There was a level of hype built up around last night’s episode of The Ultimate Fighter that was impressive even for a sport like MMA, which specializes in building hype.
All week long commercials promised viewers a knockout the likes of which we’d never seen. They showed footage of a mystery someone being loaded into an ambulance and UFC President Dana White declaring that the knockout was one of the nastiest he’d ever seen in his years in the fight game. He wasn’t wrong. Uriah Hall’s spinning heel kick to Adam Cella’s head was brutal. But in the UFC’s eternal struggle to find a balance between the nebulous, oftentimes queasy demands of mainstream commercial acceptance and the bloody realities of mixed martial arts, what choice did they have but to not only broadcast the knockout but to sing it out? – This is what we do, love us or hate us.
What they could have done instead, perhaps, was promote what went on after the kick, though it probably would have made for a less convincing 30-second ad, even as it made for more compelling television.
As soon as the initial thrill of Hall’s kick wore off, and it was clear that Cella wasn’t getting up, that his breathing was labored, that his eyes were staring off at nothing, that there was no guarantee he was okay, a whole room full of hardened men – fighters, coaches, fight doctors, promoters -- men who’ve become numb to the dangers of fighting, went silent and stayed that way. It was a remarkable moment of unfiltered humanity for a sport that’s too often criticized for being barbaric and for a television genre that specializes almost entirely in scripted emotion and force-fed sentimentality.
Look at Uriah Hall’s face as the seconds tick away (minutes actually, in real, not TV, time): There’s more than just worry or shame there. Look at the faces of the other fighters: There’s more than just concern. What they’re experiencing is the inextricable and inexpressible interconnectedness of humanity; what they're staring at is the possibility of their own fates reflected back at them. John Donne once wrote that each person is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. No one who fights professionally could watch Adam Cella struggling to recover and fail to picture himself or herself in his place. Each man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind. For one brief moment on a reality TV show, a professional MMA fighter became both a memento mori (“remember you must die") and a reminder of the unsnappable bonds of humanity.
Therefore, send not to know for whom that ambulance came; it came for thee.
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