In most sports, playing in front of your home crowd is ultimately a huge advantage. The fevered roaring of the fans, the sense of pride you feel by representing your turf, the comfort—familiarity—factor helping to soothe nerves – no wonder home-field advantage is something sought after in the vast majority of competitive sports.
However, does the same hold true for mixed martial arts?
Make no mistake about it: no matter how many naysayers are out there decrying the combat-driven MMA, it is still a sport. In fact, by definition, there’s a lot more “sport” involved in mixed martial arts than a lot of other “sports” receiving world-wide recognition.
Take ESPN—the home of (supposedly) all things sport—as an example. They’ve single handedly transformed billiards into a sport. With a few primetime slots and a crowd of money-seeking amateurs going fever pitch over a river card, the large network has also turned poker into a sport. What’s next? Online video slots as a sport?
The point: MMA is as solid a sport as there is in the world today, and home-field advantage definitely matters to a lot of fighters out there.
Inside of the Octagon, you’re alone with your opponent. Most guys even tune out their corners, focusing on the task at hand. But don’t get it twisted here; if you had thousands of people rooting, clapping and stomping in your favor, screaming your name and boosting your adrenaline, you’d be ready for the war.
Maybe there’s a lot to be said about being the underdog, too, as having people rooting against you will make that proverbial chip on your shoulder grow to gargantuan proportions. But what else is there—maybe besides fear of losing—to motivate you in a hostile environment?
Gamblers aren’t athletes, and thus they shouldn’t fall into the sport category and be mentioned in the same breath as MMA warriors. It wouldn’t matter where a poker tournament was located at the end of the day, and playing online craps or another game of chance via the Internet has no home field whatsoever. So ESPN’s propensity for making money aside, it’s clear that the home field wouldn’t matter in every game considered a sport.
But for the MMA fighters out there, you can place your bets that fighting in front of a home crowd will get your fist going in the air like old-time Hulk Hogan when the chants of “USA, USA” began to bellow out of the crowd.
Just like any press is ultimately good press, anything that offers motivation is a great thing for fighters. Mixed martial arts is an extremely taxing sport, and it’s not at all uncommon for a fighter to be dead on his or her feet after the first round of action. Anything that puts the wind back in the sails is a good thing.
Michael Bisping will be playing to his home crowd in UFC 120, and even an accomplished fighter like The Count knows just how uplifting the support can be. And you can bet that other fighters feel the same.
Would you rather have a fight in your front yard or in unfamiliar territory? To be at the top of your game, it helps to be comfortable.