MMA
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By In essay, Korea, Mixed Martial Arts

The Main Event

 

Front and center was a cage where men would soon punch each other for money. Seats inside Seoul’s cavernous Olympic Hall wrapped around it on two levels: cageside VIP tables for the type of people who wear suits to a cage fight, and open seating above it for everyone else. Behind the cage was a ramp that led up to a theater stage set up with gear for a rock band. Above, a jumbo screen showed silent highlight videos of older matches on a loop.

A pre-fight promotional video started. Clips of knockouts played as the lights dimmed. Band members crept to their positions through the shadows while the video showed mean-mugging men holding up their fists. The video culminated with resounding, ear-splitting English: “Top FC! Fighting! Champion!”

The screen went blank. A row of mortar-like pyrotechnics shot flames upward from the edge of the stage, and the band started screaming over the sounds of their instruments. They sounded like the kinds of bands most kids listen to in high school but are now embarrassed to think about–except all in Korean.

It was exactly the type of campy, weird high-production values that I wanted, but as the music pierced the on-stage flames and echoed through the auditorium, I didn’t quite feel there. I didn’t quite feel anywhere…”

 

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By In Mixed Martial Arts

What’s Legacy Got To Do With It?

“Having a legacy is the closest we can get to immortality. It’s how we combat the transience of our lives and the fact that most of our time is spent doing things that will be forgotten shortly after they’re finished. A legacy, though, outlives all of that. It etches our name in memories and record books and keeps us alive long after we’re gone.

It’s no wonder that the idea of a legacy is so important to professional fighters, whose job exists at the edges of mortality; it gives purpose to the life-shortening danger of their work beyond collecting a paycheck. We still talk about athletes from 100 years ago, and in a sport as young as MMA, legacies have less historical competition and thus are more up for grabs than in other sports. However, as recent events have shown, a fighter’s legacy is more complicated than it seems…”

 

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By In Mixed Martial Arts

The UFC’s Old Epidemic

“Even for a sport as reliably strange as ours, the past week was a particularly bizarre one. Between the bookends of two excellent fight cards in UFC 217 and UFC Fight Night 120, a month’s worth of weird went down. Yet aside from Conor McGregor’s shenanigans at Bellator 187, a common theme permeated the goings on of the last seven days: the repercussions of getting old in the fight game, or, as I like to call it, MMAging.

Bad portmanteau aside, there’s a difference between getting old in regular life and getting old as a professional fighter. It’s not so much a defined age — though it often is that, too — as it is an accumulation of fight-related erosion…”

 

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By In Mixed Martial Arts

Violent Meditations

“One of the more fascinating aspects of mixed martial arts is understanding why people watch it. Most other sports have obvious and mostly singular appeals: They showcase elite athletic feats and elicit some emotional cocktail of pride in seeing your side win and/or schadenfreude in seeing the other side lose. Much can be said about the combination of catharsis and entertainment, but that umbrella tends to cover everything.

MMA is a little more fractal than that. Fans flock to the fight game for a number of different reasons. For some, the enjoyment comes from purely sporting purpose, as they want to see high-level athletes doing high-level combative chess; others come to MMA for the martial arts component, to see the skill, honor and discipline of ancient practices applied to real-life situations; and of course, there are those who simply want to see some bloody, violent chaos. All three of these are perfectly legitimate reasons to enjoy the sport.

A clip from the MMA Beat last week made the rounds, with host Ariel Helwani making the case for why the Ultimate Fighting Championship should not promote itself as violent: “Outside of the MMA world, in what realm do you ever hear the word ‘violence’ used positively? It always has a negative connotation, yet we promote it and celebrate this word and want to stick it on our sport like it’s some cool thing to do. It disgusts me.”

This is not the first time this argument has been made — you may recall early last year when SBG Ireland trainer John Kavanagh voiced a similar gripe — nor will it be the last. That’s a good thing, though. It’s a worthwhile discussion to have, and fans should be grappling with the violent nature of the sport they support…”

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By In Mixed Martial Arts

A Tale of Two Main Events

“When referee John McCarthy held the arms of Amanda Nunes and Valentina Shevchenko and ring announcer Bruce Buffer started reading the scorecards at UFC 215 on Saturday in Edmonton, Alberta, it was impossible to know what the decision would be. The only certainty was that it was close enough to be controversial no matter who won.

Spoiler alert: Nunes picked up the split verdict. It may or may not have been the right decision in your eyes, but it was by no means a robbery. At least three of the rounds were close enough to go either way, making it an interesting case study. According to FightMetric, Nunes outlanded Shevchenko in all but the final round. That is helpful, but it doesn’t tell the whole picture. First, in Rounds 2, 3 and 4, the striking differential was pretty minimal — +4, +2 and +4 for Nunes, respectively. Those aren’t dominant differences, even if we’re going strictly by the arithmetic. Although these tallies are only noting “significant” strikes, who’s to say which strike is really more significant?

Shevchenko made a case for herself in an entertaining if not exactly convincing way. “Look at her face,” she said in disbelief. “Her nose is red from my punches.” Even if Nunes landed more punches, Shevchenko was arguing that they didn’t land clean or do any real damage. How many glancing punches equal one clean one? There is no criterion through which to answer that, nor can there be…”

 

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