Prejudice in MMA

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Less than a week removed from the landmark first women’s bout in the UFC, which doubled up with the first UFC performance by an openly homosexual fighter – and in a headlining, championship slot none the less – it seems an appropriate time to have a look at the concept of prejudice and how it applies mixed martial arts.

It bears mentioning that I am a straight, white, educated and employed male, living in a developed western country, so most forms of serious prejudice have passed me by and I know it, and am thankful for it. That doesn’t mean I can’t empathise with the difficulties faced by others, but lets start close to home…

I come from a part of the world that suffers from bitter divisions which manifest through sport. I have no wish to recount the long and storied history of violence and bigotry which characterises football culture in the west of Scotland (google ‘Old Firm rivalry’ or something similar if you need to know) because it depresses me.

Aside from that local issue that looms large in my thoughts, established team sports around the world are indelibly linked with entrenched, tribal divisions whether they are sectarian, racial, social or merely regional in nature.

Likewise, team sports suffer from the pack mentality of (predominantly) heterosexual men to be entrenched against things like homosexuality, folks of different race, culture etc.

I’ve played my share of team sports at a strictly amateur and just-for-fun level and even at that low pressure, the atmosphere when a member of a team is noticeably ‘different’ especially in a way that threatens the sensibilities of one or more other team members is not nice.

However, my experience in martial arts has been far more… Zen.

When I trained karate as a teenager, I learned alongside, sparred with and got beaten up by girls. When I’ve trained jiu-jitsu, we always make a point to shake hands with everyone in the class, no matter how many times they tapped you or accidentally kneed you in the place where no man should ever be kneed.

So, when MMA finally grabbed my attention, I foolishly assumed that it might be devoid of the same level of prejudice as I’d known elsewhere.

Wishful thinking.

Of course, MMA is a combat sport, dominated in terms of fans and participants by males, invariably the kind of guys who like to hit things or watch others do so and as such a degree of testosterone and aggression is to be expected around the sport.

I’m not going to discuss the tendency of some fans to demand blood with their night of fights, to spend whole evenings chanting ‘kick his fucking cunt in’ during every fight or the passionate loyalty that comes, especially at smaller shows with a bus load of family and gym mates in tow. That might not always be a positive thing, and I’m never a fan of booing the opposition rather than cheering your own preferred fighter, but it’s not really prejudice.

So, as MMA is an individual sport, marketed on the appeal of individual fighters you could expect it to be less invested with the generalised, geographically or culturally based antipathy which is so characteristic of team sports.

However, the flip side of being about individuals is that any prejudice or discrimination is aimed at an individual, standing alone in the lights and as such any slurs are all the more… personal.

Lets look at the kind of discrimination potentially suffered by fighters, and how MMA seems to be coping with it.

Sexism

We’ve just had our first women’s bout in the UFC and Ronda Rousey is amongst the most bankable stars in the sport. Does that mean there is no sexism in MMA? Of course not. I’ve seen innumerable posts from folks on various forums calling the bout a freakshow, saying that girls can’t fight – all the usual nonsense. Of course, these folks tend to be the same kind of people who say they aren’t interested in watching a technical featherweight match as they don’t want to watch ‘midgets’ fight. Sigh.

The justification offered for this is that women’s sport is inherently less skilled or impressive than men’s sport, which is to a degree true – but only because women are biologically smaller than men and they were actively discouraged from sport for so long because of societal prejudice, leading their team sports to never gain the traction that men’s have.

However, in individual sports where it’s player one versus player two, women’s sport is every bit as compelling as the men’s, less reliant on a hundred years of rivalry and all about a personal contest in pursuit of a trophy. That might as well be the UFC title as the Wimbledon one.
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Indeed, Invicta FC has shown us that any perceived shortcoming in WMMA is in exposure, rather than the skills and entertainment value of the fights, and that happily seems to be changing.

Of course, there will always be those who are threatened by the concept of women fighting, and I suppose that such insecure misogyny is to be pitied more than anything else.

Sexual Preference

I’m shocked and ecstatically happy to report that sexual preference seems to be a non issue in MMA. The Internet buzz around Dakota Cochrane being outed during his time on the Ultimate Fighter barely registered and Liz Carmouche seems to have received vastly more support than condemnation for being ‘out & proud.’

With Dana White making it clear that he and the UFC couldn’t care less about such things and it would make no difference to their hiring or promotional policy, it seems that on the whole, MMA is well ahead of the curve on being gay friendly.

I’m even astonished that I didn’t come across any allegations that ‘of course a dyke would be into fighting and getting to rub up against other lasses’ in the build up to UFC 157.

I guess it’s hard to show your prejudice when you know the target could probably batter the hell out of you…

Although, that’s not quite true because there is a persistent forum tendency to imply that some male fighters, such as Georges St-Pierre and Dominck Cruz are ‘batting for the other side’ because they are well maintained and generally softly spoken. Of course, all real men are unwashed, wear large beards and talk in gruff monosyllables…

Sigh.

