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Old 01-22-2004, 01:09 PM #1
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Default Counters to Criticsisms about MMA

Counters to Criticisms of MMA

By John Hopton with additional information supplied by Ian "Boxing Brit" Butlin, Cyrille Diabate, James Schiavo and Hywel "Doctor Octagon" Teague. 17 January 2004

This was written in response to a number of criticisms of MMA which featured in a TV Documentary in the "Focus" series presented by Debbie Thrower and screened in the Meridian TV region during 2003. Most of these criticisms were raised (albeit not in quite the same language) during the course of these programme. The other criticisms listed here have featured at some time or other in various other media sources such as radio programmes, local newspapers, national newspapers and other television programmes.

Misconception One

This is the most nasty brutal form of entertainment and only appeals to mindless thugs and bloodthirsty ghouls

The only part of the sport which is not a feature of sports widely recognised and included in the Olympics is that in MMA a competitor is permitted to strike his competitor on the ground. While this ‘ground and pound’ technique may appear to be brutal, a good referee will stop the fight as soon as the person underneath is unable to defend himself and in any case, the person may submit at any time. It is true that sometimes a person may bruise easily and bleed quite a bit at this point in a fight, but this is more an issue of the proximity of skin to bone in the head, rather than an issue of serious injury being inflicted. In any case, it is normal for the referee to step in and stop the fight as soon as it is clear that the fighter being hit is not going to be able to defend himself adequately.

As for the allegation that the sports fans are thugs and bloodthirsty ghouls, as veteran fighter and promoter Lee Hasdell has said, some people go to motor racing in the hope of seeing a crash and unfortunately there’s not much that you can do about that. However, the regular contributors to the UK’s most established internet forums for mixed martial arts - SFUK and CageWarriors– are more inclined to discuss technical aspects of the sport, applied physiology, nutrition etc than to revel in discussions of bloody contests. Furthermore, this community includes many people from professional backgrounds which are the antithesis of thuggery such as schoolteachers, social care professionals, sports therapists and osteopaths and nurses.

Misconception Two

MMA is the latest in a long series of dangerous martial arts crazes such as nunchaku (flails) and shuriken (kung fu throwing stars); and various ninja weapons – which have been banned by the Criminal Justice Act; as should MMA for the same reason ; that it encourages and validates violent behaviour.

All the martial arts crazes which have attracted the attention of the authorities in the past have involved the use of weapons. There is no weapons training in mixed martial arts. The emphasis is on learning realistic unarmed combat techniques which can also safely be used in the context of sporting competition. Furthermore there are clear boundaries in place in mixed martial arts: the physical boundaries of the training area and the competition arena and the less visible boundaries around the degree of contact that may be negotiated in training and permitted in competition

Misconception Three

The fighters in MMA compete with the intention of beating their opponent senseless or causing him serious soft tissue injury and/or bone fractures through the application of submission holds

Certainly the objective of competition is to win, but no-one wants to be out of action for months because they have incurred injuries in competition or training. Therefore the intensity of any sparring in training is determined by mutual negotiation and consent; while – in competition – there is absolute respect for a person’s right to submit and a submission hold will be released as soon as a tap is felt or verbal submission is heard. Knockouts do occur, but there is less sustained head striking than in boxing because there are more offensive and defensive options available than in boxing. Therefore brain damage from the cumulative effects of striking is probably less than in boxing. Similarly, the relative thinness and light weight of the gloves makes it more difficult for a person to hit the head hard as the striker’s hands are not as well protected as a boxer’s; and neither does his hand have so much added weight.

Furthermore the kind of acute traumatic brain injury which occurs in boxing and MMA also occurs in collision sports such as American Football, ice hockey and rugby; and yet no-one is calling for the banning of these sports – or even for rule changes to reduce the risk of injury. Again, if a fighter is being struck repeatedly while dominated on the ground, the referee is likely to stop the fight on the grounds thats/he is unable to defend themselves intelligently.

Misconception Four

This is the real life equivalent of the film fight club, where male violence is celebrated for its own sake

The film "Fight Club" is based on a novel which could be read as a kind of satirical allegory (not unlike "Gulliver’s Travels") about consumerism and the spiritual emptinesss of contemporary urban dwelling. Even if taken literally, though, it is a commentary on the numbing effects of consumerism and the consequences of overwork and nervous exhaustion. The fight clubs depicted in the film and novel are very different from MMA clubs. In the fight clubs of "Fight Club" there is no work on agility, fitness or stamina; no effort is put into learning intricate grappling moves; no safety gear is used; there are no mats on the floor; no-one wears proper training gear. In the film, all that counts is raw aggression. In MMA self control is of utmost importance; and training on club nights is likely to consist of stamina wwork; the perfection of technique and sparring. The level of force that is used in sparring will always be realistic but will be within safe parameters; set either by the club coach(es) or by negotiation between sparring partners.

