The ultimate fight

JOSE RODRIGUEZ -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 1:36 PM ET

It's the never-ending story.

Know-it-alls who have never watched an entire mixed-martial arts event in their lives, line up like kids at the carnival dunk tank for a chance to take down the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

The latest to hop on the self-righteous bandwagon is conservative gabshow host Bill O'Reilly.

In a recent episode of his FOX News show, O'Reilly squared off with UFC President Dana White and Middleweight Champ Rich Franklin.

Hothead O'Reilly went on about how boxing played a role in Muhammad Ali's Parkinson's disease. (Thank you Dr. O'Reilly)

And since MMA allows not just punching but also kicks and elbows, it must be worse.

White and Franklin argued back, but, like a capricious three-year-old bent on a popsicle, O'Reilly wasn't letting go.

Sadly, as fans of the world's fastest-growing sport will attest, this is nothing new.

Despite adding regulations, sanctioning bodies, timed rounds and weight classes, the UFC just can't escape its image as a Neanderthal's nirvana. A sport custom-made for the great unrefined masses who would pay to watch a live execution if they could.

Back in the early days of the UFC -- a time when the owners of the event marketed it more as a travelling freak show of caged carnage than a sport -- it was Sen. John McCain who played the role of O'Reilly.

McCain, an avid boxing fan who was once ringside when a fighter was killed, went on a crusade to crush the UFC in the late 90s.

Armed with a mouthful of superlatives and his sway in the Senate, McCain lobbied states across the U.S. to ban this form of "human cockfighting."

He was successful as state-after-state heeded the good senators call to arms.

But in 2000, the Ferttita brothers -- a pair of billionaire casino owners -- and White bought the UFC, and things began to change. Rules were added and states began allowing their athletic commissions to sanction events.

The mammoth wall McCain had helped build against the UFC was beginning to crumble.

Today, for the most part, MMA fighters are viewed as legitimate athletes.

The ultra-hot reality show The Ultimate Fighter is converting fans by the hundreds of thousands -- especially men between 18 and 34.

Mainstream media coverage has been slow in coming, but recently newspapers in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Boston -- and of course, Calgary -- have dedicated writers to the sport and even Sports Illustrated is begining to pay attention.

"We can no longer be denied," White told me in a recent interview.

But back to O'Reilly and McCain's initial point that this is dangerous stuff.

Yes, it is.

And like all professional athletes who voluntarily enter into a sport, MMA fighters know there are risks. Boxers have died in the ring, hockey players have died in the rink and football players have collapsed on the field and never recovered.

No one has died in the Octagon, but only a fool would bet that it can't happen. It's a risk the fighters, promoters and referees are fully aware of and take every precaution to prevent. Just like in any other aggressive sport.

Yet no one seems in any way hungry to ban hockey, football, or even boxing for that matter.

White and his guys will continue to fight against those who are convinced they know better than fans and the fighters.

I, for one, have no problem with these uneducated critics lining up to take a shot at the UFC. It seems every time they do, the sport only grows.

But if they ever tire of the idiodic rants, I offer this very simple solution to end their stress and frustration: If you don't like it, don't watch it.

FIGHT NOTES:

* Canadian Kalib Starnes may not have won The Ultimate Fighter Season 3 contract, but he did score himself a three fight deal with the UFC. No word on when the 31-year-old will next take to the cage.

* Former UFC fighter Lightning Lee Murray has been arrested in Morocco in connection with England's largest cash heist. More than $100 million Cdn. was taken from the Securitas depot in Kent last February.

* King of the Cage promoter Keith Crawford has resigned from his post with the company to seek out greener pastures. I'm sure we haven't seen the last of Keith. Best of luck.

* For up-to-date MMA and UFC news, log on to The Scrapyard at www.calgarysun.com


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