This November (11/12/13, as a matter of fact) will be the 20th anniversary of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). Man, that makes me feel old. I started watching tapes of the UFC back in the fall of 1996, and I’ve been hooked ever since. I just finished watching the latest UFC on Fox. I’ve been a fan of the UFC through so many changes – from sideshow spectacle to the true display of athletics that it is today.
Back in fall of 1996, I was training with a jiujitsu guy who told me to check out this thing called No Holds Barred fighting. I went to my local Family Video and rented one of the tournaments with Royce Gracie. It was the promise of martial arts – a skinny, nerdy guy beating all of these tough guys. When I watch those early tournaments, I judge those fighters poorly only because I’m judging them from a post-UFC mindset. Those fighters were tough guys in their own right; they were lacking in one area of knowledge. Even then, I realized that the term No Holds Barred was false. There were few rules, but the early UFC had rules nonetheless. My parents wondered how I enjoyed that ‘street fighting’ show. I tried to explain that with rules and a ref, this show was nowhere near street fighting.
Then, I watched as the wrestlers started coming. They came with the power double leg takedown and head butts from the guard a.l.a. Mark Coleman. The strikers adjusted, and then came Randy Couture with his dirty boxing and showcase of what clinch work could be against a fence. Then came Matt Hughes and B.J. Penn. These grapplers added striking to their impressive skills, and we saw the first true evolution of the all-around fighter. Then, came George St. Pierre, and we’re watching another evolution in Jon “Bones” Jones. If you’ve been a fan, you’ve watched this sport evolve. It’s a process that Bruce Lee foreshadowed over 20 years prior to the first UFC. Style vs. style was the wrong philosophy, a waste of time.
The UFC changed modern martial arts. It popularized the belief that we need to be well rounded fighters. At the very least, a passing knowledge of grappling and preventing the takedown has become necessary. It has shown that cardio and strength training are necessary for fights. As the sport continues to change and grow, it shows us that timing and footwork are essential.
The UFC has also had some negative effects. What started this post was a comment that I overheard. Someone said, “The UFC, now, that’s real fighting.” Immediately, I thought what does the real in that statement mean? Does it mean that they’re really punching each other and that anyone can possibly win? Then yes it is real fighting. Do they mean that’s the way a person defends themselves on the street? Then the answer has to be no. It is possible to use techniques from MMA to defend yourself in the street; there can be no doubt about it. First, let’s assume that we’re talking strictly empty hands defense here since that’s MMA’s bread and butter. From a legal standpoint, do we as defenders want to be seen dancing around our attacker and boxing them? This is possible if the first strikes don’t knock out the opponent. Do we take our attacker down in a self defense altercation? Since most self defense situations are not in a gym with a mat underneath us, the ground is a dangerous option. Think about the types of terrain that we could enounter: asphalt, concrete, gravel, etc. And what is on that ground? Broken glass?
So far, we haven’t even considered MMA’s illegal strikes. A friend posted this video on Facebook; note how these professional athletes who get hit for a living, crumble at the illegal blows. Are they acting? Some clearly are, but most are genuinely hurt. If these strikes take down these tough athletes, shouldn’t they be in our self defense toolbox?
Luckily, the referee stops the action for the fighters to recover. That option is not available in self defense as far as I know. If you have some new martial art where this is possible, please, contact me. The referee’s job is to make sure that the fighters stop when the fight is over. They are there to protect the fighter from taking excessive, uncontested damage. That is what makes this a sport. When these blows are added back to the game, the fights don’t last as long. The spectacle and entertainment portions of the sport no longer exist if groin strikes and eye pokes are legal. Who would pull guard if their opponent elbowed them straight in the crotch repeatedly?
Finally, these fights are all one-on-one. In Counterpoint Tactical Systems (CTS), we practice with the expectation of multiple attackers. When watching some of the street fight videos on YouTube, multiple attackers occurs in most of them. MMA teaches single focus on the one opponent because that’s fighting within the rules and the structure agreed upon by the fighters. When in a self defense situation, focusing on the attacker ahead of us leaves us vulnerable to the attacks we don’t see. And everyone knows which punches hurt you, right? That’s right, it’s the ones you don’t see.
Even with the drawbacks, the UFC is still the pinnacle of martial arts sports right now. As a martial artist, I appreciate what the UFC has done. It shows the evolution that Bruce Lee began back in the 70s. The Ultimate Fighting Championships have, for better or worse, been a force for change within the martial arts and the society at large. The past 20 years have been amazing, and I look forward to the next 20.