Beyond the Blood: UFC’s Mixed Martial Arts’ ‘Elegance’ Overlooked
Take a moment and try to look beyond the blood, the knockouts, the submissions. See through the fence that contains the competitors and the constant references to modern-day gladiators; no one here is battling to the death.
While the men and women who will step into the UFC Octagon at Rogers Arena fight for a living, their career of choice and the aggressive, physical nature of mixed martial arts is far from a complete reflection of whom they are as individuals. Just as a comedian doesn’t walk around telling jokes at all hours, these competitors aren’t walking around starting fights on the regular either.
Part of the misconception comes from how we refer to these men and women. We label them as “fighters,” which is valid, but carries a certain stigma and conjures up images of knuckleheads outside of bars throwing hands in the street. But how does that perception change if we talk about them as “competitors” or “professional athletes,” both of which are apt descriptions?
“Mixed martial arts is a combat sport and it’s a contract sport, but it’s a very elegant sport as well and if you spent time with our athletes — watching them compete, watching them train — you’d understand that completely,” says Tom Wright, executive vice-president and general manager for UFC Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
“Until you take the time to actually learn a bit about a sport, speak to the athletes, watch how they train, watch how they compete and interact with members of the community, you don’t really have that perspective because you’re looking at it without being knowledgeable and without providing an opportunity for the sport to demonstrate to you what it’s really capable of doing.”
Fresh off the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the former CFL commissioner also points to the various individual disciplines present in mixed martial arts that were featured at that event and how there is a disconnect between celebrating those athletes and their successes while viewing UFC athletes and mixed martial artists in general through a different lens.
“As you probably know for the 2020 Games, karate has been brought back as an Olympic sport, so you’ve got karate, you’ll have judo, taekwondo, Greco-Roman wrestling, freestyle wrestling and boxing,” says Wright, who joined the UFC in May 2010.
“We’ll send athletes to Rio, they’ll come back with a gold medal in wrestling and we’ll take them to Ottawa and give them a standing ovation.
“All of these individual combat sports which are respected and loved, we embrace the sports on an individual level, and I think if you take the time to learn about it, you would embrace the sport on a collective level.”
In town as one of the guest fighters for this weekend’s event, No. 1 welterweight contender Stephen Thompson presents another side of the discussion that gets obscured by the graphic highlights and images that usually make up the public depiction of this sport.
A life-long martial artist, the 33-year-old from Simpsonville, S.C., is not only an elite contender in the UFC but also an instructor, running the kids program at his father Ray’s gym, Upstate Karate.
“One of the reasons why I do it and why I teach is that I know what the martial arts have done for me,” says Thompson, who joined fellow UFC athletes Joseph Benavidez and Elias Theodorou at Diaz Combat Sports on Thursday to host a We Are All Fighters event with Special Olympics British Columbia.
“A lot of people, all they see is the kicking and punching, but that’s a very small part of it.
“It’s about showing respect, modesty, courtesy, integrity, self-control and indomitable spirit,” adds the polite welterweight standout, who has won seven consecutive bouts to put himself in line for a title shot.
“If you’re not experienced with it and all you see is the ‘cage fighting,’ find a local school, find a good school that you feel comfortable being in and try it out.”
While critics may be quick to point to someone like Carlos Condit, whose Google Image gallery is filled with blood-stained photos and goes by the nickname “The Natural Born Killer,” as an example of the brutal image they have for the sport and its participants, his opponent on Saturday night stands out as his opposite.
Demian Maia is a world-class Brazilian jiu jitsu practitioner — one of the best grapplers to ever step foot in the Octagon — and has landed a total of 12 significant strikes in his last three bouts, all of which have been victories. He’s not snapping limbs or rendering his opponents unconscious; more often than not, he’s dominating the action on the canvas, controlling his opponent’s movements, working to find a submission and collect another victory.
He’s soft-spoken and humble, as so many of these athletes are, and makes his living in the Octagon because he enjoys competition and showcasing the artistry of Brazilian jiu jitsu to the world.
Like everything in life, there will be those who simply do not like mixed martial arts for whatever reason and that’s perfectly understandable; everyone has their preferences and the sport is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea.
“I don’t ever expect everybody to be a fan of mixed martial arts — of our sport — I get that, but all I ask is if you have an entrenched position, just make sure your position is based on facts,” says Wright, who admits he’s not a fan of NASCAR, but isn’t about to disparage the commitment and effort those teams put in to reach the pinnacle of their sport.
“Don’t come to me and say, ‘I don’t like your sport because it has no rules’ because there are actually a lot of rules or ‘I don’t like your sport because all anybody wants to do is knock the head off somebody’ because there is much more to our sport than that.
“If you don’t like our sport, I’m completely fine with that, but don’t base your disapproval on something that is not factual.”
UFC on FOX 21 goes today at Rogers Arena. Here’s a list of the prelims and main card:
Preliminary Bouts at 3 p.m. PT on TSN2
Shane Campbell (12-5-0) vs. Felipe Silva (7-0-0)
Garreth McLellan (13-4-0) vs. Alessio Di Chirico (9-1-0)
Enrique Barzola (12-2-1) vs. Kyle Bochniak (6-1-0)
Sam Alvey (27-8-0) vs. Kevin Casey (9-4-1)
Main Card at 5 p.m. PT on TSN2 and CTV Two
Joe Lauzon (26-12-0) vs. Jim Miller (26-8-0)
Paige VanZant (6-2-0) vs. Bec Rawlings (7-4-0)
Anthony Pettis (18-5-0) vs. Charles Oliveira (21-5-0)
Demian Maia (23-6-0) vs. Carlos Condit (30-8-0)