Misconception Five

In MMA, rules are kept to an absolute minimum

This is not strictly speaking true. The original Brazilian vale tudo contests from which the sport is derived had only three fouls and had no rounds or time limits. The fouls were eye-gouging, groin strikes, and fish-hooking (the insertion of fingers into ears, mouth, nose etc). Even then, referees were usually quick to step in and stop fights when it was clear that a fighter could no longer intelligently defend himself. As the sport has developed, a lot of added safety measures have been included. Rules vary from promotion to promotion, but to put this criticism in context, consider the case of some of the major US and UK promotions

For example :

Cage Warriors.

The rules comprise 17 separate sections. Section 16 lists 31 fouls including

kneeing or kicking the head of a downed opponent, throat strikes, small joint manipulation, hair pulling, clawing or pinching the flesh and head butts

Ultimate Combat

The rules for professional bouts comprise 42 separate articles. Article 21 lists 31 separate fouls including kneeing or kicking the head of a downed opponent, throat strikes, small joint manipulation, hair pulling, clawing or pinching the flesh and head butts

The rules for semi-professional bouts comprise 42 separate articles. Article 21 lists 37 separate fouls including all of the above plus open hand strikes, the use of certain specified submission holds and any striking to the head when one or both opponents are on the ground

Ultimate Fighting Championship

The abbreviated version of the UFC rules posted on their website lists the same 31 fouls as Cage Warriors and Ultimate Combat (professional) and also states the five weight classes, bout duration and ways to win. Indeed, the rules used on British promotions have been deliberately based on the current UFC rules, which have been approved by the State Athletic Commissions of Nevada and New Jersey

Other promotions such as the USA’s King of The Cage and the UK’s Millenium Brawl/Extreme Brawl also use similar rules to these.

Related links:

Grant Waterman's Guide to Scoring MMA
Nikuraba's Guide to Watching MMA
Misconception Six

MMA is not a legitimate sport because it is not recognised by Sport England or the Internationally Olympic Committee

While the professional formats of Mixed Martial Arts contest may not be recognised by Sport England, during the late 1990s, the Knockdown Sport Budo Organisation format of mixed martial arts competition (which does not permit striking to the head and which was in existence before the UFC) had the seal of approval of the technical committee of the BJJA, who were recognised by the Sport Council as a sport governing body. While this approval was subsequently reviewed, the rules of KSBO were further modified in 2002 ( to remove knee and elbow strikes and make the wearing of grappling gloves and shine/instep protectors mandatory) so that KSBO competitions might be insured under the auspices of the Amateur Martial Arts Association.

Almost all the techniques used in Mixed Martial Arts are used in established Olympic Sports; boxing, taekwondo, wrestling, judo. Certain submission holds and strikes (e.g. elbows and knees) may not be allowed in Olympic sports but do feature in sports which are established and accepted in the UK and internationally; notably Muay Thai and Sport Ju Jitsu

Misconception Seven

MMA is outlawed in most US States

This is not strictly speaking true, although there are some states where MMA contests are outlawed. However, it is a claim that was made by the original owners of the Ultimate Fighting Championship in their advertising hype.

The rules currently used in the Ultimate Fighting Championship were approved by the Nevada State Athletic Commission on 23rd July 2001 and since then have also been approved by the State Athletic Commission for New Jersey. MMA contests also occur in some other states. For example, the promotion King Of The Cage runs events in the state of California

Misconception Eight

In MMA matches fighters are often locked into cages.

No–one is ever locked into a cage, in the sense that they cannot escape. However, during bouts, the door(s) to a cage will be securely fastened from the outside in the interests of safety (i.e. preventing fighters from falling out of the cage). A competitor can submit verbally or by ‘tapping out’ at any stage in a fight. Additionally, a referee will stop a bout if s/he has concerns for the health, safety or well-being of either fighter. Cages are often used for fights because this environment is safer than a boxing or wrestling ring as competitors can fall out of a fenced arena, such as a conventional boxing ring.

