Team Fighting ChampionshipThe Life of Team Fighting Championship: Nasty, Brutish and Short Paul French July 31, 2014 Spotlight A group of five black-clad women appears in a room of rope, cheap mat-pads and tires. A vaguely Eastern musical intro thumps and whines, and the women dance erotically. There is no audience present, but the women look straight ahead as if there were. Smiling, they get on all fours; they whip their hair and pump their breasts to the beat’s clumsy jabber. But their time in the ring is short, and without any finales or fanfare they skitter back behind the twisted rope of a recently inaugurated ring. It’s time for other groups of five to enter—two groups of austere-faced European men with hands they can’t keep still inside white, open-finger gloves. Everyone looks nervous, tight-eyed, as if there had been an unheeded bomb threat on the industrial warehouse that the large ring looks to be a part of. But the show goes on, and the two groups square off, stretching and hopping out their nerves as a referee speaks rough English into a microphone: “About rules. No contact wiz eyes. No contact wiza Adam’s Apple. And no biting.” Shortly after this, these two groups of men commence to beating each other senseless, bloodying each other one on one and then, as more and more members of the groups are dragged off (literally) by referees, two on one, then three on one, and so on until the winner is declared. There are no spectators. There is no applause. There are just the garbled screams of victors calling out a team name. If you’re at all familiar with the scene I’ve just described, then you’re probably also a tick in the view count of one of Team Fighting Championship’s many YouTube entries. Holding its first event earlier this year, the TFC hopes to hook itself into the profitable MMA market with a fresh gimmick: five-on-five fighting and very few rules. The only one that the ref above left out was a ban on groin strikes. Everything else, including hair pulling, small joint manipulation and knees/kicks to the head of a downed opponent, is legal. The latter blows, especially, are very common in the small sample of TFC combat available online. It’s only been a few months and already this fledgling off-brand has found a sizeable online following (27,639 subscribers to the YouTube channel as this is written). If you scan the blogosphere, you’ll find plenty of early advocates for this “next step” in MMA athletics. Many newly minted fans enjoy the touted “reality” aspect of the sport. Others like the throttled chaos of its nonstop action. It is brutal, as a lot of people have said, but then what did John McCain infamously call the early UFC? Human cockfighting? I have to admit, there’s a lot about this new sport that harks back to the old days of professional MMA. The lack of rules, the disorganized presentation of the fights, the inadequate and tawdry ring space (Remember how those foam cage bars would just bend under weight?), the poor officiating, the dragging of unconscious bodies out of the ring…uh…the absence of spectators…uh…the ring girls’ opening erotic dance routines…? Okay, not everything is reminiscent of the good ol’ days. But this is a new sport and we can’t beat it for its trappings when the foundation’s barely built. So I won’t leap to nitpick on small points like bodies being dragged out of rings or stacks of tractor tires being used as turnbuckles. No, I’m just going to posit that TFC won’t work on principle. Either TFC will fail in the next year or it will sustain an obscure cult following for the next few years and then fail. It’s not entertaining and it never will be. Here’s why: Why do people watch fighting? More apt: Why do people enjoy fighting? What’s entertaining about boxing and MMA? Possible answer: People like violence. Sure, that is true on some level. Violence can be entertaining. Explosions are cool. Action movies always make the best blockbusters. But suppose someone makes a movie that’s all action, violent action. Imagine the first 10 minutes of Saving Private Ryan. Now imagine that action multiplied by 12 times, stretched over two hours. It’d be hard for most people to sit through. And it wouldn’t necessarily be because this kind of violence, over a long duration, becomes unbearable for the viewer (though, for some, yes), it would be because after a certain point, the audience would stop caring. People can’t be invested in violence alone. You can’t have a film that contains nothing—and I mean absolutely nothing—but explosions and gunfire and expect your viewers to be thrilled. You can expect them to be bored, though. Anything can become monotony. And because of TFC’s five-on-five method, there are no breaths between punches, no glances at the clock, no sit-downs with anxious corner men. In other words, there’s no drama. The shot is constantly switching from place to place, from scrap to scrap. Your eyes have a fleeting chance at registering who’s who before those wild haymakers land and the camera moves on to someone else. You’re confused, and after a while, you’re apathetic. By sucking the drama out of fighting, TFC has provided a living rhetorical response to the idea that people who watch combat sports do so because they enjoy the base action of it. It doesn’t matter how brutal, how bloody, or how allegedly “real” (that description is so laughable when you watch these things) TFC is. It has neglected one of the entertainment business’s oldest and most important sources of intrigue, a principle that singers, playwrights, performers and poets have been practicing since long before Homer: rhythm.