Monday, September 26, 2011

Fetish in MMA

There are people out there who are obsessed with the martial arts. For those who practice MMA, they of course train in several different martial arts disciplines. Therefore, it is the tendency of onlookers to find the "backbone" discipline of MMA fighters, which leads them to favor particular techniques and fighters, based upon that discipline.

This practice disrupts proper discussion in analyzing MMA, as people often develop unbalanced opinions when discussing a fighter's backbone. MMA has absorbed many different martial arts, but you can discern which techniques are more appropriate for MMA.

For example, in the beginning, Muay Thai and judo's effectiveness was not fully understood and evaluated for MMA, but now many people have come to realize the effectiveness of neck clinches and trips from those disciplines.

MMA isn't only a mix of martial arts, it's also a mixed culture. To fully understand it, one must study up on how it became "mixed" and what that mixing it implies. A prime example is Fedor Emelianenko, who has recently lost three straight fights. Like many other countries, Russia has a strong sporting culture which is supported by the Russian state, but other than Fedor, there aren't many top talents from Russia in major-level MMA. Critics have often pointed to the fact that Russian fighters have difficulty catching up in the grappling department because grappling training isn't stressed outside of Russian sambo. Fedor's recent losses and the fact that there weren't freakishly big fighters at heavyweight who are as skilled as they are today ten years ago speak to this notion. Today's heavyweights now understand how to counter Fedor's wild hook game and have the footwork and cage savvy to defend against it.

Information is the key to obtaining such results. I won't say that all MMA can be boiled down to just strategy, but given how much knowledge is needed to properly perform in MMA, acquiring that knowledge is critical, whether it's through reading, watching videos, or traveling to different places to train.

In 2005, the UFC had Andrei Arlovski, Chuck Liddell, Rich Franklin, and Matt Hughes as champs. While I do believe they all rightfully earned their titles, they do point to one thing in particular about the UFC at that time; its roster was not as culturally diverse as it is today, let alone as diverse as Pride's roster, at the time.

Thus, I believed that a more diverse selection of fighters would deliver for the UFC when Zuffa bought DreamStage Entertainment in 2007. As we've seen since however, the UFC's ability to thrive wasn't only delivered on the part of former Pride fighters, but also on the part of ethnically diverse American and Brazilian fighters.

In the past, I've sometimes said that former Pride fighters from America and Brazil have had better results than former Pride fighters from other countries. I am not saying that information is the only factor, but in actuality, fighters from countries where knowledge and technique relevant to cage survival is more readily accessible have clearly benefitted from it.

As a point of reference, look at the growth of talent from the United Kingdom. There were regular MMA events in the UK in the past, but not many talents rose to the upper levels of the sport until recently. Given the fact that UK-based fighters speak English, they have benefitted from the many sources of information out there in the MMA world, most of which is in English. Whether it's gathering information through written texts or exchanging information with fighters and trainers across the Atlantic in the US for example, the benefit of language that UK fighters have is a huge advantage to their overall MMA game.

I've already talked about the fusion of skills in the sport, and how hybridized knowledge is born day by day, year by year. Without that evolution of skills and knowledge, catching up to and staying current in today's MMA game is impossible. In the current state of MMA, learning how to chain skills is critical, but I want to see a twist for the future. I don't just want MMA to mature, I want it to become a cultural amoeba, consuming and absorbing all martial arts and adding their unique skills and repertoires to its own vast pool of knowledge. I want to see new challengers from martial arts that MMA fans have never heard of before. I want to encourage traditional martial artists to continue to try their hands at MMA.

For that matter, MMA already has incorporated traditional martial arts skills, whether fans realize it or not. Who wasn't excited to see Lyoto Machida's karate crane kick on Randy Couture, for example? How many fighters now use the spinning back fist, as innovated by the little-known Japanese martial art, Koppo? Skills like these show that MMA has room for the more radical techniques found in the traditional martial arts, right alongside better athletes and better informed fighters. While I don't deny the effectiveness of athleticism and the fundamental knowledge that MMA lays claim to now, I can also buy into the fetishization of traditional martial arts. Many watch and become fans of exotic techniques as displayed on sites like YouTube, and they too are a huge part of how our sport will gain its audience. 

Big thanks to Tony Loiseleur (Sherdog) for English editing.

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