Most of us remember The Wonder Years and Kevin Arnold as he made his way through junior high and high school. His love interest, Winnie Cooper, and best friend, Paul Pfeiffer, by his side. When thinking of the hit TV show we probably even sing along to Joe Coker's cover of the Beatles tune, With a Little Help from My Friends.
The Wonder Years aired from January of 1988 to March of 1993. Each episode set twenty years in the past and narrated by an older, wiser Kevin Arnold. Twenty years from now will MMA fans sit back and narrate our own version of The Wonder Years, as we look back and reminisce over what used to be?
We, the fans, the fighters, the promoters, the advertisers, the sport as a whole, are an insatiable monster gobbling up everything in our path on our quest for mainstream acceptance. We sit on the edge of our seats yearning, speculating, on the next big breakthrough as we chomp our way to bigger and better things. Maybe though, at least when it comes to us fans, we should sit back, let our food digest, and recognize that right now we have a pretty damn good thing going!
As one wise fan recently put it, "I feel torn, maybe I'm greedy, but with the explosion of the sport it feels like we are losing a little something. We've belonged to an exclusive club, like a fraternity, and now the doors are wide open."
He, like so many others, is excited about MMA's mainstream acceptance, but he might be one of the few to voice his conflicting emotions about the sport's evolution. We really are in a time that twenty years from now might be viewed as The Wonder Years. A time of innocence and growth, a time before MMA was yanked from its roots.
Some may ask, "Why exactly is this the so called wonder years?" One simple answer (there's probably a few more), we really are all something of a fraternity, fans and fighters alike. In no other sport are the athletes as accessible as they are in MMA. These guys are regular guys who happen to have the unique ability of striking or choking someone to sleep. They have no qualms about sharing information about themselves and mingling with the fans; in fact they even seem to appreciate it.
A perfect example, only hours before UFC 85 Mike Swick in a rush to get to his waiting van, came out of the hotel elevator and cut through the lobby. In his path were a dozen or so fans asking for pictures. He was obviously anxious to get to the arena, but stopped and posed with all of them, even putting one in the "Swick-otine" and staring down another.
Swick was finally able to get away and then his opponent Marcus Davis piled out of the same elevator. He too stopped and took pictures, even spent time visiting with a couple fans.
Would this happen with baseball, football, or basketball players? Would the athletes, the stars, be so accommodating, especially right before a big event? Maybe, but probably not, they'd most likely be shuffled through the lobby in a train of bodies, or even whisked away through a side door.
We all know how the Swick/Davis fight went. Both men fought a hard fifteen minutes. Swick walked away the victor snapping Davis' eleven fight win streak, and Marcus got a face-full of stitches for his troubles. After such a grueling night, who could blame Davis if he had no desire to talk to anyone, let alone needy fans? But as he returned to that very same hotel lobby, now with a slight limp, the aforementioned stitched face, and his right arm held gingerly at his side, guess what he did, spent time talking to and taking pictures with the fans.
Marcus Davis' actions after the fight, when compared to most athletes in other sports, are so above and beyond the call of duty it's darn near laughable. Not in MMA though, and that can be proven further by Swick's actions only days after the fight. He took the time to post a lengthy entry on a popular MMA forum about the event, even making fun of himself for his "swim technique" near the end of the fight.
Why do these guys do this? Why are they so willing to go out of their way to accommodate? Maybe they too feel a sense of fraternity within the fledgling sport. And this sense, this little (constantly growing) club is unique to say the least.
It is sad to think that one day in the future, when MMA is even bigger and fighters aren't so accessible, when we are older, wiser Kevin Arnolds. We might sit back and remember these times, when fighters like Marcus Davis, Mike Swick, and a host of others were one of the guys. Hopefully, even as our fraternity grows, it won't break us apart. In the meantime, we should appreciate and enjoy these Wonder Years.