Francis Galton (1822-1911) was Charles Darwin’s cousin.
A true child progeny who learned alphabet by 18 months, Galton later achieved fame as the founder of eugenics . He believed that talent comes from heredity. The perfection of the human race is possible by means of studying and harnessing hereditary forces.
There was indeed a great deal of talent running in Darwin’s bloodlines. Charles’s maternal grandfather, Josiah Wedgwood I (1730-1795), single-handedly launched modern marketing through the mass production of pottery and its distribution among European nobility. Charles’s paternal grandfather, zoologist and botanist, Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802), prefigured a theory of evolution. Charles’s maternal uncle, Josiah Wedgwood II (1769-1843), was an eminent breeder of Merino sheep. Even Charles’s mother bred pigeons. Charles Darwin invented natural selection. Galton did what I just said. One of Charles’s sons, Francis (1848-1925), followed in his father’s footsteps (they co-authored the book entitled The Power of Movement in Plants) and became a botanist and an editor of his father’s voluminous correspondence. Charles’s other son, Leonard (1850-1943), was Chairman of the British Eugenics Society. Talent as an ability to produce endless variations on a single main theme, be it pots, pigeons, sheep, or humans, eventually generates a theory of itself doing all that, again with multiple variations.
Now, the fan circles around the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) have announced the results of the 2d annual Top Fantasy Fighter vote. Mixed martial arts practitioners associated with PRIDE, UFC, K-1 and other organizations are not only rated within their weight-class or pound-for-pound, but also broken down into their constituent skills and prominent body parts. These skills and body parts are then reassembled to produce a superhero. This year they took fists from Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, chin from Dan Henderson, elbows from Kenny Florian, legs from Anderson Silva, etc. Mixed martial arts (MMA) is somewhat akin to mass customization applied to sports: there is a limited set of rules (no eye-gouging, no hair-pulling, no chin-in-the-eye submissions, etc.) but, apart from them, fighters can employ any technique derived from boxing, wrestling, grappling, kick-boxing, jiu-jitsu, sambo or sumo in order to knock out or submit their opponent. MMA fighters, therefore, enjoy a great deal of freedom by mixing and matching different skills to achieve a win. This creates unpredictability and, hence, a high marketing momentum. Boxing is losing to MMA on this unpredictability factor because boxing bouts are largely predetermined by the rules of the sport. While the MMA fighters enjoy a great deal of freedom in their skills, strategies and body movements, their fans take more liberty in manipulating the fighters themselves.
The popularity of MMA is nothing like the popularity of boxing. MMA fans want to play with their favorite fighters, they want to appropriate their identities and their martial talents in order to construct their own version of an ultimate fighter. The same is happening today with brands.
The hype of Randy Couture or Chuck Liddell is nothing like the hype of Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods. MMA fans do not want to emulate their heroes. Their heroes are not those rigid, fixed, monolithic endorsers standing for a specific set of values. They often lose to other heroes. Recently, Cro Cop lost to Gabriel Gonzaga and Cheick Kongo, Tim Sylvia lost to the ageing Couture, Liddell was dropped by Jackson and outpointed by Jardine, Jackson earlier had been mauled by Wanderlei Silva and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua who in turn lost to Forrest Griffin. The moment the old-fashioned heroic halo/marketing hype begins to envelop a fighter and he climbs the front page of a magazine (e.g., Georges St. Pierre, Chuck Liddell), he loses to a reality TV star (Matt Serra) or to a popular jester and a vocal new-born (I just misspelled it as “new-brawned”) Christian (Jackson). It looks like athleticism is becoming truly “Olympic” (rather than Biblical) in the sense that power is more equally distributed across the pantheon and does not concentrate in a single pair of hands.
The MMA fans want to simulate their own heroes on the basis of available raw material. But, unlike Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton, MMA fans are not interested in breeding an actual physical superhero. They leave it to nature (as testified by one of the nicknames of the top heavyweight, Fedor Emelianenko, “The Russian Experiment”), and they leave nature alone. Instead, they apply their breeding zeal to the cultural representations of biological differences by piling up tiers of phenotypical simulation. These simulations mirror the way in which the sport is organized.
This is what has fundamentally changed since the 19th century: today’s nature is about nurture, today’s culture is about commerce. And their relationship to each other is not a matter of rational decision.