Misconception Nine

The competitors use very thin gloves and no head protection and this causes an increased risk of injury.

The thin gloves used in MMA may actually reduce the risk of injury more than boxing gloves do. When headguards are used in boxing, the extra padding does not significantly reduce the risk of head injury but simply reduces the external damage done to fighters (see Matser E. J. T et al , Acute traumatic brain injury in amateur boxing. Physician and Sportsmedicine 28:1)

An extensive bibliography on head injuries in boxing can be found at the following location:

[Link View Has Been Removed. Click Here To Unlock This Content.]

Misconception Ten

MMA is unregulated

While there is no single governing body which sanctions mixed martial arts events in the UK this is true of most martial arts. There are many separate kickboxing, Muay Thai, kung fu, karate and ju jitsu organisations in the UK promoting sport-fighting tournaments independently of each other which permit varying levels of contact and have different rules – even within the same discipline.

In any case, moves are under way to establish a unified Governing Body for MMA in the UK.

Misconception Eleven

Many people involved in professional boxing are opposed to MMA. The fact that people who are themselves involved in an established violent sport is an illustration of how violent and dangerous MMA is

While there are a lot of critics of MMA within the world of boxing; there are many people involved in MMA who have been or are currently involved in the sport of boxing at all levels; including professional boxers such as Chris Bacon and James Zikic. People who are involved in both sports take a very different view to that taken by high profile critics such as Frank Warren and Henry Cooper. For example, some of them argue that standing eight counts and the heavier gloves used in boxing lead to greater risk of brain injury than is the case in MMA where people have to be as skilled in grappling and finding submission holds as they are in fighting with their fists

Misconception Twelve

Unlike wrestling, judo or boxing which require real skill, this is just brawling. There is no skill involved

MMA requires the acquisition of all the skills and the same type of physical fitness associated with wrestling, ju jitsu, boxing and kick boxing. Consequently, people who compete in MMA are amongst the fittest and strongest athletes that you are likely to find. Furthermore, the fact that there are a greater number of strategic and tactical possibilities than in any other combat sport, means that MMA athletes have to have more highly developed problem-solving skills than participants in any of the established combat sports

Misconception Thirteen

The sport of Mixed Martial Arts is banned in other Western European countries. For example, a French mixed martial arts format (The Golden Trophy) was banned circa 2000/2001

Mixed Martial Arts competitions do take place in other West European countries; e.g. in The Netherlands and in Scandinavia.

It is more or less illegal to promote professional Mixed Martial Arts competitions in France. However, the French situation is complex. All sport in France is highly regulated, and federations for established sports have a lot of control over their members. For example, some martial arts organisations will suspend or exclude members who hold a licence in a second martial art. Mixed Martial Arts is a new ‘grass roots’ sport without clear historical roots. This makes it difficult for the authorities to establish who is competent to teach the sport and run the administration of the sport, so that appropriate certification can be issued to legitimise Mixed Martial Arts as a sport. The media and the government are still heavily influenced by what they have seen of the early UFC (i.e. before it was taken over by Zuffa who greatly improved its health and safety measures); while some of the other martial arts organisations have some prominent members who disapprove of Mixed Martial Arts (for reasons that are either commercial or based on personal opinions about what mixed martial arts should be). The Golden Trophy was not actually banned outright. The promoters were told by the authorities, though, that future mixed martial arts competitions must not allow any strikes to the head. Consequently there are no Mixed Martial Arts competitions in France under the kind of professional rules used in the USA and the UK. There are some small organisations in France which run amateur competitions which disallow strikes to the head.

Misconception Fourteen

MMA is just legitimised streetfighting and will encourage real violence. MMA fighting is a form of releasing aggression which is detrimental to both the participants and society in general.

The Mixed Martial Arts scene in the UK is characterised by respect for one’s peers; admiration of skill and dedication, collaborative learning and mutual assistance. For these reasons, it makes a valuable contribution to the social fabric of twenty-first century Britain by providing welcoming and friendly communities where people who start training are likely to find a sense of belonging and paths to enhancing their self-esteem. Many authorities on the subject consider a sense of belonging and a sense of self-esteem to be the two core prerequisites for the achievement of good mental health. Therefore, attempts to ban or marginalise the sport are fundamentally misguided. The culture of this sport is not one of violence but a culture of personal growth. Furthermore this is not only personal growth in the purely physical or psychological sense but holistic personal growth (i.e. personal growth with physical, psychological, social, spiritual and educational dimensions).
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