Former Washington Capitals enforcer Donald Brashear has signed with a Canadian MMA promotion to take a stab at a new athletic career. It could be a good fit; Brashear established quite a name for himself in the NHL with his ability to inflict violence on his opponents in various ways.
But, there is a good portion of the MMA community online that groans every time an athlete from another sport tries their hand at MMA. I have heard all the arguments, from Kimbo Slice to Dave Bautista, from Bobby Lashley to Herschel Walker. Every time one of these guys tries their hand at our favorite sport, there is a plethora of grumbling from different pockets of Internet. The mentality that mixed martial arts (especially the UFC), is a professional sport and shouldn't be treated as some sort of side project is understandable. The problem is I believe that mentality is short-sighted at times.
Now, I'll admit: It sounds like Brashear is looking at MMA as a backup plan:
After playing his last NHL game back in January 2010 with the New York Rangers, he was demoted to the minor leagues where he stayed until he was traded to Atlanta and then released. Since then, Brashear's been making his home in a low level Quebec professional league. With that not being anywhere near as glamorous as the NHL or even the AHL, Brashear is taking his bare-knuckle skills to an arena that's much more befitting his skill set.
Let me also admit that I don't care. I won't even mention fighters like Matt Mitrione and Brock Lesnar, guys who have made the transition to the biggest promotion in the sport and proven they are credible fighters. What we as MMA fans need to acknowledge is that this sport is not mainstream. Not by a long shot. It's rabidly popular in certain demographics and it's profitable. Its fanbase is informed and motivated. But the sport is in no position to turn down new sets of eyes.
In a previous piece I wrote for SB Nation regarding Brock Lesnar potentially working a match at WrestleMania while under contract with the UFC, I made the following point:
For the same reason I love the impact Herschel Walker has on MMA, I relish Lesnar's influence. Get new eyes on MMA; That is the goal. Get the word out to fans of similar sports. If Dana White allows Lesnar his space, including a match at Wrestlemania, does that help or hurt his bottom line? Barring a catastrophic injury to the big man, it will undoubtedly work as a three-month long commercial for Lesnar and UFC.
We're talking about people who enjoy similar sports. Sports that bring some of the same things to the table that mixed martial arts does. Namely: speed, conflict and violence. Sounds like a description of hockey to me. Hockey fans have a plight similar to MMA fans. Both seem to have a chip on their shoulder. Both believe their sport has earned the right to sit at the table with the likes of the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball. Both like fist fights. Sounds like a match made in heaven to me.
Since Brashear announced his intentions, I've had dozens of people ask me about it and how they can watch. There is enormous value in that. This is not putting Snooki in the ring at WrestleMania. This is not making David Arquette your heavyweight champion. There are no pro wrestling shenanigans afoot. If Donald Brashear debuted on a UFC pay-per-view, I would be more wary of the motivations. But for the same reason I have no issue with Kimbo Slice, I have no issue with Brashear. I want my favorite sport to grow. I want people to see what I see: The remarkable athleticism it takes to compete; the blending of so many different styles and sports into one fluid product. MMA is unrivaled in its complexity but also retains its simplicity in what brought us all to the table in the first place: the desire to watch a good fight.
So you trained in grappling all your life? Great. Most people don't find the sport that way. The way you find something is to lay eyes on it. Handled the appropriate way, athletes from other walks of like can help grow the sport in ways that Jose Aldo or Marcus Davis never could (no disrespect to them). You keep your new viewers by having a quality product. If the MMA community could all take a moment to climb down from its collective high horse, we could all see how guys like Brashear can help more than they hurt. Hockey fans like a good fight just like the rest of us. They just haven't seen any REALLY good fights if they're just watch what's happening on the ice, and not what's happening in the octagon.