MMA sounds like a bug picked up during a spell in hospital and it is certainly infectious.
So much so that under its full title of mixed martial arts it has spread to some 68 countries and is claimed to be the fastest-growing sporting activity in the world, with sights firmly set on an eventual place in the Olympic Games.
Mixed sport is the new buzz phrase for the Olympics, with gender equality high on the agenda of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). But will their eagerness for mixing it extend to this particular theater of unarmed combat?
One who hopes so is Densign White, once boss of British Judo who now heads the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation as their chief executive. The avowed intention is getting MMA, which includes virtually-anything-goes cage fighting, into the Games.
White, the 55-year-old husband of 1984 Olympic javelin gold medalist Tessa Sanderson, also wants to bring together all forms of martial arts, including judo, karate, taekwondo and boxing, under a single governing body.
“These are long-term objectives, but I believe they are achievable,” he said. “MMA has already been recognized as a sport here by Sport England and is now practiced in more countries than many other Olympic sports.”
However, it is banned in some, including France, largely because of objections by judo. White was a seventh dan in the sport and chaired the British Judo Association for 11 years. Apparently there are no such inhibitions in the United Kingdom, with judo among the sports backing the hybrid MMA in which cage fighting is the most widely known activity.
“There is a lot of misconception about cage fighting,” argues White. “The cage is there to protect the fighters and it is among the most strictly governed of all contact sports with a huge emphasis on safety. The growth of MMA globally has been extraordinary, particularly as an amateur sport, and my job will be to raise the game in terms of governance, coaching and doping control. I am convinced that eventually we will see it in the Olympic program.”
However, he admits there is still some way to go, with political obstacles to be overcome before an application is made to the IOC.
It will have to take its place in the long queue with established pursuits like squash, while darts, chess, cheerleading, pole dancing and even video games press claims for inclusion.
An ancient form of MMA, pankration, was once an Ancient Olympic event, but the modern, regulated form of the multi-discipline sport has yet to be recognized as an Olympic sport.
Pankration, which literary means “all force”, is a combination of wrestling and boxing. It was a dangerous sport, in which everything was permitted except biting, gouging (stabbing with your finger in your opponent’s eye, nose or mouth) and attacking the genitals.
“It is fantastic to see another MMA core sport, karate, welcomed into the Olympics,” says White. “Like judo, taekwondo, boxing and wrestling, karate has very much helped form the development of MMA and shares many of its values.
“Karate’s acceptance by the IOC also gives us hope as we feel MMA fulfils all the necessary criteria.”
White explains that MMA’s next step is to secure membership of the Global Association of International Sports Federations, previously SportAccord. But it is having to fight off objections from some other combat sports which see MMA as a rival, as well as suggestions that it is “barbaric and too brutal”.
“This is certainly not the case,” White argues. “We can show that it is completely different from any other combat sport. We have taken out some of the rough edges and our safety record, with a drugs testing system and medical safeguards which include regular brain scans, weight checks and blood tests, are superior to most others.
“I honestly believe that taking part in MMA is no more dangerous than playing football.”
White remains committed to a long-term game plan for Olympic status but senses a glimmer of hope should Los Angeles get the nod over Paris for the 2024 Games.
For while Paris is a no-no because of the French ban on MMA, it is an American-centric sport. The Ultimate Fighting Championship was founded in the United States so LA might well welcome it.
I confess I am not a great MMA fan, preferring more orthodox disciplines like boxing. But I am old school, and MMA has a case.
It is a crossover activity with a strong appeal for the young.
Which, of course, should be right up IOC President Thomas Bach’s strasse.
By Alan Hubbard
Republished with permission from insidethegames.biz.