Ultimate fighting, the no-holds-barred hybrid of wrestling, boxing, and martial arts that was recently spoofed in the popular sitcom Friends, may have gone the way of roller derby. Surprisingly, the people who pulled the plug on the sport were those who stood to make money from it: cable operators.
The first Ultimate Fighting Championship was held in the United States in 1993. A number of critics charged that ultimate fighting is barbaric, some comparing it with cock fighting. Such charges led the boxing commissions in Nevada and New York to refuse to sanction the events, effectively banning the sport. Yet it has been popular in Brazil for more than 70 years, where promoters say no contestant has died as a result of injuries suffered during a fight. Indeed, fans of ultimate fighting point out that combatants, who wear no gloves or other protective padding, may be more likely to be defeated by an opponent before they are seriously injured than, say, boxers or even football players.
In May, Time Warner's cable division joined TCI, Cablevision, and other providers by announcing it would no longer carry ultimate fighting matches on its pay-per-view outlets. A few weeks earlier, National Cable Television Association President Decker Anstrom had urged members to drop the fights, saying they weren't up to the standards of other cable offerings (presumably including such stellar programs as wet T-shirt contests, bodybuilding championships, professional wrestling matches, or reruns of The A-Team).
In a more telling statement, Anstrom also suggested it might not be politically astute to air ultimate fighting contests. Good move: The chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee is Arizona Republican John McCain, a longtime foe of ultimate fighting. McCain, whose committee regulates the cable industry, has suggested a federal ban of the sport. McCain shouldn't bother: Without the prospect of pay-per-view revenues, ultimate fighting may have to throw in the towel.