One of my favorite things to do while I watch an MMA card is to read the fan’s and MMA media’s thoughts on Twitter.

It’s a great way to gain a varied perspective on what is happening in the world of MMA, from insightful points, criticisms and arguments to funny quips and reactions. It is equally entertaining and sometimes just as fun as watching MMA itself. Sometimes, I find myself looking at the social media on my phone more than watching the action on my television screen. By the end of the event, I have enjoyed the fights, but also feel energized by the pulse of the MMA community.

The great thing about social media mediums like Twitter is how it connects us in a live conversation about an event as it is happening. Fans aren’t beholden to the MMA media’s content because the entire spectrum of opinion is basically being covered by fans. The rise in our connectivity gives a larger reach and arguably more weight to the voices of the multitude of MMA fans that now have a platform to be heard.

I was able to reach a few of the voices from both sides of the spectrum with little effort through the magic of Twitter. This is a testament to our connectivity, but as Strikeforce broadcaster and host of The MMA Show, Mauro Ranallo, explains to The MMA Corner, connectivity and popularity doesn’t equal success.

“I know who the respected and credible media sources are,” he said. “The fact that anyone can have a ‘show’ doesn’t concern me. Cream always rises to the top. More people talking about anything can only increase it’s profile, positively and negatively.”

What about the fans that aren’t concerned with professionalism? Do they offer opinions that are more honest than their professional contemporaries?

Ranallo gives a quote from Renzo Gracie to illuminate the question, “’Opinions are like belly buttons; everyone has one.’ Some fans offer intelligent commentary while others are simply ‘trolls’ looking for their 15 seconds of fame.”

The “trolls” Ranallo refers to are infamous personalities such as Bloodstain Lane and the co-host of the MMA Beatdown podcast, Mike Fester, also known by his Twitter handle, @MMABeatdown. Respectively, these personalities have gained more than 15 seconds of fame and found a niche for themselves to thrive within the MMA community. Ranallo might not feel the need to give them attention, but many fans do look to them as an alternative source of opinion on the subject of MMA.

“Good for them and who?” Ranallo asked facetiously. “Social media has its positives and negatives like anything else. I use it to monitor things that interest me. I don’t use Twitter so I can read things like ‘I HATE…'”

Through his podcast, Fester offers an alternative opinion from that of the professionals. For him, social media and the internet is a tool that empowers our opinions without restriction.

“I think it’s as true of a representation as you’re going to find on the internet to be perfectly honest,” he told The MMA Corner. “Twitter, and the internet on a whole, offers an outlet for people to have their voices heard where they otherwise wouldn’t be able to.

“As far as the influence they hold, I’d liken that to the ‘mobs’ in the Colosseum in ancient Rome.”

Fester has a good point with the mob mentality that sports in general create. Whether it is in the form of social media or actually being present at a sports event, fans often lose their sense of individuality and being part of a group can have a provocative effect on human behavior.

Dann Stupp, senior MMA editor for USA Today and editor-in-chief of MMA Junkie, sees fan representation in social media on an individual level.

“If you’re a fan, you handle yourself in a professional manner, and you find a platform—whether it’s a radio show or a blog or just a Twitter account—it’s really easy to blur the line between ‘professional’ journalist and amateur,” he explained. “Having a traditional journalism background certainly helps, as it has with most of MMAjunkie.com’s staff members, and it certainly earns you some credibility. But ultimately, you’re going to be judged by the work you do, so that opens the door for a lot of MMA fans to become a part of the MMA media.

“Ultimately, if you have a perspective that appeals to fans or readers or radio listeners, you’re going to be an influencer, and your opinions will matter.”

While professional media members cite the need for a specialized approach, Fester believes his social media use and podcast offer fans an authenticity that only an outsider can provide.

“My partner and I do this because we want to,” Fester said. “They do it because they have to. Nobody is going to fire me if they don’t like what I have to say tomorrow. Without that hanging over our heads, we’re completely free to say whatever we feel should be said. We also have the advantage of being able to side with people in certain situations that would be ‘journalistic suicide’ for anyone else.”

USA Today and MMA Junkie columnist Ben Fowlkes disagrees with voices such as Fester’s as being more authentic.

“I don’t know if fan commentary is more honest, simply because I doubt there are too many professional journalists offering dishonest commentary,” he stated. “We’re all saying what we really think, and we’re all fans.”

Fowlkes touches on the point that no matter what side of the discussion we are taking part in, being an MMA fan is the great equalizer.

