There was a recent survey taken of MMA fans that found that “violence” was only the 5th most important reason for watching MMA events. You can find an in-depth discussion of this study at The Average Visitor blog (which just happens to be written by my girlfriend).
Personally, I think the fact that there were 4 reasons more important to spectators than “violence” for watching MMA is encouraging. As Ashley mentioned, there’s an unfortunate stereotype that MMA fans are brutish, blood-thirsty, low-brow meat heads. To give you a example of what I mean, in her blog post Ashley refers to an experience we had here in Logan, UT at
The Beehive Grill an anonymous local establishment. There was a Spike TV broadcast of a UFC event, and I had called the place to see if they would show it. After being told they did in fact have the channel, I rounded up a bunch of friends (many of whom weren’t MMA fans, but wanted a few wings and a beer) and headed over. When we arrived, we were told that the owner did not allow MMA to be shown on the TV because it would encourage patrons to fight.
I was kind of surprised by this. I mean, the people watching football at the next table somehow managed to contain their urges to tackle the waitresses. Yet apparently us low-brow MMA fans would descend into a crazed bloodlust if we were permitted to see trained martial artists competing on TV. In any case, we happily watched the fights and spent our money at
The White Owl a different local establishment.
Since MMA (and the component martial arts that the competitors train) have gained prominence in the last decade or two, spectators are becoming more knowledgeable about the intricacies of the fight game. These aren’t untrained street fighters that we are watching. They are highly skilled martial artists, who are using highly specific techniques to win their fights. I’ve noticed that in recent years, the crowd reacts (with cheers and boos) more appropriately when techniques are correctly applied – even if they don’t end in a submission or knockout. For example, when MMA was just starting to get popular, crowds would only go wild when somebody got knocked out. Now, you’ll hear the crowd cheering when a fighter passes guard, establishes mount, or sweeps an opponent.
This is encouraging. Maybe in a few more years, as MMA continues to grow in popularity and gains a wider exposure (incidentally, the UFC recently got a prime time deal with FOX), it (along with its spectators) will be treated in the same regard as football, basketball, or hockey.