The Original Appeal of Mixed Martial Arts and the UFC

To hear the naysayers tell it, Mixed Martial Arts is an ugly and loathsome activity undeserving of a moniker as respectful as “sport”. And to go further back in time, to UFC’s brutal “No Holds Barred” roots, is to invite derision usually reserved for satanic metal bands.

In 1993, the UFC had no rules – there were no weight classes, no time limits, no rounds, no standard attire, and hair-pulling and groin-punching was as accepted as a left cross followed by a right roundhouse.

But underneath all of the ugly was a 170 pound man wearing a simple white gi. Unassuming and anything but intimidating to the 200 plus pound karate experts, street fighters, and boxers he was matched up with to fight up to four times in a single evening, Royce Gracie would close the distance, tie up his opponents, and submit them within seconds of the opening bell.

To prove it wasn’t a fluke, Royce did the same in UFC 2 and cemented his legacy as the most important figure in martial arts since Bruce Lee. Royce also cemented my belief that my mother was right and that brains could defeat braun.

Royce’s intelligence came from his practice of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, a martial art refined by Royce’s father, the late Helio Gracie. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu uses technique, intelligence, and leverage designed for a smaller fighter, often forced to his or her back, to defeat the larger opponent. Royce’s victories came from an assortment of armbars, chokes, and other submissions that often induced surprise followed by a rapid tapping – one of the few ways a fighter could make his way out of the Octagon.

Mixed martial arts, the sport that has evolved from No Holds Barred Fighting, has been described as “kinetic chess” due to the three-dimensions available to a fighter to obtain victory. A fighter can choose to attack from the feet – through punches and kicks, knees and elbows, as well as clinching, or the fighter can choose to attack from the ground – often through techniques directly or adapted from Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

It is the “intelligent fighting” that happens on the ground in Mixed Martial Arts that sets the sport apart from others as one of the greatest recent contributions to our culture.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean Mom will like it.