Commentary by Garrett “The MMA Purist” Morris
Something needs to be done in the mma fighting sports, especially UFC, for the sake of being true to real combat. Real combat is almost always fun to watch. It seems like ages since we had the original ground and pound – bare-knuckles, head-butts, north-south position knees, and soccer kicks to the head of a downed opponent (the last two are still allowed in Japan). Even the savvy Jiu-Jitsu submission fighters needed to be privy to these tactics. And before viewers needed to be spared by the “sprawl and brawl,” it wasn’t absolutely and ridiculously boring to watch two sweaty men rolling around on the mat. Hey, it wasn’t even gay back then. It was fighting.
Now we have the ubiquitous “shoot and poop,” “clinch and flinch,” “lay and gay,” or the “score and bore.” These matches, hardly what one should call a fight, consist of at least one guy who wants to stay out of the danger range of fighting, as he hugs his opponent while maintaining control. It’s the fight which one guy spends a whole round trying to pass the missionary; you’ve seen it a million times. Such tactics are best for Greco-roman wrestlers who jockey for position and win fights because the other guy doesn’t want to play fight or doesn’t know how to. The wrestlers shoot in, score impotent takedowns, and hope to win on those points. In UFC 69, Heath Herring lost a match and said, “I didn’t come to wrestle, I came to fight. If you want to say he won, he just won a wrestling match…” Of course, we lifelong martial arts enthusiasts recognize the great importance, effectiveness, and art of groundfighting—but I will argue against it for the sake of the reader.
Obsessive ground-fighting is simply not realistic or primal anymore. To enjoy these Score and Bore matches, you have to be one of three: (1) Biased, as you root for one of the fighters not objectifying the entertainment factor of the bout, (2) A wrestling fan who likes to watch the idiosyncrasies of positioning, or (3) Ignorant to fighting (you might think that a takedown is electrifying or that a hammer fist is powerful).
If someone got excited from some of these takedowns, I think it would be warranted to presume he is not a fighter. It may look dominant when one sees a player bring someone on the mat. To an average viewer, maybe it looks as though those little hammer punches are doing real damage in someone’s guard. These bystanders who cheer dull shoots are the same ones who “ooh” and “ahh” when they see one good jab land in a boxing match. But if you’ve ever been a fighter, you should be able to distinguish a set-up from a finishing move in which a submission, a knock-out, a slam on occasion, and a pummeling (not the wrestling move) are the ultimate goals. And these goals are rarely pursued in the Score and Bore. And pummeling is the best with head-butts and knees to the head. Hell, Randy Couture may have been greater if the UFC rules hadn’t changed. Conversely, maybe he wouldn’t even have won anything. Bas Rutten has even cited that he would not even want to bother fighting without the head-butt tool that assisted in making him successful. And in the Extreme FC contest Frank Shamrock could have been awarded a beautiful Gracie stomping if he was not disqualified. Shamrock, along with many bewildered viewers, mistook the signing of the bout as signing to fight.
The point is that violence is what makes fights more real… tactical violence at its best, but violent. Without violent intentions, there would be no initiative to fight for anything in life – self-defense, revenge, money, land, etc. And today’s Score and Bore couldn’t hold a candlestick to the real combat Ground and Pound of the early days.
I don’t care to know where the cliché holding a candlestick comes from, but here I would go with the pun in which I think it signifies hot wax, romantic lighting, and a really gay wrestler pretending to want to fight.
MMA became celebrated among martial arts enthusiasts in the mid 1990’s because it became a platform for us to see and prove what systems worked. The days of “martially” unearned colored belts began to find its way into where it belonged, pre-adolescents and obsolescence. Before the head-banging and chest pounding, the majority of the UFC fan-base was a small group of true aficionados. Now, it has expanded its base to the everyday sport fan, superficial and ignorant as he may be.
