[First printed two days ago in Sci Fighting]
If you drop a pebble into a lake you’ll see ripples extend far beyond where that pebble first hit the water. Life is like a large pond in which thousands of pebbles are constantly striking the surface, causing ripples that interact with each other in unpredictable ways. Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) itself wasn’t originally intended to be a spectator sport – the first matches were just meant to showcase Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu against other martial arts in order for the Gracies to market their BJJ gyms and they where incredibly successful as there are now over a hundred Gracie Barra gyms in North America alone. MMA became more than a spectacle, it became a sport and that sport has gone on to send ripples through the cultural landscape transforming it in several positive ways.
4. MMA promotes Cultural meshing
The very origins of our sport come from the Japanese sending out emissaries all over the world to spread Judo until they finally arrived in Brazil. From Brazil Judo turned into BJJ and ruled dominant in the U.S. until great strikers learned the ground game and it became apparent that boxing or Muay Thai (from Thailand) would also be a necessary part of any fighters arsenal to succeed. Now when you go to an MMA gym to train you know that you are learning techniques from a plethora of countries and cultures. That is a difficult environment to breed hate and racism in. Sure other countries compete in sports like soccer and the Olympics and occasionally training techniques get traded but it’s not the same as the cultural exchange you get in MMA.
In team sports there are a variety of different ethnicities but we tend to generalize the team as a whole, and under pads and uniforms you don’t see those athletes as individuals, at least not in the same way we see fighters. For example Anthony Pettis is a Mexican and Puerto Rican fighter born in the U.S. who learned Korean Taekwondo. That kind of constant mixing of ethnic backgrounds and fighting cultural traditions that come together to create something better for the improvement of the whole, that’s the future. Not just the future of our sport but of the world.
3. MMA advances anti-bullying efforts
Psychologists and social workers who have experience with kids understand that bullying almost never comes from a position of strength. Kids don’t generally hurt other kids because they can but because they are being abused themselves. Insecurity and abuse breeds that kind of behavior and punishing bullies in the traditional manner does absolutely nothing but perpetuate the problem. So what happens to a bully when he starts training in martial arts? Well if he’s going to a good gym, he learns about discipline and utilizing restraint. He gains confidence in himself and begins to understand the importance of working with one’s peers in harmony. Most importantly he find a place where he can belong and that’s how you destroy a bully. That lack of belonging is often what drives kids to join gangs or begin destructive behavior such as drug abuse and bullying.
Apart from that many gyms have anti-bullying programs where they work with schools and local government bodies to prevent bullying and reform at risk kids. One such gym is Reign, founded by Mark Munoz (the nicest guy in the UFC). Mark Hominick and other UFC fighters have also brought this message to children. As the sport grows, so does the power of fighters to deliver these messages. As MMA gyms become more accessible more kids will find a place to belong and sport that will build their self esteem, Which leads us to…
2. MMA offers smaller kids a sport they can succeed in
Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson is a formidable athlete, world class indeed but you wouldn’t see him in the NFL or dunking in the NBA because he stands at a minuscule ft 5’3 tall. In MMA the use of weight classes means the only size that really matters is how big a fighters heart is. Determination and work ethic, pro’s that lose their passion and hunger to win don’t make it in our sport. So many kids are born and their only athletic detriment is that they aren’t tall enough for basketball or bulky enough for football but inside they still have the unquenchable desire to compete in sports and MMA is a perfect alternative for them. That’s why so many kids transition to MMA gyms after high school and college wrestling.
1. Advancing women as legitimate athletes
Ronda Rousey and Meisha Tate are both lovely ladies to look at and if they played any other sport they would probably be dismissed by the casual observer as just eye candy. However women’s MMA has sent a very clear message, WMMA is not a novelty version of MMA. These women are serious athletes who bring just as much (if not more) passion and intensity to the octagon/ring. Often times women’s fights are more engaging and exciting than their male counterparts. If anyone doubts the legitimacy of women in our sport it is only because they have never really watched it. On the last season of The Ultimate Fighter runner up Uriah Hall got destroyed by Ronda Rousey who also represented the U.S. in the Olympics for Judo. Many people doubted Invicta FC’s success as an all female women’s MMA promotion but they have yet to produce a bad card and have been a launching pad for many WMMA stars. Invicta’s success is evidence of the strides WMMA is making.
Friend of the blog Joey Benitez used to blog at Tony Bushala’s Friends For Fullerton’s Future, and then for several months was involved in Occupy Orange County. His interest in the coliseum and gladiators as a child led him to Mixed Martial Arts. Believing that combat is the ultimate sport, he achieved a brown belt in Tae Kwon Do before moving on to boxing, Muay Thai, and Jiu-Jitsu. He currently trains at Reign Training Center in Lake Forest with Coach Jason Manley. His devotion to the sport led him to sports journalism where he endeavors to bring combat sports into the mainstream.