Come to think of it, I’ve been on the end of jokes from workmates and family members, linking my interest in watching buff, half naked men ‘dry hump each other’ and training in a discipline which amounts to the same (jiujitsu) to an apparent latent homosexuality in myself. My wife thinks this is hilarious.

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Religion

There is plenty religion on show in MMA, from tattoos, fighters crossing themselves on weigh in and during their introductions to some outright proselytising in post fight interviews (Ben Henderson, I’m looking at you) but its interesting to note that only ONE religious view seems to be readily expressed, on either side of the Atlantic.

We’re all familiar with Christianity (in some form or another) being a part of the MMA circus, but I can’t help wondering that if a fighter expressed atheist or Muslim views on such a platform, they’d be booed out the building, potentially cut from the promotion etc.

Let me be honest here, that as a humanist ANY form of religious proselytising sets my teeth on edge (and the concept of thanking God for your successes, as opposed to all that training is a bit ass backwards) but free speech is a double edged sword and in my eyes, folks should be allowed to believe and say what they like. I just don’t like the undertone that only one form of religious expression is acceptable.

Nationality

MMA is an individual sport, but we all instinctively get behind folks from places we identify with. As a Scot, I’ll tend to back Scots, Irish, English or Scandinavian fighters if I know nothing else about them, but as I learn more about skills and personality I can come to favour certain fighters more or less, irrespective of where they are from.

Deep seated national prejudice seems to come and go in MMA, with the mass US hatred of Michael Bisping being more to do with his bluff Northern manner not scanning well against Dan Henderson in the States, and the same true of Chael Sonnen in Brazil. It’s less a case of Americans hating Brits or Brazilians hating Americans, but more about your representative taking a crack at ours, and sometimes some ill judged (or brilliantly judged, depending on your view) comments about our country going down poorly.

Refreshingly, in MMA what your mouth says and your fists do seems to be more important than where you happen to come from, and while folks will usually support fighters based on being local, they don’t tend to carry that into hatred for the folks from next door. As it should be.

Snobbery

It might seems strange to say there is an issue with snobbery in MMA, but I feel it to be so. In a number of ways.

Like all niche markets, there are fans who’ve been here longer than others and consider themselves to have an ownership of, and superiority of opinion regarding the sport. This leads to folks who pine for the days of PRIDE or ‘no holds barred’ UFC considering the opinion of folks who quite like the modern iteration of the sport to be the worthless nattering of noobs.

That’s not helpful.

There’s also snobbery between fans based on something as intangible as style. I’ve heard many, many diatribes from supposedly better heeled fans against ‘those rednecks who wear Tapout’ or characterising the bulk of ‘less educated’ MMA fans as ‘tattooed idiots who listen to that nu metal shite’ (this is a direct quote from a conversation I’ve had).
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Now, as you may have picked up on this blog in the past, I myself am tattooed, a fan of alternative music and until recently I had long hair. None of that has the slightest thing to do with my love of MMA, and I find such assertions insulting and narrow minded.

It’s easy, especially at local level MMA shows to characterise the crowd by their stylistic clique, with the expensively attired, fake tan rocking friends of the local gangsters front and centre, the wannabe bodybuilders and bouncers wearing size-too-small Tapout shirts and holding their beer bellies in, the wannabe journalists doing their best to look like Ariel Helwani and the gym loads of fans supporting their local fighter decked out in t-shirts denoting their gym affiliation.

None of that means a damn thing. We’re all fans, and we should treat each other as fans. Your idea of sartorial elegance might not be mine, but at the end of the day, we’re there to watch people compete, not stage a Zoolander style walk off.

In a lot of ways, MMA remains in the dark ages as regards prejudice, but in a great many ways it’s streets ahead of more established and popular sports.

We’re all just folks, here to fight or to enjoy the fights. Lets meet on that basis and share the immense positivity of this sport, without concerning ourselves about extra curricular stuff that may needlessly divide us and diminish our enjoyment and participation in this wonderful, mostly inclusive sport.

Of course, one of the most prevailing prejudices regarding MMA is the continual push from the so called ‘moral majority’ looking to characterise the sport as a barbaric anachronism and ban it forthwith. This takes many forms, from determined attempts at misinformation, supposedly humerous and uninformed attempts to undermine the sport, to hysterical campaigns to ban the sport itself (as one politician in South Dakota has it at the moment, because ‘MMA is analogous to child porn’) or elements which are important to it, such as the cage – which remains a piece of safety equipment, no matter how much some folks like to assert otherwise.
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The best thing we can all do for our sport is to pull together, to explain to the uninitiated and the anti why MMA is actually safer than boxing (no ten counts for knockouts for a start,) and actually tends to be a positive influence on people’s lives, with largely orderly events and promotes a healthy lifestyle as well as important values like self reliance, hard work and trust and in many ways is a more enlightened, less bigoted scene than other, more established, less controversial sports.