Mma fighting has an over-abundance of coddled participants and posturing fans. There is a fabricated toughness, much like a hybrid of professional wrestling and the NFL, in which the fans assume the celebrity of their idols. MMA is make believe and role-playing like linebackers painting their faces and screaming impossible intimidations at opponents. It’s bush league fight sport; even the celebrations in mma are so rehearsed and excited unlike true professionals. The jubilation of mma fighters when they win is comparable to first time boxing amateurs. The culture of mma remains an enigma. Why these fans love to pretend they’re wild and crazy must be linked to the intimacy of the sports’ physical contact and players’ levels of testosterone – hockey and boxing don’t seem to affect fans quite this way. (It sounds like I am charging mma for its latent homosexuality of the sport, but that is only a coincidence, inherent or not.)
I blame the state of mma on a dilution of violence. Violence would keep everyone honest, unable to attack the sport’s genuineness. Now, every pansy with a little nerve thinks he can learn some shoot-fighting. The fact that many of the mma fighters have shticks probably has something to do with attracting all the non-fighters to participate in the sport. These people like mma because of its lack of high quality; they, in turn, imagine themselves in there flailing away, and rightfully so. Rather than under the Marquess of Queensberry rules, mma has little application of science everywhere on the mat except for in the grappling range. It’s ironic how most of these guys I speak about, many of whom are well-off suburbanites, enter the fight sport without humbly going through the ranks. Get into a few scraps, lose some, win some, learn to fight standing up (believe it or not, boxing and kick-boxing are even more dangerous sports even by statistics of injuries/deaths), and find the science. Fight dozens of amateur bouts. Win a long string of over 20 professional fights. Then maybe fight for a top 10 ranking – if the skills are worth it.After all, fighters should learn to stand before they can Waltz.
The abundance of outspoken fans, as seen in venues across the country, are ignorant to the sport. They don’t know the least about the regimens, techniques, and strategies of mma fights. They are new to the sport, and they don’t read about martial arts. Most of them have not ever sparred. And of the many who like to portray themselves being from the school of hard knocks, they most definitely had never fought anybody who was good. These people don’t know martial arts, and I fear that they will never care to. Others may take up mma fighting, join the cast of the spoiled frat-brother Ultimate Fighter participants, learn to be a little tough, but the rest of us know that “he may fight, but he’s not real.” Why hardened people from the inner-city don’t take a liking to mma over boxing is a whole other topic to be addressed.
It becomes apparent that the new rules of the array of mma organizations (the least of all, Pride) are harming martial arts as a whole and limiting its reach. They are diluting the art of fighting and making it a tattooed lie. When the average guy who knows what a fight is like witnesses the UFC, he thinks that he can take the punishment and if he cannot, he would just tap like everyone else – he may be wrong about being able to take the punishment but it goes to show that the sport doesn’t represent itself right. The sport is just not as respectable as it could be. On the contrary, when you see Anderson Silva or Fedor Emelianenko fight, you respect the idea that this is “tough stuff.” Unfortunately, they are two of the few exceptions in the world of mma.
People can see what makes MMA gay.
The spectacle that has become of mma has so many superficial aspects that lend to the homoerotic argument against it. Its whole production is a show irrelevant to the action of the fights. From the exaggerated expressions of the commentators, UFC’s Bruce Buffer’s sudden head jerk turn when he announces the fighters in his conjured voice-up, pretentious heavy metal theme music, referee and fighter gimmicks, post fight signature moves, to the body image pitch that mma uses to sell – there’s just so much innuendo. Fighters seem to all have “look at me” tattoos and sculpt their bodies so they can flex. Their shorts are even used for branding. This pop-main-streaming hurts the sport. And it makes it unappealing for pure sportsmen. And just because mma may be inherently gay, it absolutely does not mean that all the participants are gay. It simply has more of the gay appeal than necessary. Dana White, among others, is using it to prostitute the sport.
This whole look and culture of mma detracts talent from the fighter pool. They already have fewer people competing for the passion to fight than for the glamour and glitz that is promised. Some really soft suburban kids are already saturating the sport as their decisions to pursue Hollywood fame get nixed by the flip of the coin. And the cream doesn’t always rise to the top. Good talent gets turned off like good fans do. Real fighters don’t fight for the fame; they fight to test themselves and win.
