I want you to visualize what is one of the most iconic knockouts in the history of Kickboxing. Visualize Andy Hug landing that spinning back kick on Mike Bernardo’s knee in the K-1 World Grand Prix 1996 Finals and the gravity that came from that kick. It was a tremendous story; Andy Hug, the undersized fighter who had lost to Bernardo twice before had finally overcome the odds when everything was on the line. It was hard to not feel something from that knockout.
The concept of sport at its best and most effective is when there is an emotional bond between the athlete and the spectator. Without a doubt there is a magical spark that happens when an athlete achieves a lifelong dream while a spectator, one that is emotionally invested in the athlete, watches on and cheers. In part it is due to living out a fantasy vicariously through the athlete; being able to see someone achieve their dream, to, if even for just a brief moment, be able to see someone reach those great heights that always seem out of reach.
In combat sports, which are about the individual and not a team, the ultimate goal is usually to win a World Championship. It’s a story that writes itself, a story about climbing to the top of the mountain and becoming the best, then defending that title and continuing to be the best. When the fans have an emotional investment in the fighter it is just amplified and the journey is all-the-more satisfying.
It’s these things that make combat sports the most fulfilling ones to spectate in the world, but it is also what makes them so inherently frustrating to be a fan of. Conventional wisdom points towards acquiring the most talent, to toss them into the ring against each other and hope that not only a World Champion emerges, but that a star will be born as well. The problem with this is that the more names that are involved, the more individuals with their own stories, personalities, strengths and weaknesses are in play and after a while they begin to get lost in the shuffle.