Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Ultimate Fighting” and Ancient Rome

I recently had occasion to spend a few most interesting days in the Republic of South Africa. While there I had some wonderful and disturbing experiences.

The most unsettling, apart from the poverty and evident signs of violence and fear had less to do with South Africa than a television program out of the United States that was on the regular channel on the TV in my room.

Casually switching stations trying to find one that was not televising rugby (don’t get me wrong, I love rugby and used to play it at a serious level but even I have my saturation point…) I came across a channel showing something called “ultimate fighting.”

This spectacle (for it was not a sport by any good definition of the term) involved very muscle-bound and chemically enhanced men trying to incapacitate each other by a combination of kicks, elbows, punches etc. Biting alone seemed ruled out only because the competitors wore large mouth guards. Head butting seemed to be de rigeur. The leather coverings on the fists were not gloves, as they are known in boxing since they were much thinner and without padding.

This “entertainment” differed from so-called “all-star wrestling” in that it was actually happening and not faked. More importantly, there was a large celebrity audience that included, so the announcer made clear, several leading porn actors, sports figures and politicians.

The event was taking place in a casino in New York and billed itself as having the fasted growing ratings on television. If this is true things are worse than I thought - - and that is saying rather a lot.

For one thing, this fighting is very bloody and extremely violent. It is, in a word, gladiatorial. I don’t know if anyone has died in it yet, but the prospect of a death is certainly there - - as it is in boxing, but more so in “ultimate fighting” because choke-holds are allowed and, in one competition between two people one of whom was known by the charming sobriquet of “the Huntington Beach Bad Boy” a competitor actually passed out as a result of a choke-hold. First aid attendants rushed in to revive the incapacitated “athlete” and his opponent declared the winner of the match.

Good, clean fun exhibiting the best that human kind can achieve. Hardly.

The comparison between the baying crowd and the competitors slipping on each other’s blood with gladiatorial contests in ancient Rome is only too obvious. Of course we are not actually allowing weapons and intentional killings for the crowds’ entertainment but the direction this is going is fairly clear isn’t it?

Interestingly, the end of the gladiatorial contests of old is attributed to Christianity - - though subjected to numerous prohibitions from Constantine onwards it was a monk in the year 404 A.D., one Telemachus, who brought proceedings finally to a close when he rushed into the arena to try and separate the combatants only to be instantly despatched by the order of the person in charge. When the Emperor of the time, Honorius, heard the report he issued an edict abolishing the games that were never afterwards revived.

Now that the old blood lusts are rising again and Christianity is no longer the force it was keeping such things as child sacrifice and blood sports in check, we should keep our eyes peeled for the first legal killing contests…they are coming closer all the time and if ultimate fighting is anything to go by, just around the corner.

Iain T. Benson ©