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OMMAC 16 – Redemption Preview

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Saturday, March 2nd
The Olympia, Liverpool, England

OMMAC return for their first card of 2013 with a sadly injury affected card that was to feature TUF alumnus Martin Stapleton facing Chris Hoban for the British Lightweight title, fresh off his three-wins-in-one-night tournament win at Cage Contender in December and a four man tournament to crown a new Flyweight champion.

Sadly Stapleton and two of the Flyweights have been sidelined, but Chris Zorba has scrambled admirably to provide us with another compelling challenger for the belt on top of an interesting card.

Submission machine, Chris Hoban (9-4) remains in the main event, riding a nine fight win streak – you have to love the character of a guy who kept going after losing his first four fights – and is now to face the versatile Tim ‘Super Human’ Newman (9-3) for the British belt, with Newman coming off a submission win over veteran Greg Loughran in Cage Warriors back in October.

Also on the card we have another TUF alum, Valentino Petrescu (12-2) returning to middleweight to face local favourite Lee Chadwick (14-10-1).

The flyweight tournament may have been scrapped, but the two 125lers left standing Nathan Greyson (3-1) and Bryan Creighton (2-1) are set to collide in what could be a fight of the night contender.

For more information on OMMAC 16 please check out www.ommac.tv

OMMAC 16 Fight Card
British Lightweight Title
Tim Newman v Chris Hoban

MW Lee Chadwick v Valentino Petrescu
BW Mike Wooten v Jody Collins
LW Uche Ihiekwe v Graham Armstrong
FW Shay Walsh v John Cullen
WW Dan Rushworth v Scott Clist
FlyW Nathan Greyson v Bryan Creighton
LW Ellis Hampson v Paul West
FW Mick Kay v Andrew Glenn
MW Dave Graham v Tommy Cook
FW Greg Grimshaw v TBC
WW Billy Glossop vs TBC
Amateur
HW Tom Aspinall v Kristian Bircher

UFC on FUEL TV 8: Silva vs. Stann Preview

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Sat, 02 Mar 2013
Saitama, Japan

I almost can’t keep up with this. Seriously, it’s the first weekend in March, not even a quarter way through 2013 and we’re on our sixth UFC card, in the fourth host nation (indeed continent) of the year.

In fact, they really should retitle UFC on FUEL TV as the UFC on TOUR as this is the fourth Fuel card in succession to emanate from outside of North America, with the next one schedule for Sweden in April.

Building on the success of last year’s UFC 144 and the Fuel card in Macau, the promotion continues its attempt to break the Asian market with a return to the home of PRIDE, the Saitama Super Arena.

In keeping with that theme, we have PRIDE legends topping the card against younger contenders looking to build their own legend with the rest of the card filled out with a Japanese fighter in every bout. That’s how you draw the locals, folks…

Our main event is as close to a guaranteed knockout as I can imagine, as the most dominant Light Heavyweight in history and former PRIDE champion, Wanderlei ‘the Axe Murderer’ Silva (34-12-1, 1NC) headlines in the arena that hosted his greatest moments against “All American Hero” Brian Stann (12-5).

With a combined 33 knockouts and the feeling that this fight is more ‘just for fun’ than either guy making a genuine run at a title all the ingredients are in place for a bout with an explosive ending.

Despite both fighters spending the bulk of their recent career at Middleweight, this bout takes place at a more comfortable 205lbs largely because Wanderlei doesn’t enjoy cutting anymore as his career winds down. Fair enough, unlikely we’ll run into cardio issues then…

Despite his legend status, Silva’s UFC record is a disappointing 3-5 with his 18-0 run between 2000 and 2004 increasingly a thing of myth and legend. Wandy has proven quite knockoutable in recent years, although his win over Cung Le showed he’s still got the scary Muay Thai that earned him his nickname.

By contrast, Stann has been mostly defeated by tactics in recent years with guys who elect to stand and trade (Chris Leben, Jorge Santiago, Alessio Sakara) getting knocked out and guys who take him down (Chael Sonnen, Phil Davis) or adopt a more measured striking game (Michael Bisping) getting the better of him.

Of course, Wandy is Wandy and only knows the gameplan of moving forward, looking to land hooks and unleash his brutal knees, which almost turns this into a question of who lands a big shot first. I can’t wait…

Our co-main event sees another PRIDE legend, but this time it’s one on his best run of form since the mid 00s.

Former K1 Grand Prix champion Mark Hunt (8-7) went on a 5-0 run in PRIDE after losing his debut in 2004, but a 0-5 run of first round stoppage losses left him with a lowly 5-6 record. Then he ended up in the UFC, as a holdover from the deal by which the UFC had purchased PRIDE, making him perhaps the only fighter with a losing record to compete in the Octagon.

