MMA: The brutal ballet

People have differing opinions regarding the MMA

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People have differing opinions regarding the MMA

Harry Green ('20), Eastside Staff

It’s round three in a five round bout between former champion Jose Aldo and rising star Max Holloway.  Aldo, a 30 year-old Brazilian once held one of the longest winning streaks in his sports’ history.  Holloway, five years his junior, is on a ten-fight win streak.  After punishing each other with a series of blows for three brutal rounds, Holloway lands a devastating right hand to Aldo’s jaw.  Aldo immediately drops to the canvas, as Holloway swarms him.  Before he can recover, Holloway follows him to the ground. Smelling blood, he leaps upon his opponent and delivers a torrent of vicious strikes to his head.  The Brazilian crowd falls into silence.  Mercifully, the referee intervenes, blocking a new series of blows directed at Aldo and ending the fight.

In recent years, the popularity of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) has risen exponentially.  Since its humble beginnings as an unregulated niche sport in the early 1990s, MMA has supplanted boxing, hockey and auto racing in public interest. It is now known by many as the“fastest growing sport in the world.”  In just under 25 years, the largest MMA organization, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), has grown into a company worth more than four billion dollars. Several factors have been proposed in regards to MMA’s rise including greater regulation, social media, and effective marketing.  No matter what factors have ushered in its rise, MMA fans cannot seem to get enough of their sport.

Broadly, fans of MMA fall into two categories.  First, there are those drawn to its violence.  Like Roman citizens at the Coliseum, they yell and scream when a fighter is knocked unconscious, thirstily celebrating the kicks and strikes that leave bodies bloody and broken.  They grow bored or even angry whenever a dull moment in the fight arises.  This is the fan most casual observers of the sport see.  This is the sport that Senator John McCain once referred to as “human cock fighting.” There is, however, a less recognized, but equally devoted fan of the sport.  This fan sees not only its violence but also its beauty.  For this fan, the sport’s appeal comes in its artistry.  For them, the combination of strikes, their timing, their angle and their direction are essential.  The violence is incidental to the beautiful ballet.  This is the sport that former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir referred to as “a game of physical chess.”

It’s round three in a five round bout between former champion Jose Aldo and rising star Max Holloway. For more than two rounds, Aldo has dominated the pace of the fight. His power, coupled with his impeccable strategy, will be a tough obstacle for Holloway to overcome. However, Holloway recognizes something in the third round no one else does; Aldo’s energy is fading. Capitalizing on this opportunity, Holloway begins to pressure Aldo. His striking volume vastly increases. He becomes more diverse in his striking as well, mixing punches with kicks and knees. Aldo has no answer for Holloway; his seemingly-indefatigable pace has been disrupted. Holloway sees his chance to make history. With a beautiful straight-cross combination, Holloway puts Aldo on the canvas. For the next three minutes, Holloway works to sap his opponent of all his remaining strength. He rains down a brutal, yet calculated volley of punches on Aldo, as Aldo fights just for breathing room. Holloway senses that victory is near. He sinks in a rear-naked choke to further tire Aldo, then lets it go. Aldo is in pure survival mode at this point. After Holloway lands more than 50 unanswered strikes, the referee calls a merciful stop to the fight.      

So which is it, blood sport or brutal ballet?  The answer likely lies in the degree of investment among the sport’s observers.  The casual fan feeds upon the savagery, the crushed bones and the bleeding faces.  These are the most apparent features of the sport.  They require only that the observer understand man in his most primitive state, engaged in a beastly struggle for physical superiority. In time, even the casual fan comes to recognize that MMA is not determined entirely by physical prowess. While a fighter’s success depends upon hard work and determination, skill is paramount. Longtime observers of the sport readily recall UFC 1 when a 170 pound Royce Gracie handily defeated a series of physically superior opponents to take home the prize.  He was often outweighed, once by nearly one hundred pounds, but simply out-thought and outmaneuvered his opponents.  

As MMA continues to grow, more and more fans will be exposed to what at first glance is a brutish sport reminiscent of gladiators and bare-knuckled brawlers.  If they care to see past the violence, they will see an intricate and artful dance.  

As Frank Mir said, “People often get drawn into the physical aspect of MMA, but like chess, it is a game of the mind.”

So, the next time you witness a spinning-wheel kick, a flying knee, an uppercut, or elbow, remember to look for the the elegance and skill in which it was delivered.  This is the brutal ballet.