Let’s explore the slippery-slope of mma intimacy. Imagine for a moment that a new mma move created by a top fighter used the immobilization of the head from the north-south position. This “facial mount” incorporated the use of putting the groin over the face of a supine opponent. In that position, the fighter found that thrusting his groin/cup into the jaw of his opponent distracts him and makes him expose his arm, so he is put into an arm bar. What if fighters start putting their mouths over their opponents’ faces to take their air and suffocate them. At what point would mma people recognize that there are gay aspects of mma? An openly gay person in the guard wrapping his legs around an opponent – is that gay? What does mma being gay mean?
Any expert behavioralist will acknowledge the sexual imagery in mma as another healthy outlet for males, gay or hetero, to express their sexual needs. There is an eroticism that is accepted in mma, reflective of the psyche of fans and practitioners. And for all mma’s chest puffing and macho exploits, the sport may be exhibiting what boxing people hate about most sports: denial. It is the root of everything fake, from unnecessary tradition (redundant) to hiding in a closet. The sport’s denial is why people charge it and fault it for being gay. If it stopped selling a lie, the rumbles wouldn’t matter.
Besides the arguably inherently intimate mma ground-fighting, is the culture hoarding a bunch of “wish-I-were” tough guy, arm-chair jockey, chest-bumping, ass patting dorks who suddenly think they are world-beaters? Perhaps it’s true that these followers are being bred everyday at a gym near you. Some people argue that mma is cashing in on this idol worship dynamic. The notion that many of the fans now involved in the sport are wanna-bees whose lives are encompassed by their heroes – whether it’s Royce Gracie this, Chuck Liddell that, my sensei this, my sensei that – is becoming more and more ubiquitous in mma.
When I was a kid, I pondered whether Wolverine of the X-men would beat other superheroes like Batman, so I can relate to the mma God-worship of their heroes. When I wore a Wolverine costume one Halloween, I imagined borrowing his adamantine skeleton. Go into any martial art school, and for some seemingly inexplicable reason, you have a few fully grown adult groupies who listen and believe everything their teacher says. Beyond that, they idolize their teachers. Those are the people who start believing that their instructor could beat everyone and will pass the power down to them. The culture of mma is spreading this masturbation of the ego to the masses.
MMA is becoming more like the XFL or the WWE. The mma fan goes beyond the appreciation of a fighter’s technique. A fighter’s haircut, t-shirts, catch-phrases, and other gimmicks are bought by most of these fans. When an mma fighter wins before the distance, he runs around, jumps, and acts like a maniac who can’t believe what had happened. What boxer conducts himself after a fight like he really got lucky? Even Roy Jones never seemed to have had rehearsed his post fight antics – even his annoying moves at least were authentic.
Ultimately, many of the mma fans join gyms and care more about their idols than the art of fighting. “MMA is less like thoroughbred horse-racing, on its surface, than all fighting sports should be,” one boxing fan mentioned at UFC 71. “The genuineness is being tapped out by the marketing and the half-ass fighters,” he said, “so they should use Fedor as a prototype. Skip the enzone celebrations.” The man made a good point as to site how the gimmicks of the athletes surpass their substance, yet those fighters still manage to make money. There are just too many bad fighters. Ignorant fans and irresponsible owners may be to blame.
The sport needs to recognize that toughness cannot be feigned in the long run and, though all the fighters might actually be tough, it takes away from “tough” when they walk around pretending to be.
When you sell a farce, you sell out – in more ways than one. And the loser ends up being the “quality” of the sport.
I offer the surface of solutions to the MMA bore:
1. Referee discretion. Incorporating a time-limit on the mat works in most occasions, but, in fairness to action ground fighting, this can be hurtful to the sport, especially for certain fighters. Moreover, it may give weaker fighters the time to Score and Bore while they lay in safety. In such a situation, the referee would be given the liberty to stand-up the players almost immediately. Referees would be trained to assess the inaction of a fight in order to make instant decisions to bring the fight to the feet.
2. Purse deductions or fines. If a fighter[s] is not exhibiting intent to finish a fight or engage, standing or grounded, an outside official or the referee would be able to halt the action giving one of several flags that indicate purse deductions or fine amounts. Recognize, however, that it takes two fighters to make action.
3. If possible, reinstate the north-south knees, downward elbows, and head-butts. Knee cushions and elbow cushions may be considered. Because without any of the three weapons, an mma fight hardly resembles real fighting anymore.