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I first heard about mixed martial arts and the UFC years before I became a fan. I didn’t really know what to think about it. I knew in theory that I liked martial arts, but I didn’t really have an understanding of how drastically they had evolved since I was a kid.
You see, when I was younger I attended Tae Kwon Do classes. I was successful. Got a few belts and trophies here and there. I practiced my little dance sessions, and thought I was learning to be a badass.
But I was by no means a badass. I suffered from confusion brought on by a cheesy version of something special, a gimmick designed to make maximal money by charlatans and the not-so-talented.
Confusion at the JCC
This still exists to this day. Just a few years ago a couple of my kids took karate classes at a local JCC. The classes were a straight-up joke. The students weren’t taught form or how to generate power. They weren’t corrected when they were doing something wrong. And they were building a misguided confidence that could legitimately get them hurt someday.
And it got worse when we arrived at the belt ceremonies. At these utterly boring (and expensive) displays of mediocre talent, children would dance around and break boards for hours, with scores of parents looking on, trying desperately not to fall asleep. If the kids couldn’t break their board, they were given a new board or they were given the opportunity to use a different limb to break the board. Ultimately, it would snap. A belt was given. Everyone got their participation trophy.
And parents went broke while a bunch of sorry senseis danced home clutching their newfound cash.
Consequently, I was a bit jaded about the term “martial arts”. So it was totally unexpected when the day would come when I would become a hardcore fan, rattling off fighter statistics and debating fine details of the rules of the sport. When I would go week after week to sports bars and jump up from my seat whenever crazy things would happen.
But there was a definite learning curve. And I wanted to make that same learning curve a bit easier for anyone else getting their feet wet in this phenomenal sport. Here are five things a UFC beginner may not yet know:
1) UFC and MMA are not synonyms
MMA stands for Mixed Martial Arts. It’s the name of the actual sport itself. UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) is the most popular MMA promotion in the world.
Everyone in America associates professional football with the NFL. What’s the second biggest promotion? Honestly, I have no idea. I’m not even sure if there is a different one. But MMA is to the UFC what football is to the NFL. The difference is there are tons of other MMA promotions out there too. They’re not as big and famous as the UFC yet, but many are quite popular and really great as well. In fact, I’ve been to three live MMA events so far, and they were all in a promotion called Bellator. And they were all awesome!
2) One Person’s Boring…
When you don’t know what’s going on, there are lots of things you might at first find quite dull. One person’s boring is another person’s exciting. If you don’t like wrestling or you don’t quite understand the beauty and rigor of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, what you see might look like two grown men tussling on the floor like teenage brothers. With a little knowledge, and maybe even a little experience, you start to see details you never thought you could. And that’s when you also begin to see the complexity and the artistic nature of what’s happening.
You should never forget that the word “arts” of Mixed Martial Arts is chosen very intentionally. When you know what’s going on, you see something spectacular. When you don’t, you just find yourself scratching your head at what’s on the TV.One person's boring is another person's exciting. Click To Tweet
3) There are a whole lot of rules, and they’re changing all the time
In its earliest days, people accused the sport of Mixed Martial Arts of being like the wild west. There were no rules and it was terribly unsafe. And they weren’t entirely wrong.
In the first major UFC event, one of the most iconic images was someone on the ground getting kicked in the face, and their tooth flying through the air. The sport was fun… but it was a brutal mess.
And now, in many ways, it’s the opposite. There are lots of rules. Some are simple (no groin shots), some are quite complex (no 12-6 elbows). Some are different between promotions, some change depending on the location of the event. And many are still evolving.
And that really is the main point. The sport is still quite young, and people are working diligently all the time to keep the sport as entertaining as possible, while both protecting the fighters and maintaining the sport’s integrity.
It can be confusing, but with a little introduction, most onlookers can nail the main rules and quickly appreciate what’s happening.
4) Whole Lot of Champions
Before I was a UFC fan, I read an article in a health magazine about the champion. Later, when I became a big fan, I watched a fight with the champion… but it was someone different. I was a little confused, but I assumed one had beaten the other and won the title. However, I later found out that not only were they both the champion, but there were many others as well.
In fact, currently in the UFC alone there can be as many as twelve champions at the same time (eight men, four women). It’s all based on weight classes, and most fighters are locked into a weight class and don’t explore the other worlds too much. On rare occasions, some fight in more than one weight class and have even been champions in two simultaneously.
So, really, there is no “the” champion. There are a whole lot of them!
5) The Non-Linear Road to the Top
And speaking of champions, the path to getting there is not as simple as you might think.
In most sports, there is a fairly straightforward method for how athletes or teams climb to the top and get their shot at the championship. And that’s not at all the case in the UFC. It couldn’t be more confusing!
Who gets the title shot? In theory, it should be the #1 contender. The one who has beaten everyone else and climbed the rankings to get there.
In actuality, the person who gets the shot could be based on countless details. Availability. Injuries. How recently they fought. Their record. If they’re on a win streak. If it would be a good and exciting matchup. And, of course, the popularity and pull of the challenger.
And that last one is no joke. Someone can actually talk their way into a title fight even if they are logically undeserving. Why? Because people want to see it. The more eyes, the more cash. And then anything can happen.
It’s one of the more confusing elements of the sport. Although, sometimes it’s what makes it crazy fun.
So in short, there’s a lot to learn when starting out and trying to appreciate this amazing relatively new athletic competition. So forget what you thought you knew about martial arts, grab a beer and some pretzels, and join me for the adventure. Give it a few fights. You’re bound to get as hooked as I am!