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Photos courtesy of Charlie Cosens
Article by Steve Putman

It's the beginning of the third round; my head is spinning and my vision is blurred.  I head out to meet the opposition in the middle of the cage. He is broken and bruised from the two previous rounds of beatings.  He slinks backwards out of my reach, so I charge, shoot a double leg and miss by an inch or two. I recover and wrap up his torso and try a backwards throw, but I’m too close to the cage and he falls on top, hits me twice, and the ref jumps in and stops the fight with nothing but my safety in mind. With this first-hand experience, I wonder why the sport of mixed martial arts has the reputation as human cock-fighting, when in fact the athletes of this sport are amongst the most disciplined, the most regulated, and have the most in control of all the athletes around. 

Mixed Martial Artists as Role Models

Many people have a common misconception that mixed martial artists are "Barbarians," but the fact of the matter is that, this is completely untrue.  Let's take a look at a handful of the well-known competitors in the sport.  First we’ll look at Chris "lights out” Lytle, who is known for his powerful choke holds and hard-hitting right hand.  What many people don't know is that fighting is actually his second job.  He works his day job as a fire-fighter in his hometown of Warren Township, a suburb of Indianapolis.  He jumped into fire-fighting for the opportunity to help people. Most of the people he knows describe him as the nicest guy they know.  He is often asked, "Where is your mean streak?"  His response to this question is always the same, “Before my fight I think of all the things this guy is trying to do to my family: like take the food out of my kids’ mouths, taking money I need for them, and all the time I am forced to spend away from them for this guy." He'll then say, "I'm going to try to punch him as hard as I can, then help him up, and apologize." His mindset for fighting is all about family.  My question to you is would a "Barbarian" go into this with that mindset? To me he wouldn't.  There are other great examples of fighters being role models as well.

Another great example of a fighter being a role model is Fedor Emilianenko. Fedor, who is the World Alliance of Mixed Martial Arts Heavyweight Champion, was named the goodwill ambassador to the Gangnam District of Korea.  He will convey a message of hope to poverty stricken children and give them a positive role model from which they can draw inspiration.  Fedor is not really the picture of "ghetto-fabulous hooliganism" that most portray mixed martial artists.  Another Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) star who is going out of his way to make the world a better place is Rich "Ace" Franklin.  His work with the Disabled American Veterans was to come up with "Real American Fighters," a tribute to the American men and women who have been wounded in defense of our freedom.  The goal of this organization is to raise awareness of the issues facing our nation’s sick and disabled veterans.  In my opinion, this doesn’t sound like “caged ignorance," which is what this sport is referred to by its opposition.  It's hard to believe that MMA gets such a bad rap for its brutality when in fact it's one of the most regulated events there is.

Strict Regulations

There are many more regulations on MMA fighters than there are on boxers.  One of the main ways that the Michigan Unarmed Combat Commission has different stipulations for MMA is the licensing process.  If a boxer wants to get licensed, all he has to do is go in and ask for a license.  A mixed martial artist, on the other hand, has to go through a physical examination, a vision examination, and a blood test for several different diseases, including HIV, Hepatitis A, and Hepatitis B just to receive a license.  In addition, the Michigan Unarmed Combat Commission has created a list of rules that all licensed fighters must obey. These rules include the following techniques:

Allowed techniques: all punches to the head and body from a standing position and while on the ground; all kicks to the head and body from standing position; all kicks to the legs from standing to a grounded opponent; all kicks to the legs from the ground to a standing opponent; all knees to the head and body of a standing opponent; all knees to the body and legs on a grounded opponent; all elbow strikes to the head and body from any position; all throws and takedowns (except as listed below); all submissions (except listed below); Banned techniques: no kicks to the head of a grounded opponent; no groin strikes, eye gouging, or head-butts; no strikes to the neck, spine, elbow, or knee joints; no neck cranks which twist the spine or full suplex throws; no biting; fish-hooking; no hair-pulling; no throws that aim your opponent’s head at the ground.

The rules of this sport are regulated with nothing but the competitors’ safety in mind.  On top of this, if the referee in charge of the fight feels that they are too badly hurt to continue, he can jump in and say that’s enough and stop the fight.  The referee will actually talk to fighters during the fight to see if they're all-right and able to continue.  Unlike the popular sport of boxing, there have actually been no in-the-cage deaths.  A professional boxing match consists of 12 rounds at 3 minutes each.  In the case of a professional cage fight, there are 3 rounds at 5 minutes each. That is a difference of 21 minutes. Twenty-one minutes is a long time; even the championship fights for professional cage fighters are five 5-minute rounds, which is still 11 minutes shorter than a regular boxing match.  After looking at all this, people still want to argue.

The sport of mixed martial arts has many detractors, ranging from senators to everyday Joes. It has been scrutinized for everything from its knock out shots to its submission holds.  It has been described by many as human cock fighting, caged ignorance, and ghetto-fabulous hooliganism. The fighters have been called “barbarians,” which if you look up the definition you’ll find it to mean, an uncivilized extremely violent person with no interest in culture. The fact of the matter is that critics are just judging the sport based on its appearance rather than looking into the sport itself. If they were to investigate things like the rules, the fighters, the disciplines, and the facts, they would have a very different opinion.  We’ve looked at the fighters and the regulations so let’s take a look at the disciplines.

Rigorous Training

There are many different disciplines that incorporate to make up the sport of MMA; these disciplines include boxing, wrestling, judo, Muy-Thai kick-boxing, and Jiu-Jitsu. All disciplines involved have their own set of techniques that combine to make a beautiful display of power, agility, and control.  As in every discipline, the athletes have to be very dedicated to their own specialties and training regimens.

The training that a MMA fighter goes through, which is very intense, includes strict workout regimens that usually require the fighter to wake up around 5 o'clock in the morning.  Most fighters start their day with a protein shake and meal replacement bar. They follow this up with an average of a four mile run, which is followed up by a 30 minute session of stretching.  They usually have two sessions in the gym a day, which typically entail one of lifting and sparring, and the other with grappling and cardio.  All fighters have their own very strict diets (usually set up by their trainers) that they follow every day, so they are in the best shape they can be in when it comes time for their big moment.  All of this goes to show that they are in total control of their environment.

To the argument that they just beat each other senseless, the fighters are in complete control of their environments.  At anytime a fighter feels that something bad is going to happen, whether it be that he is caught in a submission, hit too many times, or feels he is too badly hurt to continue, he can simply "tap out,"  which means tapping the canvas or the opponent to say, "I have had enough, I quit."  How is understanding your limits a form of barbarism?  It's not!  After all is said and done, we need to take a longer look at this sport.

Looking back at all the facts and the arguments of the opposition, I still don't understand why people don't see the healthy competitiveness of this sport.  At first glance, all they see is the blood and stop there. In fact, they need to delve a little deeper and take a look at all aspects of the sport. I have laid out in black and white: the rules, the values of the fighters themselves, the disciplines, and the training for the sport. Just as a society has rules and morals, so do the athletes of this sport and the sport itself. As Chris Lytle exemplifies in character and standards, a mixed martial artist can be a family man and hero in his community, so should we really label such participants and sport as uncivilized?  No. Considering the character of the fighters mentioned and the precautions taken, mixed martial arts are a healthy form of competition.

© Steve Putman, 2009