Call me Russ L

A few points about MMA

Posted in Combat Sports, Modern Living by Russ L on 10 February, 2007

Recently I was very annoyed to find that the already-booked CageWarriors Card due to happen at Wolverhampton Civic Hall had been cancelled at the behest of the council. My annoyance was partly due to the tired and discredited arguments trotted out as reasoning for the decision, but also due to the fact that Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) bouts have been held at that venue before. I happen to know this since I was there, quite apart from the fact that they were clearly displayed on the poster advertising the event (which should be an interesting thing to see explained away by anyone involved who claims not to know about them).

This sort of thing, sadly, isn’t rare. MMA is rapidly becoming a big-time affair in America and by extension over here, and naturally those who wish to toot their own horn by means of expressing moral objections to things based on incomplete information are crawling out of the woodwork. Take, for example, a programme recently broadcast on BBC Radio Five by Stephen Nolan (jump forward to about 2hrs 16 mins or thereabouts for the beginning of the MMA section). It was exactly the sort of thing one might expect, really, where the host speaks on the basis of popular preconception without explaining his points but nonetheless expects the defendants to explain theirs, thus making them seem like they’re acting contrary to all notions of common sense. It’s a regular tactic on this type of radio show. I honestly don’t see the point of a ‘debate’ programme if one side of the argument simply insists that any idea or reference they weren’t expecting to hear is invalid by default (“Comparing MMA to other sports? Ludicrous! No, I don’t care if it’s only a statistical comparison of the number of injuries, you can’t do that!”), but that’s a broader question than that which I intend to discuss here. Of those defending MMA, Hywel Teague was magnificent, while Dave O’ Donnell made a lot of good points but really shot himself in the foot by overrunning that poor ‘1973 Cortina’ metaphor and by insulting callers. Jess Liaudin said some good things but (sadly) I don’t think his accent is built for English radio.

This, of course, links into things that have been said recently by a couple of this country’s biggest boxing promoters – Frank and Frank Jr. I am not, and not for a moment, knocking boxing. I like boxing, and if you scan over this blog you’ll see I go to (and enjoy) a fair few boxing cards. I don’t understand the mentality suggesting that MMA and boxing are in some sort of economic struggle where one must bankrupt the other, and I have no idea whatsoever why the two can’t co-exist. The fact remains, though, that if General Franko Warren (and that other one, whatsisname) want to play the safety card then they’re on shaky ground.

MMA is less dangerous than boxing, and there are numerous reasons why. Firstly, it’s less dependent on strikes to the head. Concussions are caused by repeated head trauma. For a fight to finish inside the distance in boxing, you have to knock your opponent out. In MMA, there are other ways to finish – numerous submission holds can be applied. Even taking aside the actual finish, in boxing you either strike to the head (the weapon of choice for probably over 80% of the time) or strike to the body. In MMA, apart from this, you can strike to the legs or attempt to take an opponent down. Once on the ground, there are various grappling and submission-related ways to further your aims that can be used as well as simply striking. The simple fact that there’s so much more that a fighter can do pulls the sport away from a matter of hitting the other guy over and over again in the head.

Of course, people do get hit in the head, and one of the least visually appealing things to see is the “ground and pound,” where one fighter takes up a position on top of the other and strikes at him. What needs to be noted here is that the main criteria for a referee to stop a bout in these instances is that one competitor is not “intelligently defending himself.” It is not a question of a participant needing to have been beaten up to a certain level. Of course there are incidents of bad refereeing and fights going on longer than is necessary, and these are unfortunate. This is not, however, different from any other sport involving any form of physical contact. Generally, an established show will have competent referees (in this country, for example, the likes of Marc Goddard and Grant Waterman are exemplary).

I mentioned submission holds above, which are frequently misunderstood by those without a clear idea of what actually happens. The “competitor having to submit in agony!” idea is silly. When a fighter realises he cannot escape from a hold, he taps to indicate that he gives. There’s no shame in it, and no harm done – it hasn’t yet had chance to cause any sort of injury. Some submission holds take the form of chokes, and the phrase ‘choking someone out’ is thrown around frequently in the radio broadcast linked above (as well as elsewhere). I wish it wasn’t, because it’s a colloquialism that MMA followers will understand but others will be horrified by. There’s no “out” about it. Incidents of someone being rendered unconscious from a choke in an MMA match are rare indeed – the individual on the wrong end of it will tap (as above) or the ref will call a halt to the bout.

That broadcast makes reference to Douglas Dedge, who died as a result of injuries sustained in an MMA match. I would like to make clear that I’m not making light of this incident, but this was an individual who had been refused permission to fight by the state athletic commissions in the US, and flew to the Ukraine of his own accord to fight on a dodgy little show without basic medical provisions in place. I can assure you that such shows do not happen in this country, and that Dedge’s death (however tragic) is not even remotely related to anything you might see at Cage Rage or CageWarriors or any local promotion. Frank Warren saying “There will be a fatality one day” is particularly ironic, meanwhile. MMA has had one death since the beginnings of its present form in 1993. Boxing has about three or four per year.