Among much sniggering from the keyboard warriors, Hunt lost his UFC debut to Sean McCorkle via first round submission (his SIXTH such loss) and wasn’t expected to grace the Octagon for long. However,in his sophomore effort, Hut showed he wasn’t going out into the night with a losing record and knocked out Chris Tuchscherer in emphatic fashion, showing that his striking skills were still something to be respected.

Following up with a decision over capable veteran Ben Rothwell and another memorable KO against fellow kickboxing alumnus Cheick Kongo, Hunt found himself on a 3-0 streak in the UFC and an outside contender to replace Alistair Overeem when his title shot at Junior dos Santos fell through because of a failed drugs test.

Instead, the UFC went with Frank Mir and given that Hunt hasn’t fought in a year, it could well have been due to injury – he’s never been the most prolific fighter, clocking only fifteen fights in a ten year career.

In any case, Hunt finds himself facing one of the UFC’s perennial outside prospects with the potential of a 4-0 streak and renewed impetus for a title shot…

That prospect is the relatively youthful Stefan Struve (25-5) who is himself riding a four fight win streak. Struve is an imposing prospect at seven feet tall and has increasingly shown an ability to use the height and reach advantage he holds over pretty much everyone as a winning mechanism to secure both TKO and submission finishes. A win for Struve would place him on a 5-0 run and right in title contention.

As a rule, Hunt wins via knock-out and loses by submission. Struve has shown in the past that he has a good ability to take advantage of shorter, stockier strikers lacking submission game and has submitted the likes of Pat Barry and Lavar Johnson in recent years.

However, there is also a suggestion of a glass jaw, as Struve has been knocked clean out four times.

All the stats favour Struve, but Hunt only needs to catch him once…

Next up, we have former PRIDE Lightweight champion and living legend, ‘the Fireball Kid’ Takanori Gomi (34-8) welcoming former title challenger Diego Sanchez (23-5) back to the 155lb division.

Gomi is looking to improve a 3-3 record in the UFC but is tellingly on a 2-0 streak since the promotion started staging cards in Asia and the home crowd and his ever potent fists make ‘the Fireball Kid’ a force to be reckoned with.

Sanchez is returning to 155lbs following a so-so run at welterweight where he was well beaten by John Hathaway and Jake Ellenberger but squeaked out excitingly narrow victories over Martin Kampmann and Paulo Thiago. Utterly unafraid of engaging in a brawl, Sanchez’ ability to withstand damage and keep coming forward, throwing a daunting volume of punches means that while his recent record is full of decisions, his matches are rarely boring.

Tellingly, Gomi’s kryptonite is submissions and Sanchez hasn’t secured a win by tap out since 2004. Given that Diego has only ever been knocked out by the best ever version f BJ Penn, I’m thinking this is going to a decision, but will be a real contender or fight of the night.

Another homegrown hero, Yushin Okami (28-7) is regaining some momentum, looking for his third win in a row following losses to Anderson Silva and Tim Boetsch. One of the toughest competitors at middleweight with heavy hands and a grinding combination of judo and wrestling he remains a serious test for anyone in the division.

That includes the imposing Hector Lombard (32-3-1) who is also looking to to regain momentum following a loss to Boetsch. An impressive TKO1 win over Rousimar Palhares back in January righted Lombard’s ship and with his entertaining style he knows he’s only a win or two from a title shot. Okami is playing gatekeeper here.

Lombard is the definition of heavy handed but showed that he can be out worked by Boetsch. On the other hand, Okami is hard to finish but two of his three TKO losses have come in the last few years. This one could go either way…

The next fight sees Korean Dong Hyun Kim (16-2-1) with as close to a home fight as he’s had in years. ‘Stun Gun’ is a dominant grappler, grinding out TKO and decision victories against almost all whom he has faced. His two losses are by TKO, with one a shock first round loss to a Carlos Condit jumping knee and a freak injury before his bout with Demian Maia really got going.

An apparent (if deceptive) weakness to KOs will be music to the ears of Siyar Bahadurzada (21-4-1) who boats six TKO finishes in his current 7-0 run. Of course, skim isn’t actually an easy man to finish and if Siyar shows the recent Blackzillian trend to assume victory then gas in the later rounds when it doesn’t materialise, we could see him get bossed about by Kim.

Rounding out the main card is a Strikeforce import looking to bounce back from a depressing loss to Pat Healy by dropping to Featherweight for his UFC debut. That fighter is the heavy handed Mizuto Hirota (14-5-1) being welcomed to the Octagon by submission specialist Rani Yahya (17-7) in a classic striker vs. grappler contest.

It’s a cracking card, with some nice matchups on the Facebook prelims but I won’t preview them in depth, because I invariably end up struggling with Bruce Buffering issues. I’d love to see Cristiano Marcello and Takeya Mizugaki compete but I’m not going to rely on it.

In the wake of some events of frankly massive significance, this card is more about fun. Some old warhorses coming out to fight in bouts that practically guarantee entertainment while simultaneously trying to expand the brand in an important market.

