The ring announcer ostentatiously shouts their names into a mic. Both men come out one at a time, strolling with a confident swagger to their “go” tunes. Corner crews oversee last-minute fight preparations. In just moments, they touch gloves, and go toe-to-toe. And after a round or a few, there’s a winner, and a loser. Immediate post-fight interviews echo tired lines about strategy across the arena. In a lot of ways, it’s a very spectacular cliche, but the fans eat it up. And they’ll keep coming back. Not only for the sheer excitement of seeing two grown men fight, but also for the appreciation of the athletic talent in the ring, and the instinct of survivalism. That growing mass appeal of mixed martial arts should cast aside any question about its legitimacy as a sport.
MMA events dominated my past weekend. Friday night I went with a few friends to watch CFC3 at the Winnipeg Convention Centre. Saturday night, I had a few over to my place to watch UFC105 on TV. It was a blast all around. I’ve been a big fan of MMA for a few years now, and have watched it explode in popularity. It makes sense why it’s the fastest growing sport in the world that the so-called “experts” need to recognize.
These fighters are some of the best athletes in the world. They have to be experts in a variety of martial arts, from judo to jiu-jitsu to kickboxing to many others. Their training regimens are long and intense, and on top of the techniques they learn they have to be especially conditioned and strong. I recently took up jiu-jitsu, and those classes alone are the most powerful workouts I’ve ever taken part in. Pro fighters grind it out for at least 15 minutes in the ring, and although that may not sound long to the unfamiliar, imagine having to fight 20 different ways at once, all the while trying to strategize to stay steps ahead of your opponent while your lungs scream for air.
Despite that, retractors always point to the perceived brutality of some of these fights. They’re commonly portrayed as bloody beat-downs in the mainstream media. They can be violent, there’s no sugarcoating that. But when fighting’s encouraged in our “national sport” of hockey, it’s a double standard to criticize organized MMA for what goes on in the ring. In fact, it’s unfair to dumb MMA down to what happens when two hockey players drop the gloves. It’s about a thousand times more sophisticated.
That’s not at all to advocate violence in everyday life. Many of us have been in different kinds of physical confrontations over the years, and most of us can agree it’s always better to take the high road. I’m a fan of MMA because I appreciate the athletic versatility and mental prowess that you see in any match. At the same time, it is exciting to watch fights. We’re humans with instincts, and before we learned how to negotiate we learned to fight. But now that we’re both totally cerebral and physical beings, the eclectic nature of sports like MMA will only draw bigger crowds.