These are just a few things to consider, anyway. If you’re opposed to combat sports in general then at least your argument is consistent, if not one I’d agree with; if you object MMA specifically from a safety point of view then I honestly don’t think you have a leg to stand on.

~ Russ L, happy to be questioned about this.

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5 Responses

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  1. throughsilver said, on 11 February, 2007 at 5:39 pm

    Barry McGuigan on Radio 1 recently (in the run-up to the CR show) was embarrassing. He went on about how there is no skill in MMA compared to boxing (you know, because mixed martial artists box, Thai box, wrestle, grapple etc. No skills needed there), and ‘no dignity’! Awesome.

    Meanwhile, the cream of UK boxing in terms of mainstream has apprently involved Matt Skelton (failed at MMA, landed on feet) vs. Audley Harrison. I’m sorry, but if their matches are examples of skill and dignity, then logic has left us.

    Like Russ, I’m not bashing boxing, just amazed at where the pro-boxing, anti-MMA crowd get their ideas from. There really does seem to be a climate of fear surrounding some of these industry figures, as though pugilism is about to vanish from BBC, ITV and Sky any time now.

  2. Russ L said, on 12 February, 2007 at 7:22 pm

    In the interest of balance, it’s not just one way – a lot of MMA folk seem keen to trumpet how they intend to put boxing as a whole out of business. It’s equally stupid on both sides.

    McGuigan (who I find a useful pundit when speaking on the subject of something he knows the slightest thing about) saying there’s “no skill” involved is another typical (and sad) one, though. The obvious comparison would be a football commentator telling him there’s no skill in boxing because at no point in the match is a ball dribbled or passed accurately. You’d hope folk would have the sense to see that ‘a different set of skills’ doesn’t equate to ‘no skills’, but apparently it seems not sometimes.

  3. paul said, on 23 February, 2007 at 4:51 pm

    seems odd that Mcguigan slags off MMA as being unsafe, particularly as the total deaths in MMA = total deaths in Barry McGuigan fights.

    irony at it’s best.

  4. Valladin said, on 10 May, 2007 at 11:55 pm

    If you want to compare the amount of injuries in boxing and MMA make sure you take into account the number of fights in each discipline. If you say there are more injuries in boxing each year, then this is influenced by the fact that there are cetainly more boxing bouts as well.

    This means be carefull when you interpret statistics and does not imply whether boxing is more or less dangerous.

  5. Russ L said, on 11 May, 2007 at 5:15 am

    This is completely true and a very good point. For anyone skim-reading this I’d like to note that my above statement that MMA is safer was not based around a comparison of numbers of deaths (as might be inferred from your post, since those are the only actual numbers I quoted. I assume that’s what you’re getting at, anyway) but rather a comparison of what can go on in a match, and that the question of casualties was a subsequent point in direct response to things actually said, but – you’re absolutely correct in saying that these two arbitrary sets of numbers can’t be directly compared.

    Sometimes, however, you have to simplify things a touch to respond to someone whose entire pretence towards argument consists of shouting slogans at you. If Warren and McGuigan want to make blind assertions then they’re probably going to get the same thing back in kind only too often, and statements like Warren’s scaremongering “There will be a fatality one day” can be easily countered.

    Putting the deaths aside, maybe saying MMA is ‘theoretically’ safer than boxing would be a more sensible way to put it anyway, on the grounds of less repeated head-trauma. I don’t want to get into the realm of using the same type of “Well, it stands to reason, dunnit?” arguments that those I’m disagreeing with employ.

    Or maybe the leaders of both sports should stop using their public platforms to make stupid comments about the other and thus put the fans on the defensive like this. That’d be ideal.

    EDIT: Ah, gotcha, I think I’ve realised what you’re referring to – where I pointed out that Nolan seemed shocked that comparisons to other sports were made. This wasn’t actually boxing – it was horseriding/showjumping, if I remember correctly . It didn’t get as far as producing any actual statistics, so whether or not any given set of data was directly comparable with another wasn’t even a question. The problem there is the usual talk radio style of debate, i.e refusing to acknowledge this possibility of a frame of reference outside of your own. In this case, Nolan’s train of thought was “The way I see things, horseriding and fighting sports fall into entirely seperate categories in my mind. The idea that someone sees them as having things in common is a new concept to me. As such, I’ll respond to any attempt to draw any sort of parallel between the two with shock/surprise/disgust, dismissing it as just being silly.”

    When you have this coming from the person who is effectively controlling the debate (choosing what topic to talk about at any given moment, deciding when to move on etc) it can really marginalise certain viewpoints, especially if they’re viewpoints that the listeners at home might not have heard before.

    This is why it’s really a bad idea to have the presenter/host of the show defending one side of an argument rather than being an impartial chair, but sadly it’s usually the case on this sort of programming. That’s not just a problem with this question in particular, though, that’s a fault of the media in general.


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