Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)
A 'Cage Rage' fight - one of the high-profile events in the UK
Also In The News
Who's next? As a certain legendary band once asked.
Tuesday, 10, Jul 2007 01:48
With football off the radar for a few months, InTheNews takes the opportunity to look at some of the sports you may not know so much about - this week mixed martial arts or, as it is more commonly known Ultimate Fighting, is under the microscope.
In mixed martial arts (MMA) matches, competitors fight each other under a rule system that allows for a wide variety of techniques to be employed. Practitioners blend elements of boxing, kickboxing, wrestling and grappling to ensure that they have the skills necessary to both overwhelm their opponent and deal with everything thrown at them.
MMA is sometimes referred to as Ultimate Fighting or cage fighting, although aficionados prefer to avoid these terms as they relate more to the unregulated early days of the sport. Mixed martial arts has previously suffered from bad publicity thanks to sensationalist media reporting and, to be fair, the tendency of some unscrupulous promoters to market it as something akin to a no-holds-barred pub brawl.
MMA competition was originally envisioned as a forum whereby martial arts practitioners of any style could fight to determine which style was the best and most effective. In the early years of MMA, events were pretty much unregulated and there were few rules. This understandably proved controversial and after media outcry, regulatory bodies began to take an interest.
The fledgling UFC was finding it hard to get permission in some states of the US, until the New Jersey State Athletic Commission came up with a set of rules for the organisation to abide by.
Medical comparisons of fights under these rules with professional boxing have found that MMA participation is less dangerous to the long-term health of participants, because the wide variety of ways fighters can tackle their opponent means there is not nearly as much emphasis on punching the head, reducing risk of becoming 'punch drunk'.
It is now truly a worldwide phenomenon that has a presence in most of the world's major countries. It has developed and matured and is now a legitimate sport with well-defined rules.
As yet there is no world governing body, which will be the next big step in the sport's progression, but recent trends suggest that the UFC rules are on their way to becoming the global standardised regulations.
The big event
At present, the big event in MMA is a UFC title fight. As the top mixed martial arts organisation in the world, the UFC is the competition that most fans worldwide look to see the best international talent.
Until recently, discussion of who really is the world's best was hotly debated but largely hypothetical. This was because the cream of international MMA talent tended to be contracted exclusively to one of the major promotions - UFC in the US or Pride FC in Japan.
However, earlier this year, a scandal linking Pride FC organisers with the Japanese yakuza mafia meant that horrified TV executives cancelled deals with the Japanese organisation. The huge loss of revenue saw the promotion hit financial difficulties, which allowed the UFC's parent company to step in and acquire the brand.
As a result almost all the biggest names are competing, or set to compete, in the UFC, making it the Premier League of mixed martial arts. Besides the UFC, there are a number of prominent events across the globe, such as Cage Rage in Britain and Hero's in Japan.
The big names
There are also any number of big characters in the sport, which people are drawn to.
Croatian superstar Mirko CroCop is a feared kick-boxer with a stony face and no-nonsense attitude.
In contrast, there are fighters like Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson - a wisecracking practical joker who always has a smart word for the media.
The plethora of different personalities means that there is always someone for everyone to relate to, while the fact that many of the fighters also have interesting personal backgrounds and stories to tell is a further draw for fans.
Fans don't really conform to one particular stereotype. In the early years, the vast majority of the audience would have been made up of people who trained or participated in MMA in some way, or voyeurs drawn in by sensationalist marketing and tabloid headlines.
Today, having emerged as a legitimate sport, MMA attracts literally all sorts. A quick scan of the audiences at big shows reveals that there are nearly as many female devotees as males. At the same time, a significant number of boxing fans, tired of a diet of bland rematches and an alphabet soup of titles, are also making the transition.
There really are no stereotypical players in MMA. In fact, one major gripe that the MMA fan community has with mainstream media reporting on the sport is the tendency to make out that bouts involve no more than two minimally-skilled thugs attempting to brutalise each other in a glorified bar-room brawl for the benefit of a drunken mob.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
In the early years, it quickly became apparent that participants who trained exclusively in one phase of combat - be that standing or ground fighting - were at a disadvantage when compared to fighters who had cross-trained in a range of martial arts.
Today, MMA fighters are required to be the hybrid product of training in a number of disciplines. Often they will come from one specialised background initially and supplement that core background with skills acquired from other arts. As a general rule of thumb the standing aspect tends to concentrate on boxing and Muay Thai skills, with the standing skills of Greco-Roman wrestling thrown in.
On the ground, the most fighters tend to have at least some experience of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, a ground fighting art derived from the Japanese version. Judo, which emphasises similar skills, is also seeing some growth in popularity, while a significant number of US fighters have a wrestling background, as there is a well-established wrestling programme in US schools and colleges that has produced a number of Olympic-calibre athletes.
The list of celebrity MMA fans is quite possibly endless. UFC events in particular attract some of the biggest names in the world of showbiz. Film stars such as Bruce Willis and Adam Sandler are seen to rub shoulders with supermodels like Cindy Crawford and chart-topping artists such as Lil' Jon. There is a real buzz around mixed martial arts at the moment and in the States, UFC events are becoming the place to be seen.
Back in the UK, the recent UFC event in Manchester saw sports stars like Cristiano Ronaldo, Rio Ferdinand and Amir Khan sitting ringside, while action-movie legend Jean Claude van Damme flew in especially to catch the headline bout. The organisation is currently engaged in a serious British promotional drive and it is likely there will be more big names popping up ringside at forthcoming shows.
Why should I watch/play it?
To watch mixed martial arts is to watch literally the ultimate in sport fighting.
MMA pits incredibly fit, skilled athletes against each other and the results are usually spectacular. In the standing phase of a fight, the action tends to be fast-paced, as the competitors employ the full range of punches, knees and kicks that the rules allow.
However some are more comfortable fighting on the ground. These tend to have a wrestling, judo or jiu-jitsu background and prefer to take their opponent down. There they can grapple with them and either overcome them with a barrage of blows from above or look to apply a submission joint-lock or choke-hold. Either way, the action is often fast and furious, and the outcome of a fight can be determined in a split-second
In the opinion of professional photographer Hywel Teague, who covers MMA events for organisations all around the world, even just watching MMA on TV "offers a level of dynamism that other sports seem to lack".
He explains: "Anyone who has been to a live event can testify to how exciting it is. MMA is an adrenaline-fuelled experience - exciting, unpredictable and fresh."
Where do I go from here?
There are a wealth of resources out there for the MMA fan. To keep up with news of current events in the sport, most use a mix of printed and online sources, as well as watching televised events.
The biggest MMA magazine is called Fighter's Only. It is dedicated entirely to MMA and covers all the big events in the MMA hotspots of the US, Europe, Japan and Brazil. In addition, some mainstream publications carry mixed martial arts content, such as the Daily Star and weekly men's magazine Nuts.
On the internet, there are literally hundreds of websites devoted to MMA. Of these, probably the biggest are Sherdog and MMA Weekly, which have huge memberships and lively forums where fans can predict, debate and criticise MMA organisations and fighters with other followers of the sport.
UFC events are televised on Bravo, which is available to most satellite and cable subscribers. Aside from the events themselves, the channel also shows behind-the-scenes documentaries and a popular reality series called The Ultimate Fighter that sees a number of hopefuls live in the same house while they compete with each other for a place on the UFC roster.
Eurosport shows MMA events as part of its Fight Club series, while the Cage Rage organisation has a deal in place with satellite broadcaster Sky. Most promotions also bring out DVDs, which are available from high-street retailers.