Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) got off to a crushing start. In one of the earliest matches, Tank Abbott, a six-footer weighing 280 pounds, faced John Matua, who was two inches taller and weighed a whopping four hundred pounds. Their combat styles were as different as their sizes. Abbott called himself a pit fighter. Matua was an expert in more refined techniques: he’d honed the skills of wrestling and applying pressure holds. His skill—which was also a noble and ancient Hawaiian tradition—was the martial art called Kuialua.
The evening went poorly for the artist. Abbott nailed him with two roundhouses before applying a skull cracking head butt. The match was only seconds old and Matua was down and so knocked out that his eyes weren’t even closed, just glazed and staring absently at the ceiling. The rest of his body was convulsing. The referee charged toward the defenseless fighter, but Abbott was closer and slammed an elbow down on Matua’s pale face. Abbott tried to stand up and ram another, but the referee was now close enough to pull him away. As blood spurted everywhere and medics rushed to save the loser, Abbott stood above Matua and ridiculed him for being fat.
The tape of Abbott’s brutal skills and pitiless attitude shot through the Internet. He became—briefly— famous and omnipresent, even getting a guest appearance on the goofy, family-friendly sitcom Friends. A US senator also saw the tape but reacted differently. Calling it barbaric and a human form of cockfighting, he initiated a crusade to get the UFC banned. Media executives were pressured to not beam the matches onto public TVs, and doctors were drafted to report that UFC fighters (like professional boxers) would likely suffer long-term brain damage.
In the heat of the offensive, even diehard advocates agreed the sport might be a bit raw, and the UFC’s original motto—“There are no rules!”—got slightly modified. Head butting, eye-gouging, and fish-hooking (sticking your finger into an opponent’s orifice and ripping it open) were banned. No matter what anyone thinks of UFC, it convincingly demonstrates that blood resembles sex. Both sell and people like to watch. The proof is that today UFC events are among the most viewed in the world, among the most profitable, and—this is the one part that hasn’t changed since the gritty beginning— among the most brutal.
1. Two of the common arguments against ultimate fighting—and the two main reasons the US senator argued to get the events banned—are the following: They’re brutal; UFC celebrates violence and hatred and injury, and therefore, it’s immoral. Besides the bumps, bruises, and broken bones—which usually heal up—the fighters also suffer long-term and incurable brain damage. Therefore, the sport is immoral even though it might be true that in their prime, the fighters make enough money to compensate the physical suffering endured in the octagon. How could a utilitarian defend the UFC against these two criticisms?
2. How could the concept of the utilitarian sacrifice apply to John Matua?
3. How would a hedonistic utilitarian’s reaction to UFC differ from an idealistic utilitarian’s reaction? Is there anything at all in UFC that might convince an idealistic utilitarian to promote the sport as ethically positive?
4. How could a proponent of monetized utilitarianism begin portioning up the experiences of Abbott, Matua, the UFC sponsors, and the spectators in order to construct a mathematical formula (like Ford did with the Pinto) to decide whether UFC should be banned?
5. Think of UFC as a business, one compared to a biotech company that pioneers cutting-edge, life-saving drugs. Now, how would a utilitarian decide which one of these two companies was the more ethically respectable?
6. Why might an altruist sign up to be a UFC fighter? Why might an egoist sign up to be a UFC fighter?