Why I'm Not a UFC Fan
Even though I've trained in mixed martial arts (MMA) for a good portion of my life, and even though I was once an amateur cage fighter myself (when I was in my late 30s and early 40s; I'm now just over 53), I'm not a fan of the UFC. I used to be, but I haven't been for at least a decade or more. Not only has the sport become more brutal, it's become more concretized and significantly more commercialized.
The brutality is self-evident (just watch a match); in fact, "the more bloody and brutal, the better" seems to be the unspoken tagline of those promoting (and making boatloads of money from) the sport.
In many ways, the UFC is no longer a mix of different martial arts systems (Anderson Silva and Conor McGregor notwithstanding). Through its own evolutionary and self-promoting processes, the UFC has created its own sport-driven style. Sure, while many fighters draw from several martial arts (particularly, Muay Thai, Western Boxing, and Jiu Jitsu), the techniques most often implemented appear to be drawn from a relatively small list of techniques discovered to be reasonably effective in cage matches (and sometimes nowhere else). While I have no difficulties with this per se (as most sports require you to capitalize on certain techniques and strategies in order to win), I have great difficulty calling it "mixed" martial arts. It really isn't; at least, not any more. If you're a bruiser, in fabulous shape, and reasonably skilled at the jab, cross, and overhand looping right; the Muay Thai knee thrust and round kick; the wrestler's double leg takedown; and a few Jiu Jitsu techniques (for example, the guillotine, the rear naked choke, the kimura, and an arm/leg bar or two), you'll probably fair pretty well. Of course, the above is an over-generalization, but it's not far from the truth.
When I was a kid, we called training in many different arts "eclectic martial arts training." At least, that's what I began to call it after I heard Chuck Norris (in the early 80s) refer to his fighting system as an "eclectic blend of several arts." In my opinion, Chuck Norris is a true mixed martial artist. So was Bruce Lee, who's been considered by many to be the father of mixed martial arts.
When the UFC first exploded on the scene in the early 90s, it was comprised of a fairly diverse collection of fighters: Tae Kwon Do specialists, Muay Thai fighters, wrestlers (with some boxing experience), boxers (with some Tae Kwon Do experience), submission-style wrestlers, and, of course, the Amazing Gracies (specifically, Royce [pronounced with an "H"] Gracie) with their previously unseen Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) techniques. In the more than a quarter century since UFC 1, the organization has migrated from its semi-eclectic roots to the more flamboyant, concretized conglomerate we see today. Gone, too, is the respect that's been a hallmark of martial arts training for centuries the world over. While some semblance of respect is demonstrated by a few fighters, for the most part, respect is not a valued principle in the UFC. Sadly, without this overarching sense of respect—for oneself, others, our Creator, and even life itself—the UFC has devolved into a brutal, gladiator-like circus event.
Is the fighting style used by most of the top fighters in the UFC a martial art? Yes (just as Western Boxing, Freestyle Wrestling, and Fencing are martial arts), but, again, I wouldn't call it a "mixed" martial art. Additionally, in other aspects of martial arts culture, I think "the UFC style" falls short of optimum (much to the chagrin of its fiercest proponents). There's the respect issue (which I mentioned above), and then there's the whole self-defense/life-preservation issue. While there's no doubt most UFC fighters are both well-trained (in cage fighting) and extremely well-conditioned (something other martial artists could learn a lot from), cage fighting is a sport-fighting style, and it doesn't always translate readily into an effective self-defense system. Sure, in a situation where I need to engage with a threat, taking things to the ground might make sense in some instances, but what if my threat has a friend (or two) I don't know about? While I take the 20 seconds it takes to lock in an arm bar or a rear naked choke and, hopefully, get my rowdy "friend" to simmer down (or just go to sleep), one of his sidekicks might very conveniently come up behind me and strike me in the back of the head with a beer bottle.
In a true self-defense scenario, rolling around on the ground (sometimes for more than a minute or two—a hallmark of cage fighting), is probably not going to serve me well. Mostly, because (1) I'm on the ground (eliminating my mobility and, of course, my ability to escape the situation) and (2) I can't see what's going on around me (giving rise to the scenario I posed above). Also, because deescalation techniques are not an integral part of UFC culture, going at things like a UFC fighter (even when I'm not the original aggressor) will probably land me in jail. When the police arrive, I'll probably be arrested along with whomever else was involved in the altercation. Even if I didn't start things, no one's going to remember I'm not the one who started things. And the courts won't care either. So let's see...(1) I could be a cocky tough guy, not walk away, and either end up in jail, lose my life savings, or both...or (2) I could take the humble way, attempt to deescalate the situation, create a diversion, escape the scene, and return home to my friends and family hopefully unscathed and having not injured anyone in the process. I don't know about you, but I'm going to opt for the latter choice EVERY time. I may not always be able to implement it fully, but I'm going to pursue that option to the fullest extent I can. While this may seem judgmental, I'm pretty sure a high percentage of UFC guys would probably pursue the former.
Once upon a time, the UFC had great potential. It could have been a fabulous venue to showcase the various pure and blended martial arts systems and the specific cultures, principles, and training philosophies emphasized by those arts, but the organizers blew it in the interests of money. When the participants in any venture are driven by selfishness and greed, money will almost always be the deciding factor. This is the case in many arenas of life, not just professional sports.
Those who regularly imbibe the UFC's intoxicating elixir will probably disagree with me on much of what I've written above, and that's okay. In fact, some of them may even go so far as to say the UFC has rendered all other forms of hand-to-hand combat obsolete. (I heard a commentator say this once, and it serves to reinforce my point that the UFC approach has become a style in and of itself.) While I respect your right to disagree with me, I don't have to respect your opinion if I think it's biased or off-base. In such instances, we'll just have to agree to disagree agreeably.
Until next time, God's peace...
IKIGAI Weekly Blog Schedule (per The Training Trinity):
Mondays: Meditative Prayer
Wednesdays: Holistic Discipline
Fridays: Martial Arts Practice