Things like titles, the creation of new divisions, the culmination of prolonged feuds and cards that might set pay per view records are all well and good but sometimes, it’s nice to just have a night of fun fights. That’s what it’s all about at the end of the day…

MAIN (FUEL TV, 10 p.m. ET)
• Wanderlei Silva vs. Brian Stann
• Mark Hunt vs. Stefan Struve
• Takanori Gomi vs. Diego Sanchez
• Hector Lombard vs. Yushin Okami
• Mizuto Hirota vs. Rani Yahya
• Siyar Bahadurzada vs. Dong Hyun Kim

PRELIMINARY (Facebook, 7:30 p.m. ET)
• Riki Fukuda vs. Brad Tavares
• Bryan Caraway vs. Takeya Mizugaki
• Cristiano Marcello vs. Kazuki Tokudome
• Alex Caceres vs. Kyung Ho Kang
• Marcelo Guimaraes vs. Hyun Gyu Lim

I Don’t Like The Drugs

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I woke up this morning to the news that Matthew Riddle had failed another drugs test and had been cut from the UFC. This was followed by the usual tirade from stoner apologists that he had a pass for weed, that marijuana isn’t a performance enhancer etc. and a mass pointing out that fighters are allowed TRT (which IS undoubtedly performance enhancing) with a doctor’s line and the likes of Alistair Overeem and Thiago Silva have survived failed steroid tests without being cut.

There seems to be a double standard here.

First up, let me state my personal belief that all illegal drugs should be legalised as what you put in your own body is your own damn lookout, never mind that prohibition doesn’t work, adds a serious burden onto the state and a cash flow to organised crime.

Legalising pot, speed, whatever and taxing it, in the same way we tax booze and cigarettes would create a serious revenue stream for the state, standardise what you’re getting (no more kids dying from taking washing up powder, sold to them as a pep pill etc.) and generally minimise the negative social and economic impact of drugs if done in step with better education and healthcare, devoid of criminalised stigma.

That’s just my view.

However, it remains true that what is OK for private citizen Smith, is not necessarily cool for a professional athlete, who’s professional life is bound by a code of conduct designed to encourage fair play, safety and avoid embarrassing public relations nightmares for the sport/promotion.

Marijuana is banned in MMA, not because its a performance enhancer, but because going into the cage baked would jeopardise YOUR safety and also because a criminal conviction for possession would be damaging to the sport’s wider profile. Them’s the rules, deal with it.

I have to say, I get really annoyed when I read about cannabis being touted as a miracle cure for things, having no adverse health effects and generally being useful in making fuel, bags, cooking oil etc. The cure thing may be true, the no bad side effects is a damn lie and the other stuff definitely is true, but I’d have a lot more respect for stoners who just admitted they want to get baked rather than trying to make their 4:20 into something morally righteous.

So, I only have passing sympathy for Matt Riddle here, based more in the fact that other, bigger name fighters have failed similar tests and not been cut – look at Nick Diaz, who failed the same test, was suspended for a year and walks back into a title shot… – than anything else.

Likewise, while pot is banned for your own safety and the good of the sport, there are other drugs out there which are performance enhancing and a danger to both fighter’s safety and the name of the sport. What’s worse, is that their use is often prescribed by doctors and allowed by such governing bodies as exist.
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Yep, I’m talking about TRT.

Now, I’m no medical professional but from my understanding TRT is used by ageing athletes to restore testosterone levels which fall naturally over time, to their peak levels.

That in itself is a little worrying as a forty year old athlete with all the zip and go of a twenty year old athlete, just isn’t natural and surely has further implications for the older athlete – such as exacerbating heart or liver trouble.

When you consider that testosterone can be depleted by the illegal use of steroids in younger years, then it’s more than a tad hypocritical that fighters who may have been cheating their way to success through their twenties and thirties are allowed to offset the long term cost of that (to their careers at least) by taking what amounts to legal steroids when they are older. How is that fair?

The fact that TRT can and according to the prevailing wisdom IS being used in excess as a performance enhancer – allowing athletes to recover faster from injuries, to train harder and longer etc. – before being cycled down in time to narrowly pass fight weekend drugs screenings is very concerning for the credibility of the sport.

In my view, drugs have no place in professional sport. Contests should be won and lost on your natural gifts, mental strength and the quality of your training, rather than the ingenuousness of your doctor.

In an ideal world, I’d see every MMA fighter registered with a gym and each gym gets randomly hit with drugs screenings on a regular basis. This might require a proper world governing body, but then maybe that is what MMA needs.

I don’t like the drugs. I don’t like the idea that fights are in any way influenced by such things. Much as I might sympathise with Matt Riddle and his being cut (albeit for a second successive failed test) for a drug which is not a performance enhancer, the rules need to be respected and enforced. That needs to count exponentially more for those substances which are in all likelihood being abused in the name of cheating. It also needs to count for bankable stars like Overeem, Sonnen and Diaz as much as it does for undercard fighters.

