What to make of these comparisons of the NHL to the UFC?
Ron McLean echoed the broken-record 'I hate Vancouver' chorus tonight, in-voguing his dislike for Alex Burrows - comments of a personal, unprofessional, who-asked-you-anyway variety, but not much of a surprise as the CBC continues to be reduced to a mere soap box.
Jim Hughson was a refreshing exception - he seems to actually pay attention to what is happening as opposed to relentlessly 'having an opinion'. His references to the Swedish goonery of Henrik Sedin were appropriate - funny that you never hear the let-er-go advocates noting that the game of hockey is being ruined by soft calls against sportmanlike players. Tonights game took on a familiar dynamic that CBC commentators and NHL officials handle poorly.
Speaking of opinions, yet again, the issue of fighting came up.
"If you're in favour of fighting, you are a barbarian. If you are against it..." apparently everyone loves you, according to Don Cherry.
Last time I noticed, the people in favour of fighting in hockey have plenty of voice.
Mike Milbury made some comments about a double standard regarding the UFC and the NHL? He was talking about some CBC people at the UFC event but it wasn't all that clear what he was going on about. It was like an insular/inside conversation taking place on the air, while not bothering to update the viewers with the context. Not exactly viewer-friendly even if you aren't from Vancouver.
But what I wanted to talk about or take issue with are the blurry comparisons of the NHL to the UFC.
I have heard the assumption expressed elsewhere that if a person is against fighting in the NHL that they must also be against the UFC.
I disagree with that.
First of all, there is no real comparison between the fighting that takes place in the octagon versus the NHL.
I am not in favour of fighting in the NHL.
I watch the UFC.
I don't see that as a contradiction for a number of reasons.
I watch hockey to see a hockey game, and I watch the UFC to watch mixed martial arts.
The differences seem obvious.
First the UFC competes with gloves, in an octagon, not on ice, in between hockey plays. It is true that in the UFC there are strikes from elbows and knees etc, but most knockout strikes still come from the hands, which move at speeds far faster than knees, elbows, or feet.
Second, and most importantly, UFC fighters are matched up against fighters within a few pounds of each other, who are fighters first and foremost. In the NHL, bare-fisted strikes from players of random size, weight and fighting ability are problematic. What can happen to a guy who is knocked out and lands on their head on the ice is another issue. Some guys can "handle themselves, others not so much so. There are enough concussions in the NHL as a result of regular hockey plays. From where I sit as a fan, referees in the NHL just don't seem as professional as those in the UFC - sorry NHL, but your version of "justice" is extremely inconsistent in comparison.
Third, fighters have months to recover between bouts in the UFC, and the protection of fighters in the octagon is vigilant - fights are stopped when a fighter is no longer able to defend themselves. There are undoubtedly concussions suffered regularly in the UFC, but many concussions are also prevented by having what appears a fairly pro-active presence in the ring - the referees in the UFC are fast to act and integral to the protection of fighters once they have ceased to be able to defend themselves, not merely after they have been knocked unconscious. The UFC deserves credit that there is scarcely or rarely any disputing of referee stoppages, and referees are not hesitant to act.
There is no shame when these fighters, undoubtedly among the toughest of individuals in the world, are forced to tap out, or when a referee steps in to intervene to protect a vulnerable fighter.
It seems ironic that there appears to be more macho talk, bravado, and posturing amongst NHL commentary than there is in the UFC commentary. The UFC fighters do their share of trash talking and showmanship, but ironically there appears to be more respect for opponents. Fighting is still a regular presence in the NHL but doesn't seem to have preserved or resulted in the respect or 'honesty' that advocates of fighting claim it does. I think the lack of respect in the NHL stems from something other than a lack of fighting. It stems from a lack of respect plain and simple. Look at the difference between the professional cultures of other leagues - the NFL penalizes taunting - the NHL is full of taunting; players skate by opposing benches and "call out" the entire team with no repercussions.
Fighters in the UFC are professional fighters fighting other professional fighters.
In the NHL, the concept of frontier justice and five minutes for fighting is sadly overdue for rethinking. In the NHL there is a bizarre philosophy that someone other than the officials are ultimately responsible for 'justice' - if the officials don't do their job (which seems a fairly common perception), then frontier justice appoints itself. What does that do for the NHL? Does the perceived entertainment value take priority over the integrity of the league's administration?
Advocates of fighting in hockey trying to co-opt the UFC as if the presence of the UFC justifies fighting in the NHL are undermining the legitimacy of the UFC.
I see the UFC as a legitimate fight-sport which has had to face much stiffer questions than the NHL regarding how it conducts itself - the NHL on the other hand can be hard to take seriously and approaches its business as if it has a 'grandfather clause' that it can take for granted indefinitely.
The differences seem fairly obvious.
In the NHL you have guys that weight 60 and even 80 pounds or more than on-ice opponents. The NHL does not have weight classes. The NHL players can play as many as 100 games in a season. Durability is a serious question/problem.
The UFC does not resolve bad blood between fighters by engaging in a hockey game. They may have an air hockey game to decide which team has the match-up advantage in trying to decide which fighter on which team will be the next ultimate fighter, but it is hardly comparable.
As a sports fan who likes to watch hockey more than any other sport, the unfortunate reality seems to be that no other professional sport goes about it's business quite the way the NHL does - the NHL hasn't quite created a culture of respect; discipine is weaker.
The CBC can posture that it is old school all it wants, but the truth is that they sold their theme song, pretty much their identity, to a competitor.
Hockey Night In Canada has fallen into third place behind Sportsnet and TSN. I hope they miss the playoffs so I can watch the Canucks win the Stanley Cup on another network.