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June 18, 2010

Mixed Martial Arts: The Sport of the Future

Lloyd Dobbler was right.

Right now I would call myself an "interested poseur." As in, I'm doing a post about MMA and yet I confess I don't watch it that much.

But when I do watch it, I dig it.

It's already pretty big, and seems, to me, poised to break out.

In case you only know of it from fifteen years ago, when it was a carnival-barker stunt-tv thing: When they first put this together, and were chased out of venues for being too violent, they really did sell the brutality of it to a public which always has a thirst for that kind of thing.

But despite that initial marketing, they tightened up a lot of the rules to prevent the most brutal stuff. They stopped selling it as an extreme, brutish spectacle, and started packaging instead as a legitimate sport.

And it is that now. A legitimate sport.

I have to wonder how long boxing maintains its status as the top fighting sport. Does it still cling to that title now? Maybe... if it does, not for long. The fact is, MMA is just so much more interesting than boxing. There are so many more ways to win (and lose) a fight.

A couple of weeks ago I saw something I hadn't seen before: A roundhouse kick to the head knockout. (Actually, he hit with the shin to the chin -- good enough.) I'm sure anyone watching this for a while has seen that, but it was a new one on me.

Sure, I've seen it in movies. I always thought it was sort of BS. I thought it was too big a move in a close fight; that you'd be opening yourself to too much counterattack to try it.

Not so much, not so much.

I don't watch enough so I thought that the wrestlers were dominant, and this therefore proved grappling was a superior form of combat to striking, and as far as striking, MMA bouts proved boxing was superior to kicking, especially superior to high kicks.

Not exactly. Those high kicks are still pretty rare and often don't connect but when they do, that is that. (Low kicks have long been effective at slowing a fighter down and taking the spring out of his legs.)

And my recent viewing seems to indicate that striking has come back to pull even with grappling.

My observations may be wrong. Just what it seems to me based on limited viewing. But the point I guess I'm trying to make is -- well, it's pretty varied. I think for a while there the sport became very dominated by that Brazilian jujitsu and so was mostly grappling. But it seems to have opened up again. The last several fights I saw caused me to wonder, "Hey, when are they going to grapple?"

I don't know if this is true or not, but steve_in_hb, who tells me interesting stuff, even if it's not true, says that the MMA may actually be, despite the bloodiness of it, less brutal than boxing.

The theory he relayed is that the heavy padded gloves in boxing are really terrible for a fighter's brain. The idea being all that cushion will prevent knockouts... but will do nothing to prevent the fact your brain is constantly being bruised badly as it sloshes against the skull due a forceful blow. And because you won't get knocked out cleanly, you'll instead endure pummel after pummel after pummel.

The theory, then, postulates that in the MMA, knockouts are more frequent, but the fights then are overall more merciful as regards long-term brain health.

If one of those lands on you in MMA, you're done for the night. The fights are not prolonged in that way.

The MMA also has none of that standing 8 count stuff, which, now that I consider it, seems incredibly cruel: If in boxing, you're kind of halfway briefly knocked out, but can be gathered up to your feet, your manly honor compels you to fight on, right? Saying "No Mas" would be... contrary to the spirit of competition, right? So you soldier on.

But why are they putting you through that? If you were kinda-sorta knocked out, even for a half second, shouldn't that be the end of your night? (I know this rule is used for simple knockdowns as well that don't involve knockout, but you can tell, often, a guy getting the standing 8 count is three blocks north of Queer Street.)

Just out of regard for humanity: Don't encourage that guy to fight any further. Yeah, he wants to win the fight. He also wants to be able to recognize his wife and kids when he retires.

On the other hand, when you get knocked to the ground in MMA, the fight does not necessarily stop, and your opponent can pummel you while you're senseless on the mat; but refs come in quickly to stop a fight when one opponent isn't capable of an intelligent defense.

I kinda wish they'd swoop in there sooner after what looks like a telling blow and prevent those two or three bonus-damage hits, but, still.

At least it's quickly over. Maybe they need a one-second pause rule -- ref stops the advancing fighter for one second -- to check to see if the guy on the mat has just been knocked down or is, in fact, out.

I don't know if that's true. We don't have a big enough pool of long-career fighters in MMA to gauge the aftereffects of the sport on cognitive functions. Still, based on interviews, most MMA fighters seem less punch-drunk and uppercut-stupid than boxers.

Anyway, if you haven't watched it lately (and if you have Spike TV, I'm not sure how you avoided it), give it a shot. It might seem right now as if it's drawing a bit of a recovering-WWE-fan crowd, but I think that's going to change. I think they're just early adopters, who weren't put off by the sport's trashy beginnings.

I don't want to say that David Frum will start having UFC parties, but it does actually have enough poetry in it for an intellectual like George Will to write columns about.

Bonus: No corruption, or at least none that is known yet.



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posted by Ace at 09:12 PM

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