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The coronavirus and our subsequent response of shutting down as
much as we reasonably can has, among other things, given us time to
reflect and reason to question what is really essential in
life.

Our animal needs have been met with the time-tested method of
hoarding, though I would hope it’s not surprising to anyone that we
still require the same basic elements of survival we always have.
Instead, it has been more telling to see how we’re recalibrating
one of our more evolved human needs: that of organized work, which
may only be a need inasmuch as we’ve all tacitly permitted it to
be. Still, how work is situated in a society reflects broadly
shared values. Our gut impulse to buy industrial reams of toilet
paper may also be a reflection—of our entitled and engorged nation
or, more generously, how seriously we take our cleanliness—but how
we reward and regard different lines of work says a lot more about
who we are.

Essayist Tim Kreider wrote: “If
your job wasn’t performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a
Richard Scarry book, I’m not sure I believe it’s necessary.”
It
seems this emerging coronavirus society, whether it ends up a
short-lived fever dream or a permanent pivot point, agrees. In my
home state and elsewhere, workers are being divvied up as essential
or non-essential. Your daily life for the next few weeks and
possibly months will look very different depending on which group
you fall into. It makes sense, though. A lot more people are
running to their local pharmacies, veterinarians and grocery stores
than portfolio managers or consultancy groups; the former are
broadly necessary services, while the existence of the latter is
neither broad nor necessary.

A lot of what we thought was absolutely necessary—due to cultural
inertia more than honest scrutiny— has turned out to be not so
necessary. Evidently, a lot of us really don’t have to be at work
every single day to do our job, and absolutely those meetings could
have been emails. Grocery store workers, who have been derided as
“unskilled labor” and denied wages on which they can subsist, are
now being seen for what they are in actuality: vital pillars that
keep communities from collapsing. Perhaps “level of skill” as the
primary hierarchical arrangement is worth reconsidering, too.

As weekend one of no MMA has now come and gone and we move on to
the next in an indefinite but likely lengthy series of weekends
with no MMA, it’s hard not to think about the sport in similar
terms. Is it essential? Are we fine—even better off—without it?
Government diktat says no at the moment, but I’m thinking about
beyond this moment, about life in general. My opinion alone
shouldn’t be trusted: I’m coming up on two decades of being a fan,
and I make money covering it. In more ways than one, I have a
vested interest in its existence and, frankly, don’t want a world
without it. Plus, I’m just a spectator. A dendritic network relies
on or at least greatly benefits from the sport, from fighters,
coaches and nutritionists to equipment manufacturers, gym managers
and pretty much the entire supplement industry. For the most part,
those groups of people want to be doing what they’re doing, and
passionately so. Google “MMA saved my life” and you’ll get story
after story of fighters—Paige
VanZant
, Derrick
Lewis
and Mike Davis
were on the first page of my search—who believe, well … you get it.
How can something that saves lives not be essential?

It also expands awareness. Had I not been an MMA fan, I’d know a
lot less about Brazil and probably have no idea that Dagestan even
exists. This is to say nothing of its
aesthetic
and
visceral
allures, its mix of the
beautiful
and bizarre
and
brutal
, its capacity to surprise
and
inspire
. It’s the kind of thing that provides a great deal
about which to think and write, not to mention countless hours of
entertainment.

All of this, plus the fact that I am far from alone in feeling this
way, paints MMA to be something that lands firmly on the positive
end of the spectrum of essentiality. Yet I can’t help but think: Is
it really so bad that fewer fighters are putting their physical
wellbeing on the line for rip-off contracts and drunken fans? Is it
really so bad that fewer people are getting exploited by promoters
and managers, fewer bodies are warping from violent injury, fewer
brains are short-circuiting for pennies on what they earn their
millionaire contractors? Is it really so bad to face the
annihilating nullity of day-to-day life without the brief injection
of exhilaration fights provide weekly?

I suppose the same questions could be asked of this pandemic. Is it
really so bad that there are less people on the road, that there is
less noise, less consumption and less commotion? Probably no one
would say no, but when you weigh that against everything else going
on, it may not seem like a silver lining so much as a dirty nickel
in mountain of s—.

I can’t answer any of these questions for anyone else, nor would I
want to try. Clearly, what’s considered essential is far from a
hard line, and nobody would want to live in a world governed solely
by the tug of our animal needs. Seemingly frivolous things can
become endowed with meaning and purpose, thus making them essential
in a more resonant way. Regardless, when you’re a fan of combat
sports or other violent spectacles, it is important to ask
yourselves these questions every now and again, especially in this
rare period of absence.

Eric Stinton is a writer from Kailua, Hawaii. His fiction,
nonfiction and journalism have appeared in Bamboo Ridge, The
Classical, Harvard Review Online, Honolulu Civil Beat, Medium and
Vice Sports, among others. He has been writing for Sherdog since
2014. You can reach him on Twitter at @TombstoneStint, or find
his work at ericstinton.com.

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