How, and more importantly why, has this sport over the last fifteen years become so popular that people wear tee shirts showing the splattered winner’s faces and set up viewing parties at home? One answer that I’ve read explains that it all began in New York city with formation of the something called the UFC, Ultimate Fighting Championships. But Wikipedia presents a slightly different explanation, one that may be related to the David Mamet film, Red Belt. It claims it all started in So Cal with the famous Brazilian martial arts family, the Gracies in collaboration with film maker John Milius.
Whatever its origins, I personally hold it started with the Romans and probably explains the popularity of such weak film fare as Gladiator. 1993 seems to be the beginning of the current phenomenon. According to the history of the UFC, gathering enthusiastic competitors from all kinds of fighting sports, the spectacles quickly became competitive events fought in an arena shaped like an Octagon.
The octagonal competition mat and cage design are registered trademarks and/or trade dress of Zuffa, LLC and are symbolic of the highest quality mixed martial arts events brought to you under the Ultimate Fighting Championship® brand name. In 1993, UFC events were the first to feature an eight-sided competition configuration which has become known worldwide as the UFC Octagon™The UFC Octagon™ is unique from any other fighting arena because the octagonal shape and structure have become inherently associated with Zuffa and the UFC brand name among mixed martial arts consumers, other mixed martial arts organizations and the national media. The UFC Octagon is regularly featured on UFC Pay-per-view events, UFC® Fight Night™ and The Ultimate Fighter® reality TV series. The UFC Octagon™ creates a neutral arena to showcase the skills of UFC mixed martial arts athletes. The UFC organization has established a reputation for providing the maximum safety to the fighters with commission approved ring structures, canvas, and all safety padding and fences. Zuffa makes major investments to ensure the safety of competitors in the UFC Octagon — as a result, when people see the Octagon they associate it with the reputation and quality delivered only by Zuffa at UFC events.
Ernest Becker is a psychologically oriented anthropologist who focuses on fear of physical death as the mainspring of human behavior. He sees himself as continuing to develop Jung’s idea of the projection of the shadow, but he very emphatically argues that this shadow that is projected is a rejected awareness of one’s mortality. Because human beings are animals, we are mortal. But we also have highly developed brains that give us an ability to be self-conscious and to anticipate the future. We can see that death is our eventual fate, but because we are animals who are basically narcissistic, we want to be immortal. This clash between what we want and what we know is coming overwhelms us. It disturbs us so much that we invent all sorts of personal and social lies in our efforts to somehow pretend that we are immortal. One of the lies we tell ourselves is that if we can triumph over our enemies, we can rise above the limitations of our condition. We can project the shadow, that awareness of our mortality that we have repressed into our unconscious, onto the enemies or the scapegoats we attack in an attempt to prove that they will die and we will not. At root, violence against others is an effort to avoid facing one’s own mortality with existential honesty and courage.