As a relatively new fan of MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) I find myself engrossed in the world of this ever-changing combat sport, with my love of it growing on a day to day basis. Having previously watched the odd fight here and there including Jon Jones 2011 victory over Maurício ‘Shogun’ Rua – a fight which I have no recollection of watching at the time – I now find myself determined to watch every fight as it happens live. Most of my attention is directed towards the UFC – the sports premier organization, but I am keen to watch fights from other organizations including Bellator, Rizin and ACB (Absolute Championship Berkut) to name a few.
Photograph courtesy of Wikipedia
Similarly to when I started following ice hockey, I quickly became determined to learn about the history of the sport and familiarise myself with the pioneers that paved the way for what I am able to watch today. Through the use of the UFC’s ‘Fight Pass’ – a tremendous application that can only be described as the Netflix of MMA – I feel like I’ve managed to quickly brush up on my history over the last year or two. As a result, I believe that this has made me more appreciative of the sport as a whole and become even more fascinated with it than I already am. However, on a regular basis, I’m met with a question: what’s so appealing about such a brutal sport that involves fighting?
My first and probably most important reason of all is the purity of it. While I have followed many team sports throughout my life, MMA leads to two individuals being locked in a cage to dual it out until a victor is crowned. Although it is very primitive, there is no better way to determine who the better competitor is. While both fighters will have a team of coaching staff and fellow fighters to support them, when the cage door closes, it’s very much a ‘you or I’ situation. They can have all of the verbal support in the world behind them, but it is up to the competitor to rise up and prove that they have what it takes to be crowned the winner. In football, if you make a mistake, a teammate may be there to correct that error. In the cage, if you make a mistake, it could very well be lights out and there is nobody else to blame. The real winner will be whoever has put in the effort in their training and who has the desire to be the best. It is up to the competitor to perform.
Photograph courtesy of Wikipedia
Second of all, I’m taken in by the stories behind many of the fighters.
As American film writer Max Landis said, “We love watching people grow, change, and struggle. Good people, bad people, we don’t care. We want to see it.”
There are many fighters who have lived lives full of tragedy or went from rags to riches and these are the kind of stories that as human beings we like to get behind and are delighted when we see people succeed. Some of these stories are relatable and others aren’t, but the thrill and agony of this wonderful combat sport tugs at the heart strings of viewers worldwide for reasons differing from one person to the next. Learning what inspired someone to step into the fighting world can inspire others and it demonstrates why some fighters have this supernatural determination to succeed.
Current UFC fighter Daniel Cormier’s father was shot and killed when he was seven years old. He was bullied relentlessly as a child. He lost his infant daughter in a car accident. He found an out in competing and decided to take up wrestling. Fuelled by the desire to succeed due to the tragedy in his life, he went on to become an Olympic wrestler representing his country at the highest level. This led to him transitioning into the world of MMA.
Today, Daniel Cormier is regarded as one of the most dominant fighters on the UFC roster and he is currently the UFC’s Light Heavyweight Champion. He has a net worth of around $4 million.
José Aldo – one of the sports most dominant competitors (despite his 13 second loss to Irishman Conor McGregor) – grew up in Brazil and was as poor as can be. He would go days without any food as he grew up in a family too poor to afford it. Naturally talented when it came to fighting, he had one goal in mind: owning his own house.
He earned over $500,000 in his last fight alone.
While the sport involves a massive amount of risk, the reward for those who elevate themselves to the top can be life-changing. It is diverse and open to people from all walks of life regardless of their geographical location, their gender and their lifestyle. Rich, poor, light, heavy, heterosexual, homosexual – none of it matters. For those who are willing to get involved, the opportunity is there. Unlike a sport such as ice hockey where expensive equipment is required and a rink to play on, the martial arts can be practiced anywhere. This opens up a massive amount of opportunity for those around the world.
Photograph courtesy of Flickr
Last of all, the atmosphere at an event is unrivaled.
As human beings, something draws us in to watching two people dual it out. Whether it be at school watching a fight break out in the playground or seeing two drunk folk slug it out on the street, something makes us want to see what’s going on. While I am entirely against fighting in an unsafe environment – which sounds like a paradox in itself as getting hit in the face surely isn’t great for your health – there are rules and regulations in place to ensure that the fights going on in the cage are ‘safe’. In years gone by, there would be open knuckle brawls with very little rules. Attempting to kick the head off your opponent in true soccer style was acceptable. In modern MMA, this is definitely not allowed. There are doctors on hand who can call an end to the bout at any time and there are several measures taken to ensure that the sport is as safe as can be.
Due to the safety measures taken, it allows you to immerse yourself in the action. Watching on television is entirely different to watching a live event as it does take away an element of the reality of what is going on, but inevitably you can convince yourself that everything is fine. Standing or sitting alongside thousands of like-minded fans in a sold out arena and sharing the same ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ moments is truly something to behold and it’s pretty difficult to put into words how it feels unless you experience it for yourself. Being able to watch a legend such as Dan Henderson fight his final fight, or cheer on the hometown guy such as Michael Bisping is something that is enhanced after learning about the fighters and their upbringing. While this isn’t professional wrestling where the story-lines are scripted, these real life people with real stories adds a whole new dimension to the fights that take place.
To conclude, the world of MMA allows individuals to express themselves via the purist form of competition which is combat. The sport is diverse and can change the lives of those who truly devote themselves to it. While a tad primal, it is a lot safer than it was in years gone by and only the toughest competitors will succeed. The people involved are relatable and this allows us to become engaged and immerse ourselves in this sport.
However, good luck trying to convince me to try it out for myself. Ouch!