If that makes Matt’s cut for a chilling toke the thin end of a very thick wedge, then so be it.

I like my sport clean, and fair and believe that MMA as a whole should have a zero tolerance policy towards drugs.

The Death of Grappling?

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Don’t tell me you can’t picture it. An overcast day at the cemetery and a (smaller than expected) crowd is gathered to lay to rest a beloved friend. Daniel Cormier delivers the eulogy, Cain Velasquez and Jordan Burroughs are among the coffin bearers and as the casket is lowered into the ground, the collection of matrats and Olympians, including Ronda Rousey, Sara McMann, Ben Askren, Matt Hughes and more than a fewGracies shed tears and don stoic expressions as it starts to rain…

Ok, that’s an abstract, cartoon image but it appears that the concept of grappling as a top level sport, in its own right or as key part of MMA – is under attack.

With wrestling seemingly removed from the Olympics, the UFC apparently making a stand against grinding, wrestling-based tactics and the ever present boos of the casual fans whenever a bout gets tied up, you have to ask… is grappling a dying art?

My instinctive response, as a fan of the ground game who is more likely to complain about a ref standing fighters up early than leaving them inactive for too long is to scream ‘Hell No!’ into the onrushing storm, but then again I have to remember that I’m not your average MMA fan.

Therein lies the problem, in that the dark arts of grappling remain a mystery to new or casual fans of MMA who come in expecting a ‘real’ (i.e. bloodier) version of pro wrestling mixed with some ‘no rules boxing’ and if I’m brutally honest with myself I was once the same.

Amateur wrestling is hardly ubiquitous in the UK (which is why our Olympic team was full of ‘naturalised’ Ukrainians) and while we have a strong basis in most martial arts, if you’d asked me who the best submission wrestler in the world was ten years ago, I’d probably have said Chris Benoit.

The relatively greater exposure given to ‘pro’ wrestling is partially to blame for grappling’s current ills, because when compared to the frequent slams, insanely fast or dramatic submissions (trying to explain to an avid pro wrestling fan you can not ‘resist’ a heel hook or an armbar) not to mention flagrant cheating, out of ring excursions and weapons used in the scripted soap opera that is pro wrestling, a straight up grappling match can look, to the uneducated eye like there is nothing much going on.

Pure submission fighting is not quite as affected by this perception as a swiftly applied, visually impressive submission will cause almost anyone to express amazement and interest – Ronda Rousey’s rise is a testament to that.

However, most casual fans swiftly lose interest in even the most competitive ground contest as they see little more than ‘two guys dry humping each other’, being ignorant of the heated battle for position and leverage which is being contested and/or how close one of the competitors is to securing victory.

That said, it remains a truism that wrestling is the most successful base discipline for a broader MMA skill set as it gives a competitor the ability to determine where a fight takes place. The finer points of grappling and submission defence may be lost on new fans, but they have to be made to understand that wrestling is the core discipline of more than half of the current UFC champions and that all the others have impressive grappling credentials, even if their preference is more for jiujitsu or judo.

Wrestling’s finer points may be hard to understand quickly, but it’s effectiveness and ability to produce entertaining fights cannot be dismissed. After all, you don’t get to be a big star in MMA and especially not the UFC without being exciting and of the top ten highest earning UFC fights of all time, at least seven count wrestling as a prime discipline even if they have augmented it with impressive striking, or added wrestling to their game in order to become a more complete fighter (indeed, if you look at it that way it’s more like nine out of ten with the exception being Anderson Silva.)

You’ll always have ‘fans’ who call the likes of Jon Fitch, Ben Askren and even the King of Pay Oer View, Georges St-Pierre boring, but what they fail to realise (or admit) is that Cain Velasquez, Daniel Cormier, Frankie Edgar, Diego Sanchez and Urijah Faber are all wrestlers first as well. Are THEY boring?

Hell, some folks hear ‘celebrated grappler’ or ‘collegiate wrestler’ in the preamble to a fight and automatically assume a snooze fest is in the offing. I don’t, I assume that fighter is going to have the ability to keep the fight where they want it, and often that means in the standup. It’s easy to forget, when ranting about ‘dull grapplers’ that the all time fighter, voted most likely to get a knockout – Chuck Liddell – based his fan pleasing style on a wrestling base.

Therefore, I find any movement to reduce the amount of wrestling, or even grappling in its broader context in MMA to be farcical (and the IOC’s decision to scrap wrestling from the Olympics is nonsensical and insulting, more testament to the sorry state of wrestling’s governing body than the worth of the sport itself) but the responsibility for arresting this trend is threefold.

First of all, I believe that MMA promotions have a duty AND a self interest to educate their fanbase. This responsibility is most incumbent on the UFC as the largest, most visible promotion in the world.

