Sunday, December 27, 2009

You're in freedom (MMA Year In Review 2009)

At year's end, many MMA journalists try to look back at the year, but it's just reading data. I want to give a Year in Review with a different style than just listing fights, knockouts or submissions of the year.

This is shiroobi's MMA Year In Review 2009.

When you think about MMA's background, you can separate distinct martial arts, but in MMA, fighters try to fuse fight skills. You can see American wrestlers trying to add jiu-jitsu; you can't deny the wrestling game has effected the positional game of jiu-jitsu. Therefore, some fighters who have combined those skills call it "American jiu-jitsu".

MMA is experimental for all martial arts. Every martial art needs cultural exchange; fighters need the ability to chose skills to fit their body type, height, reach, weight. On the other hand, being a traditional martial artist can reveal the essence of real fighting; Lyoto Machida has directly benefited from this. His goal is the fusion of traditional martial arts and modern sports skills.

My writing about Lyoto Machida "Empty hand"

We saw a lot of experimental things coming from Japanese organizations. Shooto revived Vale Tudo Japan, and made peace with Pancrase. Those things were inevitable. MMA's content is always experimental, so eventually, circumstances will always alleviate the problems in organizing fights between promotions.

MMA has a dynamic, experimental spirit. It is pointless to talk about the maturity or value of one single martial art, or one single promotion. What is important is the mutual impact of martial arts, which can fly from continent to continent.

Some people think that strict, limited rules make a better, more focused sport. I don't totally deny that, but the charm of MMA is in its dynamism. It is no coincidence that Japan's top boxers like Hozumi Hasegawa, Daisuke Naito and Koki Kameda love to watch MMA. As athletes, the imagination of MMA attracts them. Yet, it is the self-styled critics who are close-minded about MMA.

It's not surprising technology has impacted this sport's worldwide growth, since it really started just before the internet era. People can easily access MMA events with tools like youtube, while hardcore fans are willing to watch horrible quality event rips.

New technology not only helps any person on any continent keep up with contemporary MMA, but also creates new stars, and a new audience. The internet allowed street fighters like Kimbo Slice, or to a lesser extent, Jorge Masvidal, gain popularity. I don't really evaluate Kimbo Slice; while he may succeed business-wise, he does diminish the sporting quality of MMA. However, a fighter like Masvidal deserves attention, and reinforces the potential for street fighters to turn into successful MMA fighters through quality fight gyms.

I also must mention that it looks like the major Japanese organizations are going to merge. Sengoku idealized MMA, by trying to mimic North American MMA: announcing fights earlier, competitive match-ups, reality shows to promote events. While it gained support from hardcore fans, that's not enough to sell out events. They tried to sign elite Olympic athletes, but the benefit of those athletes is not immediate.

In the end, however, tons of talent was exposed through Sengoku: Satoru Kitaoka, Dan Hornbuckle, Mamed Khalidov,King Mo Lawal, Mizuto Hirota, Michihiro Omigawa, Masanori Kanehara, Chan Sung Jung, Marlon Sandro and others.

Within the Japanese local scene, DEEP continues to grow. By paying domestic fighters the best, they've struck a good balance of ideal competition and commercial success. They experimented with a cage event, and used former talent from major events. Fighter wise, they're close to Shooto's quality now. It's amazing to think about, since only a few years ago, they used lucha libre pro-wrestlers.

Shooto will also continue to play a major role in the local Japanese scene, too. They can continue to grow by exchanging fighters with Pancrase, and continue improving their rules by experimenting with the rules in the Vale Tudo Japan events.

Some people are conservative about talent exchanges, but if interesting matchmaking doesn't happen, audience approval decreases. There is no reason for local organizations to close themselves off from one another for political reasons. Even though there is competition between them, it is more important to make sure these crossover bouts happen for the sake of Japanese MMA, especially because the quality of regional MMA all over the world is growing.

Specifically regarding the Shooto-Pancrase exchange, I really want crossover between welterweights, middleweights and women. Champions at these weights in either organization never get to fight other quality MMA fighters. For women, there is a different problem: Japanese has some premiere female fighters, but elite-versus-elite fights are too rare in Japan. I'm tired of Megumi Fujii vs. Yuka Tsuji never happening.

Organizations will always try to make profit, and fans need to deal with it. I thought Jake Shields' fight with Jason "Mayhem" Miller was fun, watching a technical grappling chess match between the two. But some people don't find it fun. I support MMA as a sport, but ignoring the need to make money, or considering what an audience finds enjoyable is stupid. MMA is entertainment, and needs to compete with other forms of entertainment. Money is what creates MMA events, and brings talent to the sport.

Being a sport is not enough to help MMA rise. It is about the right balance between sport and entertainment.

Aldo vs Aritano Barbosa

Jose Aldo also started to become the new star of the lighter weights. People don't know, but he has awesome soccer kicks. The Unified Rules limitations hurt the diversity of MMA. MMA needs a more experimental stage, and its still young enough to have one. Jose Aldo is not only showing how talented he is, he is showing a casual audience how great the lighter weight fighters are. MMA is still somewhat old-fashioned about how the larger audience evaluates lower weight fighters, despite the fact that boxing fans realize the smaller weights are usually the most enjoyable.

Lower weight classes make for different body frames, speed, tactics. This is important for diversity, and giving freedom to the audience. Hopefully audiences continue to enjoy the lighter weights, spend money, and allow these fighters to truly be evaluated as professionals.

I want you to understand MMA is a journey across time, continents, ethnicity, human bodies, rules. Every fundamental fuses, or collides with another. I hope you can feel that freedom; it's the joy of MMA.

Big thanks to Jordan Breen for English editing.

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