MMA ain’t pretty, but Is It beautiful?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

This is another piece by Underground Blogger DeLeon DeMicoli, whose regular column “This Fighting Life” is insipred by NPR’s “This American Life.”

DeLeon DeMicoli writes and trains in San Francisco, CA.  He is currently writing a novel on Mixed Martial Arts.

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A few martial artists I’ve spoken to (let’s call them purists) believe fighting in a single-discipline, when done at the highest level of competition, holds just as much beauty as a ballet recital. Whether it’s a boxing match, a muay thai fight, or a jiu-jitsu tournament, these martial arts, when conducted under its original form, can shock, inspire, and eventually be marked in history as an iconic moment (like Muhammad Ali standing over Sonny Liston).

So where does MMA fit in?

The purists I spoke to all agree single-discipline high-level competition is a beautiful dance of technique and fluid body movement. But when all of it is on display in a MMA fight, some of that beauty disappears.

MMA is a tough sport, possibly the toughest in the world. When all disciplines are put together the complexity may appear more like a mathematical equation rather than a musical arrangement, taking away from the beauty the purists speak of. But that doesn’t mean MMA lacks beauty.

During MMA’s infancy, one fighter (Royce Gracie) was able to rely on a single-discipline to defeat all comers.  But after a handful of UFC tournaments were in the history books something happened. TAs om Cruise’s character Max in the movie ‘Collateral’ put it “…Now we gotta make the best of it, improvise, adapt to the environment, Darwin, s— happens, I Ching, whatever man, we gotta roll with it.”

And that’s where the beauty resides in MMA – in the changing times where fighters are required to learn more than one discipline. Adapt by mastering specific techniques (from whatever martial art) that will shutdown the opponent’s attack, so the fighter can, then, showcase his/her skills with whichever martial art they excel at.

Take Mark Coleman for example, an NCAA Wrestling Champion, US Olympic Freestyle Wrestling Team member (finished seventh at the Olympic games in Barcelona) and two-time Mid-American Conference Champion. Wrestling was in Coleman’s blood. He made his first appearance at UFC X against Moti Horenstein, a stand-up fighter who served in the Israeli army, and was a three-time knockdown karate champion. Coleman evolved his game (and brought beauty to the sport) by putting Horenstein down on the mat with his superior wrestling, and clobbered him with lefts and rights.

Coleman showed having one style wasn’t enough to win fights, not any longer. He could mix it up and, in the process, create his own unique style that gave him the moniker “Godfather of Ground N Pound.”

Another beautiful moment in MMA was when Georges St-Pierre (who won most of his fights by either submission or decision) fought NCAA Division I Wrestling Champion Josh Koschek at UFC 124. St-Pierre, from round one, made a statement with a perfectly timed jab that cut off any attempt for Koschek to take him down. St. Pierre evolved his game by studying boxing to not only shutdown a wrestler, but win all five rounds for a unanimous decision victory, not to mention breaking Koschek’s orbital bone on the right side of his face.

But what’s the flip side to that beauty coin?

Purists could argue what fans are enjoying when watching MMA is a watered down version of their martial art. Only the bare essentials are required since certain techniques in a MMA fight aren’t possible due to logistics (the gloves and uniform worn, the stage the fight is set on, the set of rules, etc.) that may drastically differ from a single-discipline fight. Plus, you aren’t learning the ideology, or Bushido, behind the martial art, only seeing it as a commodity.

So the question still lingers, is there beauty in MMA or does the beauty reside when the fight is in its purest form?