UFCWe’ve all experienced those moments of being caught in conversation with people we don’t really know and can’t really be bothered with, but find ourselves bound to make small-talk with regardless to avoid being labelled an ignoramus.

One of two points of conversation almost always come up: “So, what do you do for a living?” Why the hell does it matter? I work for 8 hours a day, don’t particularly enjoy it, and now you’re making me talk about the bloody place in my spare time?! Fuck off! I’d rather discuss my granny’s knickers. Or, alternatively I’m asked: “Did you see the football on Saturday night?” That’s “soccer” to the US readers: not the ridiculous American spectacle of grown men running around with so much padding you’d think they’re expecting a gun-totting madman to take a shot at them sometime soon.

Because I’m a man other men almost always assume I enjoy watching a bunch of increasingly effeminate males prance around a football pitch after a ball, and whinging to the referee at the first point of physical contact, however minimal, from a member of the opposing team: it wrecks their hair, apparently. For a long time I’ve been bemused by the damned-near childish infatuation men (and, admittedly, some women), have with this game: from wearing replica football jerseys with the name of their favourite player on their back (as if somehow someone might confuse their tubby arse with David Beckham), to the huffing and puffing and crying like little girls when the game doesn’t go their way.

The reaction I often get when I say this to other men is such that I may as well have asked: “So, do you mind if I rape your wife?” A man who doesn’t like football??? CANNOT COMPUTE CANNOT COMPUTE!!! I’ve instantly become a weirdo, an outcast, a being from another planet; and I know in the back of their minds they’re struggling with the burning issue: “Holy Fuck how do you hold a conversation with someone who doesn’t like football. I’ve never met anyone like this before – it’s like trying to talk to a woman!”

But, the astonishment doesn’t end there. When they finally splutter out the question “So, what sport are you interested in?” my response really rocks them back: “I like Ultimate Fighting.”

Awkward pause.

No, I didn’t say I’d like to see your granny wearing nothing but a hot pink thong. I never expressed my sexual preference for chickens. And I’d like to know if my breath smells like a donkey’s fart because the look on your face would suggest that it does, either that or I’ve just transfigured into Charles Manson before your very eyes.

For my own well-being I take a step back at this point so as to avoid the spit that often accompanies the subsequent spluttering and stammering. In my experience one of two things happens next. When their brain finally stops short-circuiting I either get: “Oh, right, lovely weather, eh? Hey Dave I haven’t seen you in ages! Excuse me, must run.” Or else: “Oh. That’s a bit brutal isn’t it?” And the look on their face is one of worry: “is this guy going to beat the living piss out of me?”

My preference for a sport like Ultimate Fighting has more to it than a dislike of watching childish men prancing around after a ball and the irrational blind devotion that seems to go with being a fan of football. In fact, it’s related to my political and moral philosophy. A central pillar of this philosophy is belief in individual rights: the right to your own life, and the freedom to use your own mind to make decisions for yourself and accept the consequences. You are, or at least should be, free to do what you like (without transgressing the rights of others) and must accept personal responsibility for your own choices: a philosophy that is rapidly disappearing in our days of collectivism, where individual rights are being eroded quicker than the speed at which bullets leave guns and the concept of personal responsibility may as well be a fart in the wind for all the impact it has on many members of the population. These days things are almost always someone else’s fault. Moreover, these days many citizens don’t think they should have to earn their own well-being – they expect it to be handed to them, whether or not they’ve done anything to deserve and earn it.

My philosophy, on the other hand, holds great respect for the autonomy of each individual, far more so than any other philosophy on offer such as the retarded, intellectually bankrupt and morally vacuous spewings of socialism or its more consistent sister, communism. Ultimate Fighting is one of a small number of sports that is a great example of this emphasis on individual freedom and responsibility. But just what is it that makes it a great sporting example of this philosophy?

The competitors in an Ultimate Fighting bout do not rely on anyone else. Once the door of the octagon ring clangs behind them they’re alone. There are no team mates to help, and none to blame when you lose. You could be the greatest football player in the world but unless you’re in a good team you won’t have the success your skills might otherwise bring you. And a less skilful player in a better team could finish his career with far greater honours simply because of his team-mates. After a football game you can hide behind the team. No one was to blame for a loss. No one gets the credit for winning. It was “the team” that won or lost. The individual is to some extent lost. Not so with Ultimate Fighting. It’s one individual against another. And winning and losing is an individual affair. An individual is named champion, not a team. When a fighter puts in the effort and wins it is his own reward: not a reward for a bunch of other people who may or may not have deserved a share of the spoils, and no-one can rob him of the fruits of his efforts.

Furthermore, ultimate fighters cannot rely on anything but their own body and mind. Race car drivers rely on their equipment. If it breaks down it doesn’t matter a damn how good they are. They lose. When they win they are open to the charge of “better car, that’s why you won.” Ultimate Fighters cannot be accused of having better cars, lighter rackets, or faster shoes. They compete solely with their own body and mind. It’s individual versus individual in as literal a sense as one can get in any sport. The only differences between one fighter and another are the skills and strength of each individual, which have been honed through strenuous training and effort.

At first glance many people consider Ultimate Fighting to be brutal, and yet it has a far better safety record than Boxing. Thousands of boxers have died or been seriously injured in the past decade, whereas the record of serious injuries in mixed martial arts is virtually zero. But, that doesn’t mean there’s no harm inflicted. That guy facing you across the canvas wants to knock you out and will do everything in his power to do so. If you let him he’ll punch you until you’re unconscious or unable to intelligently defend yourself, at which point the referee intervenes and you’ve just got your arse kicked. And every fighter accepts this risk. No one is unbeatable. Somewhere and at sometime you’re going to take a beating. But, you prepare yourself. And when that beating finally comes you don’t whinge about how hard life is and how bad a hand you’ve been dealt (quite literally in the case of Ultimate Fighting!). It was your choice to enter the octagon. It was your choice to take part. And I’ve yet to hear an Ultimate Fighter whine about the sport. Fighters who take a beating train harder next time. It motivates them.

Every fighter acts in his own self-interest. Altruism and its nauseating morality has its ugly face ground into the canvas. Those who allow it to control a single thought or action for even a short time end up on the business end of a right-hook at the very least. You need to look after yourself, and no one else; and you can’t expect anyone else to look after you. There’s no special aid and No-one will give you a hand (except your opponent, but that’s not the kind of hand you want). Of course, the referee will intervene in the event of a fighters inability to defend himself (due to knock-out, technical knock-out or submission), but no fighter wants to be in this position, throwing himself at the mercy of another person.

In short, far from being a brutal, savage blood sport, Ultimate Fighting can teach us lessons about individual rights, freedom, personal responsibility and rational self-interest. I can’t think of a single sport that can teach that quite so well.