Mixed Martial Arts: True Sport or Mindless Brutally

Mixed Martial Arts, or MMA, has always had a mixed reputation for it’s form of near unrestricted hand-to-hand combat. The sport’s rules, which allow fighters to strike with knees and elbows, and continue to pummel a fallen opponent, ground fighting with choke holds, make it clear that MMA is indeed the ultimate style of fighting. Though many are offended by such an apparently rule-less form of combat, crowds are being drawn to MMA venues such as Ultimate Fighting Championship matches (in record numbers) attest to those who find the sport both exciting and a refreshing change from ‘scripted, Hollywood wrestling’ and other combat sports that have numerous restrictive rules. Fans of MMA expect a real fight, and if there is blood and broken bones, then so be it – fans understand it takes extreme training and courage for MMA fighters to compete and the chance of being physically harmed is a given.

The anti-MMA view is that it is simply too dangerous to be allowed to continue, and too violent to be considered a true sport. Conversely, fans of mixed martial arts see the MMA as one of the best new sports to appear in years. Why? MMA fans say who wouldn’t want to see the ultimate physical contest between two individuals with little interference. The outcome of an MMA contest is left in the hands (and feet) of the contestants – one either taps out, is rendered unconscious or wins. At least, that is how the original ultimate fighter contests were held. There actually have been a number of modifications to MMA rules to accommodate those who consider mixed martial arts contests to brutal to be allowed.

Mixed Martial Art’s Rule Changes

Mixed martial arts matches have only existed in the United States since 1993 when the first Ultimate Fighter contest was held. That contest in 1993 matched all styles of martial artists against one another. At that time, the ‘ref’ in the caged area of the fight was not able to stop the fight – only the fighters or the trainers for the fighters could determine the eventual winner (the rules have since been modified to allow the ref to stop and MMA fight). Even in the first Ultimate Fighter contest in 1993, there were rules to protect the fighters and ensure a fair competition: No gouging and no biting, no strikes to the groin. The fight continued until there was a winner with no time limit. The fight would continue whether the contestants fought standing or on the ground. However, that was about it as far as rules for MMA went. It was the simplicity of rules of that first 1993 MMA televised contest to determine the best fighter which made MMA a seeming overnight success.

Since that time the MMA has introduced many rules to address the accusation that mixed martial arts was to brutal to be legally sanctioned as a sport. Weight divisions have been added that pit contestants of similar weight against one another. Time rounds have been added that limited how long contestants fight without rest. Fights now only can last 3 to 5 rounds of 10 to 15 minutes. Ring side doctors are required. MMA matches are made based on the skill level and experience. And, there is now a panel of MMA judges who monitor the fight and can award points to determine a winner.

Many hardcore MMA fans (especially in South America, Asia and Russia) consider even these modest rule changes as too intrusive in a sport meant to determine who is the ultimate fighter. They consider these rule changes too much of a concession to anti-MMA groups whom MMA fans see as those who understand nor have any appreciation for this new, intentionally violent type of contest. However, in order for MMA matches to be held legally and televised in the U.S. and Canada, MMA groups had to make rule changes in order to take mixed martial arts competitions mainstream and bring this new sport to a broader audience. Without these rules changes most of MMA would have remained ‘underground’, unregulated and largely unknown.

Safety Is First In MMA Contests

Anti-MMA groups have pointed out that, to date, there have been 2 deaths as a result of MMA contest. The logic seems to be that any sport that can result in the death of a contestant should not be allowed. However, MMA fans have rightly pointed out that, statistically, there were far more deaths in the early days of boxing events. And, indeed, there is an inherent risk of death and/or injury in all physically competitive sports from baseball to football to basketball. Just check the statistics of how many golfers, both amateur and professional, that have been struck by lighting.

Safety is taken very seriously in MMA. Doctors are on hand to monitor fights and can call a halt at any time if they deem it necessary. Fighters must be in peak physical conditioning. Fighters also are fully evaluated for skills before being allowed to compete. Professional mixed martial arts contests in the U.S. and Canada, and any fights broadcast into the U.S. are required to have medical and legal professionals monitoring the event to ensure that the proper standards of health and safety are maintained.

Seeing Beyond The Brutality

Mixed martial arts still suffers from a high level of negativity from those who only see the blood and physical injury. MMA still faces politicians who are not comfortable sanctioning the sport in their state. At present, MMA matches are banned in Connecticut, New York, Vermont and West Virginia. The late ’90s were a dark time for professional MMA contests. As mentioned above, rule changes were required (professional MMA contests now must adhere to Unified Rules Of Mixed Martial Arts in order to be legally held in most states in the U.S.). However, no amount of rule changes are going to convince anti-MMA individuals from considering mixed martial arts little more than ‘human cock-fighting’.

A close examination of most MMA fighter will reveal that professional MMA fighters have a healthy respect for human life and for their opponents. What drives these fighters is to become ‘the best’. Often this path to becoming the best fighter creates a competitor who improves as a person. No MMA fighter becomes a top competitor without learning how to be respectful towards their teachers and trainers. MMA fighters feel a sense of ‘brotherhood’ within their own training groups and within the sport as a whole. Many MMA fighters feel this new sport gave them a path to channel their competitive nature and ambitions in a far more positive manner.

MMA Training Should MMA have become (or rather remained) an underground sport, you can be sure that there would be many more deaths. There should be little doubt that many MMA fighters would have fought in such underground contests where the risk of death and permanent injury would be far more likely. Having the MMA contests held out in the open and regulated is far better for all concerned. Many of today’s MMA top competitors are becoming role models for kids and introducing them to the importance of controlling one’s emotions.

It is likely those who are anti-MMA and the fans and supporters of professional mixed martial arts contests will never agree as to the value of the sport of MMA. These two groups seem to live in completely different worlds. What should be agreed upon is that MMA is here to stay. Allowing this new sport to be held legally, out in the open, and regulated with intelligent rules is best for all concerned. And, as MMA fans have pointed out, you do not have to watch it if the sight of blood bothers you – just change the channel. As for the question is MMA just mindless brutality? … Well, the question ‘who is the best fighter?’ has been asked for hundreds of years. It is a relevant, intelligent question. It is a question that will never go away. Mixed Martial Arts in just the latest means to answer that question in a controlled, sporting manner. It may seem brutal, but it is in no way mindless.

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