • Anonymous Coward||

    When I try to explain to morons that the reason boxing gloves were invented was to protect a boxer's hands, not the person being hit, people look at me as though I started speaking Aramaic.

    Your face might look like dog meat after a bare-knuckle fight, but it's a lot better for your brain than taking repeated blows wrapped in a whole roll of athletic tape, probably a little plaster of paris, and a 14-16 oz glove which, after the addition of sweat, is about as dense as a cement block.

  • T||

    Sure. Old cop trick, imparted to me by a deputy sheriff: wrap a full two liter soda bottle in a towel and slam it into somebody's forehead. Do that two or three times and you leave no marks, but he's doing good to know his name. Same principle with boxing gloves. He looks okay after taking a bunch of hits, but the old cerebellum ain't doing so grand.

  • alan||

    What do they call it? The 7-11 improvise?

  • Anonymous Coward||

    A soda bottle? I was hip to the oranges in a sock method myself. But I can see how that would work.

  • alan||

    I like it as it is a realistic combination of possible fighting tactics whereas other sports concentrate on one aspect of fighting where that emphasis becomes manneristic to the point of the bizarre. You think while watching boxing nobody would ever choose to fight like that in real life. What Roy Jones Jr. just pulled off there looks sweet in the context of boxing would get him killed on the street. However, aesthetically, there has got to be a way to make the grappling look less gay. And, yes, you are right Solly, if you are thinking I would never make that last remark to your face ;)

  • Old Bull Lee||

    MMA's not so realistic either.

  • alan||

    Be that as it may, comparing MMA to Boxing is like comparing Dogma 95 to Anime on the realistic means of fighting scale.

  • alan||

    To get closer to what I mean, what you see in the sport wont do you much good in a brawl, obviously, but what I notice that is different from Boxing, fighters in MMA make more realistic adjustments based upon circumstances. The drama in boxing is based more on the dramatic premises built into the rules in a way that is not true for MMA.

  • Old Bull Lee||

    I have to disagree with this. In MMA the judges give you credit for actions that are ostensibly aggressive but ineffectual, like throwing dozens of ineffective jabs.

  • Abdul||

    McMahon runs Alchemist Management with CEO and three-time Grammy Award winner MC Hammer

    This must be fake. There is no way MC Hammer is still alive and not topping hte charts.

  • ||

    The better question is who hires one of the most notorious spendthrift bankrupts in entertainment history to be a CEO?

  • Paul||

    Believe it or not, Hammer is just that kind of risk that a lot of people would take.

    He's got that super-high energy manic personality that makes people very successful, but alas, if they fall, they fall hard.

    When MC Hammer was in the music business, he wasn't just some "artist" that a record company shoved into the spotlight. He essentially managed and controlled his own empire, and apparently ran a pretty tight ship when he and his troupe were on the road.

    My guess is he's got a pretty good head for business.

  • ||

    Maybe. But he also blew all of his money and ended up broke.

  • Paul||

    Word.

    But look at it this way, the guy's been a millionaire, broke and a millionaire again before the age of 50. I'm sitting here posting on this blog with you rubes and still trying to figure out what I'm going to make for dinner tonight.

  • ||

    I'm having Bulgogi, if that helps you at all.

  • Paul||

    Bulgogi...hmmmmm... you goin' out or makin' it scratch?

  • ||

    Scratch. In the marinade, the beef awaits the vicious kiss of flame.

  • ||

    You use the strong flavors to cover up the rottenness of your meat?

    And I mean that in exactly the way you think.

  • ||

    Your mom rarely complains.

  • ||

    She may not complain to you, but she does to me, and I'm sick of it. Go to the emergency room already and get the antibiotics.

  • ||

    True enough. He made and spent more money than I ever will. And that is something.

  • ||

    One of my favorite quotes is from English soccer great George Best

    "I spent a lot of my money on booze, fast cars and birds (women) over the years. The rest I just pissed away".

  • Warty||

    "I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered."

    "I used to go missing a lot...Miss Canada, Miss United Kingdom, Miss World."

    A king among men.

  • Paul||

    I like that quote... a lot.

  • Warty||

    He's like Barry Lyndon, but with stupider pants and without the cousin-fucking.

  • ||

    He drank himself to death which is a shame. It is really hard to do that. Too bad he couldn't have been just an immense lush like Richard Harris. Instead he went full Richard Burton and totally destroyed himself with it.

  • ||

    He was filmed by candlelight?

  • Virginia||

    Who remembers the vale tudo cage fights in Brazil? The 8-man tourneys? That was fighting.

    Now you train in a pajama and MMA has its own version of The Real World.

  • Warty||

  • Virginia||

    Brutiful finish.

  • DADIODADDY||

    a .45 beats a fist to the head every single time.

  • ||

    Violent ground acquisition sports such as football are merely a crypto-fascist metaphor for nuclear war.

    That's why I prefer football to tennis, fencing, and polo. You fucking peasants pansies.

  • ||

    So you haven't seen Back to School, RC?

  • Paul||

    No respect.

  • Warty||

    Stick around, kiddo. You'll see how things work here.

  • Josh Kennedy||

    Wow, what an amazing, well-spoken, polite, and smart interviewee seen in Lex McMahon. Pays homage to his adoptive father (and the Marine Corps in one sentence), courteously disagrees with Sen McCain, and spells out how the market drove some internal regulation of the MMA industry. Compare Mr. McMahon with knucklehead promoters like Don King of the boxing world and it is no wonder that MMA is far more popular these days.

  • Neu Mejican||

    Adding rules helped the sport but I think a few of them ended up hurting.

    1) Groin kicks should be legal. If you can't defend it, you should lose.
    2) Weight classes should be based on your average weight over the 6 weeks prior to the fight. Too much of the sport is about ability to cut weight for weigh in and fight smaller guys.

    3) Keep rounds but lose points and make matches based on a KO or Tap or "I give up." (makes it hard to schedule as fights might go more than 5 rounds, but it gets rid of the judges score card).

  • Neu Mejican||

    Also - some of the details about particular strikes make no sense. Sure, kicking a grounded opponent in the head while you are standing shouldn't be allowed, but kicking a guy who is on top of you when you are grounded is less dangerous than a head kick while both men are standing.

    Yadda yadda.

  • ||

    Hey, I've always been one for a good brawl same as a good brew. I was chaos punk that was around a lot of skinheads when I was younger... but a lot of these MMA tapout dudes are incredibly big douchebags man.... We had a group of them start some shit in my local pub last summer.. some asshole roidraging fucked up some guy's head against the lottery machine, blood all over my favorite table 'n shit... and nobody ever knew why, not even his friends. Same shit happened in Ocean City. Fuckin' freaks of nature if you ask me.

    Looks at this Asshole:

    MMA Fighter Allegedly Ripped Out Partners' Heart in Murder Case

  • Tommy Jefferson||

    This article is a sad example of how crapifying your product to conform with government regulations is always more financially rewarding than improving your product.

  • ||

    I like MMA even fought a few amateur bouts. This was in the 90's and the people fighting were mostly martial artists now the sport draws a lot of punks.

    The professional MMA is better with the rules and weight classes the problem for me is the fan base it attracts.

    I refuse to wear a f*&% Tap Out T.

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