If you think about it rationally, promoters make more money from the sport being accepted into the mainstream and a clear link to multiple, classic martial arts, which are (or have been) Olympic sports as well as generally laudable and respected social pursuits can only be thought of as a good thing. Likewise, a promotional step towards grappling and away from blood and knockouts is a good idea when trying to appeal to the type of folks who adopt a moral high ground and would earn the support of medical professionals.

Think on it this way – by addressing the fan ignorance that leads to chants of ‘stand them up’ and Internet vitriol about ‘lay n pray’, promoters would simultaneously move the sport away from the reactionary accusations of MMA being a debased blood sport. Win, win, surely?

So yes, Mr White – always asking for knockouts and bigging up the rock ’em sock ’em robots approach isn’t necessarily in your own best interests… Just a thought.

Secondly, there is a responsibility of MMA officials to do the right thing regarding grappling.

Inside the cage, referees should have the nous to know the difference between an inactive fight on the ground and a subtly active fight on the ground and be willing to stand up the former and let the latter play out. I keep seeing massive inconsistency here, quite often with inactive lay and pray tactics allowed to play out and a compelling jiujitsu battle being stopped and stood up. It’s not helping.

Outside the cage, judges need to score grappling more intelligently and with more respect for having an active guard over just holding someone down. So often I’ve seen a judge score a round based on a takedown that was in fact the OTHER fighter pulling guard.

If both of those things happened, the concept of grappling as ‘dull’ would disappear as inactive, grinding tacticians would find themselves stood up if they failed to do anything with their position and would also be in danger of losing the round if they try to just lay on top of an active grappler.

Lastly, there is a degree of responsibility on the part of the fighters. Like it or not, MMA is an entertainment business that also happens to be a sport.

While in team sports like football where individual players can have perfectly successful careers, quietly doing their own job which is important to the team’s victory or in individual sports sold more on the cache of events like Wimbledon or the Masters you can afford to concentrate on being good rather than fun, in MMA you are responsible for your own promotion to a degree and its up to you to earn those highlight reel moments and media minutes.

The title and opening imagery of this piece posited the imminent death of grappling, but at least in MMA (I dread to think of what might happen to pure wrestling in the US without the end goal of an Olympic gold) it’s an important part of the sport that we should not allow to wither because of the ignorance of casual fans and striking-centric preferences of the Athletic Commissions and major networks.

I look closer to home and I see increasing interest in jiujitsu, exciting grappling competitions like the Vision Grappling League and SubF15een in my corner of the world alone and it gives me hope.

Is grappling dead? No. Is it under attack? Yes. Should you ever bet against someone who voluntarily gets thrown around by often larger, scarier people in the name of simply getting better?

Hell no.

Bellator 91: M’Pumbu vs. Vegh Preview

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Bellator 91: M’Pumbu vs. Vegh Preview
Thu, 28 Feb 2013
Rio Rancho, New Mexico

Hot on the heels of last week’s knockout packed show, but definitely swimming against the tide as a stream of high profile UFC cards have been dominating the MMA airwaves Bellator return with the first ever defence of their Light Heavyweight title and the semi-finals of their Lightweight tourney.

Christian M’Pumbu (18-4-1) knocked out Chris Davis, Tim Carpenter and Richard Hale to earn the inaugural Bellator Light Heavyweight belt but promptly lost via decision in a non title ‘super fight’ to Travis Wiuff while waiting for a new challenger to be created, robbing the champion of momentum and the belt of some lustre.

Meanwhile, that challenger emerged in the shape of Attila Vegh (28-4-2) who steamed through Zelg Galesic, current tournament finalist Emanuele Newton and finally a first round KO of that man, Wiuff to earn the title shot.

Both fighters are experienced with a combined fifty seven fights, although Vegh is by far the busier, cramming his 34 bouts into a five year career while M’Pumbu has fewer fights over four more years – and six of them came on only two nights!

In keeping with the current trend of Bellator’s LHW division, these two are finishers and both capable of securing the win with strikes or submissions BUT between them they have only been stopped three times. I can’t decide whether that indicates an exciting decision or a short night, but either way this fight is a complete coin toss which will be decided by the smallest of margins.

The semi-finals of the lightweight tourney feature some relatively unfamiliar names fighting for the honour to be the next person crushed by… sorry, the next to challenge incumbent champion Michael Chandler.

First up, we have David Rickels (12-1) and Jason Fischer (6-1) facing off in a rematch only four months in the making. Rickels defeated Fischer via decision back in November to earn his spot in the tournament and Fischer is only walking into this match as an injury replacement for Alexander Sarnavskiy, my favourite for this tournament who’s gone and broken his hand.

Rickels has to be the favourite here, having defeated Fischer before and having also oBly been defeated by split decision to Karl Amoussou up at Welterweight. Likewise, earning a win over perennial contender Lloyd Woodard was a big scalp for Rickels.

That said, Fischer has a handy submission game and could pull off a win at any time.

