Sitcoms have been flirting with MMA for decades
Despite the success of organizations like the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), mixed martial arts (MMA) is a marginal sport. Most people still can’t read about it in the sports section, but comedy writers have been incorporating it into their shows for decades. The history of MMA has its western roots in the ancient Greek Olympic sport of Pankration and its eastern roots in ancient China as Lei Tai. The story of the sitcom is decidedly different. These unlikely bedfellows, however, made for some fun television.
Modern MMA began with UFC 1 in 1993, and it didn’t take sitcom writers long to bring this relatively new sport into the shows. By 1997, hit network sitcoms were doing MMA-themed episodes. At the time, outside of those sitcom nods, the organization was floundering until the UFC produced its own reality show, The ultimate fighterwhich aired on Spike TV as a last resort to give mainstream exposure to MMA.
Friends & NewsRadio were among the first sitcoms to portray MMA
Friends was the first television sitcom to break out of the mainstream and into the octagon in season 3, episode 24, “The One With The Ultimate Fighting Champion”. In the episode, millionaire computer company executive Pete Becker (Jon Favreau) decides to pursue a fighting career despite having no training or competitive history. Needless to say, the effort doesn’t go well for Pete, as his neck is up until he passes out. While it would have been very easy to poke fun at the sport — especially back then — the show was as reverent as a sitcom could get, using it for comedic intrigue in the early days of MMA.
The next year, NewsRadio ventured into the cage in a much dumber way in Season 4 Episode 20, aptly titled “4:20.” The episode’s writing made it clear that the storytellers incorporated actor Joe Rogan’s love of sports. Prior to being cast on the show, Rogan was a taekwondo instructor and a winner of the US Open Championship taekwondo tournaments. In the episode, a character named Mr. James decides to avoid boxing for his club’s evening entertainment and instead hosts a thrilling “Ultimate Fighting” no-limits match. Rogan’s character, a station engineer named Joe Garrelli, is pitted against the station’s blunderbuss, Matthew Brock (Andy Dick). The match ends much less violently than on Friendswith Matthew overcoming the odds by tickling Joe until he taps.
The Simpsons broke the mold of MMA portrayals in sitcoms
Ironically, shows haven’t always stepped into the octagon to do an MMA episode, because It’s always sunny in Philadelphia showed in Season 12, Episode 4, “Wolf Cola: A Public Relations Nightmare.” Although the episode does not show a match, UFC fighters Donald Cerrone and Paul Felder play themselves and interact with Mac and Charlie throughout the episode. Even UFC President Dana White has a brief speaking role as himself.
Despite sitcoms primarily celebrating MMA, things got a little less affectionate when The simpsons took a swing at the sport in Season 21, Episode 3, “The Great Wife Hope.” In the episode, all the men and boys in Springfield become obsessed with the Ultimate Punch Kick & Choke Championship (the UPKCC), and Marge launches a campaign to ban the sport. Besides touching on superficial things about the sport and its audience, the episode is an almost forgettable entry in the history of MMA sitcoms.
The iCarly franchise is the latest mainstream representation of MMA
Sitcoms and MMA together aren’t limited to adult fare, as Dan Schneider — Nickelodeon’s controversial creator of some of Millennials and Gen Z’s most popular series — has made MMA a staple on many of his shows. . There was the special one-hour season finale of iCarly Season 2, “iFight Shelby Marx”, which sees the titular Carly Shay in a fake cage fight come true. In the episode, she was faced with a pre-Victorious Victoria Justice as teenage fighting phenom Shelby Marx.
While the fight choreography of “iFight Shelby Marx” isn’t the best, the love of the sport shown by the iCarly the writers more than make up for it. Interestingly, the iCarly derivative series, sam and cat, has gone even further in its MMA representation. In this case, one of the main supporting characters was leading an MMA fighter, and the fighter himself quickly became a series regular. Since the character’s promotion to series regular, sam and cat featured many gymnastic and cage parts.
From the beginnings of MMA representation in sitcoms – outside of TV drama The kingdom — MMA has remained outside the mainstream, both culturally and entertainmentally. Fortunately, a handful of comedy writers have incorporated a sport into their shows who, for the most part, see humor only as derision.