Slowly but surely, MMA has become a fightsport -- emphasis on "sport". However, people might be forgetting another aspect of the game: it's a fight. It's one of MMA's roots, and the reason themes like "vale tudo", "samurai" and "gladiators" are popular.
In 1999, Shooto founder and pro-wrestling legend Satoru Sayama started his own martial art, Seikendo. In Seikendo, it defined throws as finishes for a fight. Why? Because a throw is effective in a real fight if you're standing up. Seikendo didn't succeed as a sport, largely because it focused on budo and real fighting purpose, and lacked business sense.
It's one of the things that makes "freakshow" fights appealing. In the early days, there was no mind paid to an opponent's weight, just like in a real fight, there are no weight classes. It's impossible to explain or excuse all "freakshow" fights in this way, but that thought definitely effects the minds of fans.
I heard Jordan Breen's radio show, and he was talking about Mauricio "Shogun" Rua. He said that he couldn't explain why he had such a large and dedicated fanbase compared to some other more known fighters. I say that charm comes from the versatility and imaginative fight style he brings. He, like Sakuraba, gained global support because of that point. Their viral video popularity proves it.
One of MMA's charms is that wild things you could never imagine happen in fights. But this mystique has been lessened recently. People know MMA better, fighters are more well-rounded, better prepared and have well-developed backgrounds.
This isn't necessarily negative; I'm not against MMA becoming more of a sport. I'll always support that. But I am worried MMA is becoming less imaginative. Of course fighters need to improve, so they take the more well-known blueprint to success. But, that's what made me excited when Lyoto became champ. I wanted to see MMA be imaginative. I still want MMA to have wild, stylistic twists. Lyoto's success was dependent upon his efforts to make karate fit MMA. MMA's imagination allows these turns to happen.
In the UFC, Shogun is definitely showing his versatile skills. But, his fighting charm was greatest in the Pride era. With soccer kicks and stomps, he could really show his imagination as a fighter. Because of fighters like him, you don't heard many fans complain about soccer kicks and stomps; the concerns are always about the sport's reputation from those outside the MMA world.
Moreover, when you think about going for a takedown, and you put your head down as an opponent's legs, you risk getting kicked in the head. In a real fight, it would be foolish to go for a weak takedown like that.
We need knees to the head on the ground first, but after people realize they're safe, I would like to introduce soccer kicks and stomps. I think it should work, since there is proof called "Pride" that it's not as dangerous as it seems.
Giving people freedom creates fighting imagination. That's fightsport: it makes profit like a true sports competition, but also satisfies our ideas about what a "fight" really is.
Big thanks to Jordan Breen (from Sherdog) for English and editing.