Our other semi final sees Saad Awad (13-4) who was a late addition to the tournament in place of the injured Patricky Friere and made the most of the opportunity with a first round KO of Guilliame deLorenzi to progress facing off with undefeated wunderkind Will Brooks (9-0) who is looking to maintain his streak following his decision win over Ricardo Tirloni in his Bellator debut.

As usual, Bellator is shown live on SPIKE TV and spike.com in the states, but a lack of international licensing and a nonsensical geo-block mean fans in Europe kinda have to resort to dubious online streams or videos uploaded to YouTube the next day.

Bjorn, get that sorted. Seriously.

MAIN
• Christian M’Pumbu vs. Attila Vegh – for light-heavyweight title
• Jason Fischer vs. David Rickels – lightweight tournament semifinals
• Saad Awad vs. Will Brooks – lightweight tournament semifinals
• Josh Montoya vs. Ed West

PRELIMINARY
• Holly Holm vs. Katie Merrill
• Blas Avena vs. Lenny Lovato Jr.
• Vadiano La Luz vs. Brennan Ward
• Felipe Chavez vs. Russell Wilson
• Josh Appelt vs. Josh Lanier
• Adrian Cruz vs. Nick Gonzalez

UFC Rankings – 25th February 2013

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The UFC rankings were updated today after UFC 157 at the weekend and you can find them below. It is worth noting that even though the first Women’s Bantamweight division fight took place on Saturday, with Ronday Rousey defeating Liz Carmouche via 1st round armbar, there is still no ranking of that division. The UFC have now announced a number of female signings so hopefully we will see it added in soon.

It is also interesting to note the number of changes in rankings where none of the fighters moving around each other have actually been involved in fights since the last set of ranking were released. For example, Scott Jorgensen moving above Brian Bowles, or Roy Nelson jumping ahead of Big Nog. It is a stark reminder of how much these rankings are solely based on opinion. Anyway, without further ado, the updated rankings are:

Pound-For-Pound

  1. Anderson Silva
  2. Jon Jones
  3. Georges St-Pierre
  4. Jose Aldo
  5. Benson Henderson
  6. Cain Velasquez
  7. Dominick Cruz
  8. Renan Barao
  9. Frankie Edgar

Flyweight

Champion: Demetrious Johnson

  1. Joseph Benavidez
  2. John Dodson
  3. Ian McCall
  4. John Moraga
  5. Jussier Da Silva
  6. Louis Gaudinot
  7. Chris Cariaso
  8. Darren Uyenoyama
  9. John Lineker
  10. Timothy Elliott

Bantamweight

Champion: Dominick Cruz

  1. Renan Barao (Interim Champion)
  2. Urijah Faber
  3. Michael McDonald
  4. Eddie Wineland
  5. Brad Pickett
  6. Rafael Assuncao
  7. Scott Jorgensen
  8. Brian Bowles
  9. Mike Easton
  10. Ivan Menjivar

Featherweight

Champion: Jose Aldo

  1. Chad Mendes
  2. Ricardo Lamas
  3. Frankie Edgar
  4. Chan Sung Jung
  5. Cub Swanson
  6. Dennis Siver
  7. Dustin Poirier
  8. Nik Lentz
  9. Clay Guida
  10. Erik Koch

Lightweight

Champion: Benson Henderson

  1. Gilbert Melendez
  2. Anthony Pettis
  3. Gray Maynard
  4. Nate Diaz
  5. Jim Miller
  6. Donald Cerrone
  7. TJ Grant
  8. Rafael dos Anjos
  9. Joe Lauzon
  10. Khabib Nurmagomedov

Welterweight

Champion: Georges St.-Pierre

  1. Johny Hendricks
  2. Carlos Condit
  3. Nick Diaz
  4. Rory MacDonald
  5. Demian Maia
  6. Jake Ellenberger
  7. Martin Kampmann
  8. Tarec Saffiedine
  9. Josh Koscheck
  10. Robbie Lawler

Middleweight

Champion: Anderson Silva

  1. Chris Weidman
  2. Vitor Belfort
  3. Michael Bisping
  4. Yushin Okami
  5. Constantinos Philippou
  6. Luke Rockhold
  7. Mark Munoz
  8. Hector Lombard
  9. Chael Sonnen
  10. Ronaldo Souza

Light Heavyweight

Champion: Jon Jones

  1. Lyoto Machida
  2. Alexander Gustafsson
  3. Dan Henderson
  4. Glover Teixeira
  5. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira
  6. Mauricio Rua
  7. Rashad Evans
  8. Phil Davis
  9. Ryan Bader
  10. Gegard Mousasi

Heavyweight

Champion: Cain Velasquez

  1. Junior dos Santos
  2. Fabricio Werdum
  3. Daniel Cormier
  4. Antonio Silva
  5. Frank Mir
  6. Alistair Overeem
  7. Roy Nelson
  8. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
  9. Stefan Struve
  10. Shane Carwin