Friday before last I trained MMA with Dean, Si, Mike and Tugboat Steve (the nicknames are pretty straightforward - Steve works on the boats on the Thames...not a great leap of imagination for his nickname). It's not a regular thing as it depends on everyone's availability, but it's a good extension to the BJJ.
It was a really good session, working on the pads - a few strikes and make an entry, move the opponent to the wall and tie up, coming out for the odd strike, elbow etc. It was a really good drill for working on closing distance and controlling an opponent. It was also a really good workout. It was hot, but man, did I sweat? (Yes I did, by the way).
I like MMA. I don’t get to see a lot of it, and I don’t train it as much as I’d like, but I like it. I like the rawness of the contest. I like that it has evolved martial arts and put them in an arena so that we can see what really works and what is just BS (gone are the days when people can hide behind a “black belt in origami” and a few fancy looking Kata). I like the personalities that it has created. I like the lifestyle that has sprung up around it – one with its own fashions, one that values hard training, athletes that understand conditioning, technique and nutrition along with the best of other sports.
So when I see articles like this one from the BBC, I worry. It’s the same argument that’s been used for years to try and get boxing banned. “It’s barbaric”, “Dangerous”, “glorifies violence”. All the usual standard phrases being thrown about by people that do not understand the sport. UFC (75) was in town last weekend, so it's easy fodder for the Daily Mail set.
Both sides of the case tend to conveniently use the “1%” rule to justify their claims. Boxers will point to a death in an MMA bout in 1998 (a pretty amateur affair without the controls put in place by organisations such as the UFC and Cage Rage). MMA will retort with cases like that of Michael Watson, left permanently brain damaged by his bout with Chris Eubank. These are the 1% of cases that reach the public eye when things go horribly wrong – set against a backdrop of thousands training each year and hundreds fighting both professional and amateur bouts , all without incident or injury.
So what’s the fuss?
From my point of view, there is a logic as to why MMA can be considered safer than boxing. Despite what people might say, there are rules, designed to remove the biggest risk factors from the sport. A MMA win can be contrived from any number of avenues - strikes, decisions, submissions via chokes or locks. Most smart MMAers prefer not to stand toe to toe and "box" with an opponent, prefering instead to work close range and secure submissions. This is perhaps one of the single biggest differences with boxing, in which there is an agreement by both fighters to stand at a certain range and exchange blows, mainly to the head, in an attempt to induce concussion or knockout. in MMA, the clinch is a vital part of the game, in boxing this is stopped by the referee as it prevents the objective of hitting one's opponent in the head. Boxing gloves are bigger and heavier than MMA gloves, allowing the hitter to hit repeatedly as the gloves provide greater protection to the hands. For the person being hit, the damage is arguably greater as the weight and size of the gloves all adds to the impact.
Some will point at MMA and try to draw parallels with Gladiatorial contest from a bygone age - it's "thuggish" and uncivilised - glorified street fighting, the likes of which you can see on any high street on a Friday night. Frankly this is typical of comments from those that have no clue. The people I know that train and compete in MMA are highly intelligent poeple. Christ, Big Dean stepped up...and he's a PhD! Steve Morris, clearly one of the most intelligent people I've met...a thug? Absolutely not. Intelligent? Devastating? Yes. Every month I buy "Fighters Only" Magazine. Now, look at some of the magazines dedicated to traditional martial arts (you know the sort..."Ninja Weekly", "Deadly Street Fighter" etc) and compare it to this... a magazine dedicated to MMA and the lifestyle...there's a vast difference, and not just in the prodcution values. The latest edition contains information about blood borne viruses, a very open article about depression (a serious issue, statistically affecting a good proportion of its readership), every month, training, nutrition and conditioning information...all well written and presented...the mark of a sport run by thugs?
It's a sport, just like any other. At the top flight, the guys are honed athletes - training hard, taking care of conditioning and nutrition as well as any other athlete (except without all the coaches and sponsorship etc). At the lower levels, people like to train - it's great for fitness and requires skill and intellect. I train. Am I ever going to step into cage? No chance. I just like the training.
If there are two areas where MMA could clean up its act it's in the controls over blood borne diseases.... and this moreso at the amateur levels. It's my understanding that this is pretty lax. With Hep B and C on the rise and the ever present shadow of HIV, organisers need to grab hold of this and match the standards in place in boxing, especially since the potential for cuts in MMA is higher. MMA does not need the publicity of fighters becoming infected through poor infrastructure. The second is the use of steroids. Rumours abound everywhere about who's using them. Hell, even Royce Gracie has been called on it. Like all sports, use of such drugs calls the integrity fo the sport int question for all competitors, clean or not. It needs attention.
Ultimately though, it's like all these things that our increasingly "nannying" country sticks its nose into and sensationalises. IT'S AN INDIVIDUAL CHOICE!!! Let people get the info, see the data and make a choice.
I'll leave you with this little gem - a spoof trailer for UFC 75 - very funny! Enjoy.