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Joint Base Andrews Features

NEWS | July 17, 2009

Blood Sport: MMA thrives, but is it ready for mainstream?

By Capt. Christian Hodge 316th Wing Public Affairs Officer

Mixed martial arts fans got their money's worth at Ultimate Fighting Championship 100 in Las Vegas last Saturday as two titles were decided in diametrically different contests in front of 11,000 fans and millions more on pay-per-view.

Former World Wrestling Entertainment star and current heavyweight champ Brock Lesnar pounded submission-specialist Frank Mir into, well, submission, and Canadian superstar Georges St. Pierre dominated striker Thiago Alves, keeping the fight on the ground with superior wrestling.

Mixed martial arts, and the UFC specifically, is blowing up. But is it a sport? Is it legit? Is it ready for primetime?

The UFC is immensely popular with young men stateside, and is growing internationally by leaps and bounds. It is also incredibly popular among military members. However, why are traditional sports media outlets not jumping on the bandwagon? They grudgingly give the bare minimum during Sportscenter trash time, or just simply don't cover MMA at all.

The co-main events Saturday night showed both how far MMA has come, and how far it still needs to go to be embraced by the ESPNs and Fox Sports Networks of the world, and subsequently the mainstream public.

An immensely skilled and well-rounded St. Pierre displayed what all MMA'ers should aspire to become. He was amazing, skilled at every facet of the game, and won every round of the five-round fight by taking his opponent to the ground again and again, and controlling him while there. He is intelligent, well-spoken, and always gracious and respectful no matter if he wins or loses.

Lesnar on the other hand, is a beast. He is fast, strong and huge. He won his fight in convincing fashion, taking Mir to the ground and holding his wrist with Lesnar's left hand while hammering down devastating rights to seal a technical knockout in round 2. However afterwards he screamed in his opponent's face, delivered a two-handed flick-off to the audience, and trashed a sponsor.

The whole thing came off as very professional wrestling, or at least in bad taste, all on what was supposed to a marquee UFC event and celebration. There is an ongoing, intense public relations battle being fought to legitimize MMA, and to separate it from professional wrestling theatrics and the street-fighting brawls that have defined it in years past. This PR campaign is being led by UFC Commissioner Dana White. Interestingly though, through a mixture of huge ego, natural charisma and foul-mouthed tirades, he has morphed into a WWE Vince McMahon-esce villain character.

The evolution of MMA, and specifically the UFC as an organization bent on world-domination, makes for an interesting case study. Starting in 1993 as what was a real-life Kumite fighting tournament, straight out of the 1988 cheese-classic "Bloodsport" starring Jean Claude Van Damme, 16 years later the UFC has changed markedly.

Now it is officially sanctioned like professional boxing by state and international athletic commissions. The "no holds barred" fight format is long gone. There are a dizzying number of rules and regulations on what fighters can do. The UFC tests for steroids and other drugs.

The UFC was a $1 billion company in 2008. It controls 90% of the MMA industry and is only getting bigger.

Fighters used to only be specialists in judo or kickboxing, wrestling or boxing. Now they are specialists in mixed martial arts, incorporating skill-sets in all these disciplines to fight fights both standing up or on the ground. They have incredible cardiovascular endurance andcore strength.

So, MMA is blowing up. Is it a sport? Yes, most definitely. Is it legit? Yes, it is sanctioned and these athletes are some of the most gifted in the world. Is it ready for mainstream? Mixed martial arts fights can be brutal and bloody affairs. Mainstream? Not quite yet...