The UFC has brought MMA a long way. Addison Rae reporting at PPVs, a sitting president in attendance and many other surreal moments have shined a light on just how popular the sport is.
Ready for another one?
There are regular UFC watch parties at Harvard University.
“There are definitely the kids that don’t get involved in sports and don’t watch sports in academics but there’s a lot more normal people at school. We’re not all nerds; there’s a lot of normal kids that watch sports like the UFC,” laughed Niko Katsuyoshi of Harvard wrestling.
Congratulations to Phil Conigliaro, Niko Katsuyoshi, and Josh Kim for earning All-American honors at the @USAWrestling Freestyle and Greco Nationals. With his 3rd place finish Conigliaro has qualified for the 2021 Senior World Team Trials! pic.twitter.com/qmB9QuZSEi— Harvard Wrestling (@HarvardWrestlin) May 3, 2021
Long before TikTok fame and Ivy League prestige, Katsuyoshi has been regularly exposed to the UFC talent by only one degree of separation.
Everybody knows a guy who knows a guy and so on down the line, but coming from the wrestling community in the Gilroy area, it was nothing for friends to spend nights and weekends with some of the hottest names of the Octagon.
“I live about ten minutes from DC’s gym,” Katsuyoshi said. “I grew up wrestling, and a lot of guys that he trained and my high school wrestling coach were teammates with (TJ) Dillashaw in college. I’m definitely close with these UFC guys; a lot of them live in the area.”
After relocating to Pennsylvania in high school, then on to Cambridge, Katsuyoshi is almost as far from the Bay Area as it gets, and while he may not be rubbing shoulders with DC products anymore, there’s no lack of UFC interest in those around him today.
In fact, Katsuyoshi explains that while Harvard is Ivy League, Harvard athletes aren’t wound as tight as some may think they are.
“I’d say there may be slight divides between teams, but the people in athletics tend to bond together closer than with the other students because we’re all in the same boat,” Katsuyoshi explained. “We’re all athletes at an Ivy League school.”
The workload may be bigger than what you’d picture when imagining the “typical” fight fan, but meet up with Katsuyoshi’s crew on PPV Saturdays and any UFC junkie would feel right at home.
While there’s always appreciation for the technically sound and skilled fighters, the Harvard watch parties tend to favor the Conors, Khabibs and Cejudos of the sport, but there’s a particular fondness for any fighter up for a good slugfest. No over-analysis, no Ivy League pretentiousness, nothing. Just some good old fashioned fans of a brawl and a good showman, regardless of the combat sport.
“We love action,” Katsuyoshi explained. “We like those guys that’ll go out and put on a show.”
Katsuyoshi isn’t promising anything, but he has definitely put thought into an MMA run when his college career is over. Would a Harvard grad be a good fit for UFC fans?
From the sounds of it, there’s not much separating Harvard from the blue-collar fans at all. Hopefully one day we’re lucky enough to find out.
“I definitely want to finish up my wrestling career in the next few years and try and make some world teams for Greco,” Katsuyoshi said. “I think wrestlers are the most successful in the UFC. It’s definitely something I’m thinking about for the future. It’s weird being at such a good academic school and doing wrestling. It’s not like you’d guess any guys at Harvard are thinking about fighting anyone.”
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