It’s always easier to criticise than praise, and in MMA there are many things that cry out for criticism.
Areas like comparatively poor fighter pay for the majority of competitors, even for some surprisingly big names, is troubling, especially when considering the UFC’s revenue, and the fact that it was just sold for $4 billion dollars.
These issues and more will be addressed in a separate article, but today it’s all about positivity.
Today I’m going to concentrate on six reasons MMA is such a great sport.
6. Fights get made
Boxing used to be like this. The first Sugar Ray Leonard versus Tommy Hearns fight was thrashed out while waiting for a plane, according to Hearns’ trainer/manager Manny Steward.
However, today boxer’s management dance around each other trying to get the most advantageous circumstances for their client; a particular type of glove, bigger or smaller ring, catchweight stipulations, which make a mockery of the divisions, and the “I’ll fight anyone, anywhere” myth from some top boxers. See the Canelo Alvarez sidestep of Gennady Golovkin as exhibit A.
In the UFC, you pretty much get what you’re given; the fighter has little power in dictating terms. As mentioned above, in financial terms this is to their detriment. However, with regards to fights it means that five-year foreplay, as happened with Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao, is not happening in the UFC.
Striking isn’t limited to boxing only. Elbows, knees and kicks are part of the arsenal. Add wrestling, and the complex aspects of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and you have fighting chess.
After many years watching boxing, MMA drew me in with all its added dimensions.
4. An inclusive sport
Without wanting to overstate it, or get too into politics, today we see many countries being divided by questionable individuals such as laughable man-baby Donald Trump. MMA is a great example of all these groups coming together. Don’t worry, I’m not going to break into a rendition of “We are the world”.
Until very recently – and possibly still, if Ronda Rousey returns – MMA’s biggest star was a woman. The UFC has just crowned its first gay champion, without feeling the need to make a big deal out of that fact. Most MMA teams are a mix of all backgrounds and nationalities, who are brought together by a shared obsession with martial arts.
MMA, following on from the long tradition in boxing, is a star-driven sport. In team sports, fans will follow their chosen side throughout their lives; the change of players is largely irrelevant to their support. Success is what counts.
In MMA, fans often offer support based on nationality, but it’s the real characters in the sport that draw in the big figures. MMA combines sport and showbiz, and has always attracted larger than life characters that are somewhat rarer in other sports, where sponsor-approved vanilla personalities are common.
2. Strength of character
Jose Aldo’s victory at UFC 200 was a perfect example of the power of the mind shown in MMA. After a decade of victories, Aldo was starched by McGregor last December in thirteen seconds, and was viewed as the underdog going into his fight with Frankie Edgar.
Many saw the footage of Aldo breaking down in the changing room after losing his title and figured he’d never be the same again. Edgar was championed by many as the man to unseat McGregor having been on a tear through the featherweight division, thrashing rival contenders.
However, the fight was a vintage Aldo performance; he pot shot and countered an onward rushing Edgar, stuffing all efforts by Edgar to take it to the ground with some of the best takedown defence in the game.
To come back and do this after being crushed in his last fight against his most bitter rival showed amazing strength of character. But this is something that’s shown repeatedly in the sport; overcoming adversity and setbacks.
Anyone who has practiced martial arts knows the benefits a person gains from it. The obvious positives are fitness and self-defence skills. But others are less obvious to the uninitiated. A sense of being part of a group with a common interest and passion, and the friendships you make is an incredible positive.
Self-confidence grows as you learn these skills. However, contrary to a layman’s view, learning martial arts doesn’t make you aggressive. In fact martial arts lets you know your strengths and limitations. Some days in training you’ll come out on top, and sometimes you won’t.
That’s a great thing to keep people honest, and egos in check. There’s a respect and self-control that’s required, and I think that carries into day-to-day life. Yes, there are well known stories of fighters that contradict this, but they’re the exception rather than the rule.
The majority of fighters, and those just training for their own self-improvement, benefit greatly and are better people for it.
The sport’s an easy target for the righteous indignation brigade, who completely miss its positive aspects, both at top level and at grassroots.
The best way to truly understand it is to try it. I think many critics would be quickly converted, or at least have their prejudices seriously challenged if they did.
Melvin Griffiths, Pundit Arena
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