“I think there’s this perception sometimes that we’re all just sports writers who were assigned to the MMA beat by our bosses, and now we have to trudge through it until something better opens up,” Fowlkes said. “That’s so far from the truth. All the MMA writers I know were fans of this sport before they got paid to write about it. If they quit their jobs tomorrow, they’d still watch all the fights. They just wouldn’t have to stay up all night writing stories afterward. And they wouldn’t get reimbursed for the pay-per-views anymore.”

His colleague Stupp supports the idea that we are all in the same boat. From fans to professionals, we wouldn’t be involved with MMA in any form if we didn’t have a strong interest with the sport to begin with.

“Honestly, for anyone to cover MMA, you have to be a pretty hardcore fan. I think that’s a big difference between MMA and other sports,” said Stupp.

Perhaps the hardcore fan in me is placing the outspoken bodies in our fan culture on a higher pedestal than what is actually the norm. Our collective MMA group has a shorter line to wade past in order for our opinions to be heard. Whereas sports giants like the NFL have a sea of spectators, the comparatively smaller size of MMA culture has more vacancies that fans can fill to be heard and not be drowned out or forced to concede. This makes podcasts such as Fester’s seem all the fresher in the growing sport of MMA.

The MMA Beatdown podcast is an unconventional and humorous view of the sport we all love. I’d personally call Fester a MMA comedian, and he doesn’t disagree.

“That is actually a very good accounting of what I’m trying to do,” said Fester. “Laughter makes the world go round. So if I can make a few people have a laugh at the expense of a highly-paid professional athlete, why wouldn’t I?”

Such podcasts are a mark of the sport’s growth as well as a prime example of how social media and internet culture are an integral part of that. It wasn’t long ago, back in April 2005, that Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar were duking it out on Spike TV, determining the fate of the UFC. MMA could have been a failure to launch in North America. If that had been the case, think of how the term “hardcore MMA fan” would probably have the same meaning as “mythical creature.”

I, for one, am glad to see such reactionary entertainment growing within our culture. When Fester tells the hardcore fans to get a life or gives no-holds-barred criticism of fighters, it is refreshing to laugh at myself and the perceived folly of others. You might not feel the same way, but such things are what give life to the sport.

Another well-known social media personality, Bloodstain Lane, was not reached for comment, but nonetheless, it is his story that is an intriguing representation of how social media can elevate a fan to a wide audience. He started out as a fan, like all of us, and through grassroots promotion using Twitter and interest gained from his vlogs on Youtube, he has risen to the level of a semi-prominent voice within the MMA community. His brash style of delivering opinions is certainly divisive, but his everyman approach is understandably appealing.

I asked each of the professional journalists their opinion on the “fame” of a personality such as Lane and the answers varied.

“That’s a pretty generous definition,” said Fowlkes of Lane’s perceived fame. “We forget sometimes that MMA is still a pretty small world. Having a few thousand Twitter followers doesn’t make you famous, in any meaningful sense of the word.”

Stupp’s answer was more optimistic.

“For every personal [sic] who thinks he’s ridiculous or unprofessional, you also have someone who appreciates his personality and blunt opinions,” said Stupp. “The difference is that without social media such as Twitter and YouTube, voices like his wouldn’t be heard. Sure, he may not appeal to some fans, but it’s clear from his popularity that many fans do like his style. So it’s great social media gives him and his supporters the opportunity for him to be heard.” 

When asked about his own fame gained from his social media use, Fester joked, “I’m still waiting for my star on the Walk Of Fame.”

As we have seen, social media displays our opinion and influence on an even keel across the board, but that doesn’t give the whole story. It is the merit of what is being offered that will truly define something.

An analogy would be the debate of fine art versus folk art. Your Lane’s and Fester’s, like folk artists, offer us something that doesn’t need the approval of an institution. They produce for themselves and for the community. They give us something personal and reflective of our culture, but above all, a valid offering.

Journalists and broadcasters like Fowlkes, Stupp and Ranallo give us a quality product. Like fine artists, they are academically trained and have credibility to back what they are offering.

Of course, fans don’t need to choose sides. We can enjoy what we like, but there is a reason the entire world knows the name of an artist such as Michelangelo and not his lesser-known contemporaries or detractors. The difference is that, in today’s world, that notoriety is only a click away.

Photo: the UFC Octagon (Paul Thatcher/Fight! Magazine)

About The Author

David Massey
Staff Writer

David Massey studied Humanities and Art History at the University of Central Oklahoma. He first found interest in MMA from the first TUF show and has been hooked ever since. He began posting on mmajunkie then submitting Sunday Junkie entries and that began his interest in writing about MMA. Through twitter David found other MMA enthusiasts and began contributing articles to marqueemma.com. He looks forward to growing as a writer and being a part of the sport he loves.