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Fighting Fiction: The Simpsons take a swing at MMA ... and miss

Disney+ Official U.S. Launch Party At The Grove Photo by Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images

Save for whatever M-1 Global is doing in Belarus, quarantined mixed martial arts (MMA) fans have two choices when it comes to entertainment: classic fights or fictional ones.

At least until May, 2020 ... maybe.

Compared to baseball or football, MMA’s fictional footprint is paltry. While the sport has always had stuff like “Game of Death” or “Enter the Dragon,” movies that engage with it as an actual sport (besides the criminally underrated “Warrior”) tend to be direct-to-video schlock. On the TV front, fans content themselves with “Kingdom,” Kevin James-produced cameos, or the occasional special episode from sitcoms like Friends or iCarly. We haven’t gotten a new MMA game in two years and — outside of Japan’s efforts — there aren’t many comics, cartoons or books to peruse.

Seeing as we could all use a break from reality at the moment, I figured now’s as good a time as any to take a look at what offerings there are, starting with the world’s most prominent animated series.

‘The Simpsons’ S21, E3: The Great Wife Hope

“The Simpsons” has produced some of the all-time greatest sports episodes in TV history, from “Lisa on Ice” to “Homer at the Bat” to my personal favorite, “The Homer They Fall.” Back in 2009, well past what most would consider the series’ expiration date, it decided to have a go at a UFC-themed episode with “The Great Wife Hope.”

The driving conflict is Marge’s pearl-clutching disdain for “Ultimate Punch, Kick, & Choke Championship (UPKCC),” which goes into overdrive when she catches Bart choking out Nelson the bully in a schoolyard rumble with a technique he picked up at a UPKCC show. Making it her mission to destroy the sport, she enters the “Septagon” to plead her case, leading the commissioner to challenge her to a fight for the organization’s fate.

Training montage, climactic battle ... you know the drill.

“The Homer They Fall” is an obvious counterpart, and the gags here pale in comparison. A lot of it comes down to them just lasting too long; snappy one-liners like “make sure he hits you an even number of times, so you don’t end up with amnesia” draw way more laughs than 30 seconds of Nelson discussing event planning with Marge. There are a few solid chuckles, like the bullies’ occupied punching bag and the showdown between Lisa and Bart, but they’re few and far between.

Where it really suffers, though, is in how shallowly it engages with MMA.

Saying this as someone who loves it, this is a dumb sport. We had a Heavyweight title fight canceled at the last second because the champion knocked himself unconscious on a low-hanging pipe during his walkout. We lost a mega fight because the challenger tripped on an extension cord and tore his ACL. The reality show once featured guys eating sushi that the other team secretly ejaculated into. There is so much material to work with that the writers’ decision to trot out the same old “MMA fans are lunkheaded misogynists obsessed with violence” jokes is downright baffling. Compare that to Mr. Burns’ proposed ringer squad loaded with ancient, obscure baseball players.

Still, the episode never gets offensively bad, and it doesn’t mangle or misrepresent MMA any more than other shows. It’s just odd to see a fundamentally funny sport turned into something only mildly amusing.

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