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By In Mixed Martial Arts

The Illusion of Control

“At the risk of sounding like the kid in class who reminds the teacher to hand out homework, one of the best things to happen to the sport of mixed martial arts was the implementation of rules. As fun as it was to watch the early days of no-holds-barred fighting, that was not a tenable system for any organization. Sure, it was great to see the weirdness of grappling legend Royce Gracie resort to hair-pulling against Kimo Leopoldo at UFC 3, and it was downright hilarious to watch Keith Hackney pummel Joe Son’s testicles at UFC 4 — especially when considering what we later found out about Son — but those are the types of occurrences that justified the sport’s label as “human cockfighting.”

Without rules, sanctioning would have been a near insurmountable obstacle. That would have greatly strained the remunerative potential of MMA, which would have prevented most of the great fighters we know today from ever entering the sport. Part of the reason why those early Ultimate Fighting Championship tournaments were fun was because the competitors weren’t particularly skilled or athletic. They were tough enough, scrappy enough and probably more than a little off-in-the-head enough to want to fight a stranger in some random sketchy arena. They were regular people you’d see in regular life with a dash of martial arts and/or street-fighting experience; they weren’t world-class athletes.

The problem: Enforcing rules can be hard. The very thing that makes MMA so dynamic and exciting — the constant potential for an instantaneous ending of the fight — also makes it unmanageable. Pity the thankless, fallible work of refereeing…”

 

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By In Mixed Martial Arts

A Blueprint to Unionize

“I know it may be hard to believe, but the biggest story in the MMA world had little — though not nothing — to do with UFC Fight Night 125 on Saturday in Belem, Brazil. It sounds strange, since apparently the event was important enough to justify a 15-hour run time, or at least that’s how it felt. However, as good as it felt to see Lyoto Machida snap a three-fight losing streak in front of a supportive crowd of countrymen, a more pressing development was going on behind the scenes.

It was announced that heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic will fight light heavyweight titleholder Daniel Cormier in the UFC 226 headliner in July. That alone is big news. This is the first champion-versus-champion match in Ultimate Fighting Championship history to take place above welterweight, and it’s a genuinely compelling clash on its own. Cormier was undefeated at heavyweight for four years and 13 fights, and he didn’t just beat scrubs. Former UFC champions and title contenders like Frank Mir, Josh Barnett, Antonio Silva and Jeff Monson decorate his heavyweight ledger, and eight of his 13 wins resulted in stoppages. Cormier was a legitimate heavyweight talent despite being small enough to compete at light heavyweight. Now that Miocic is short on viable contenders, this is one of the best matchups on the UFC roster for the heavyweight champion.

Yet it isn’t just the matchup itself that is noteworthy. How the fight materialized is just as significant and potentially much more so depending on how the future shakes out…”

 

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By In Mixed Martial Arts

A Source of Pride

“There is a story behind every journey into the Octagon, and every story invariably includes adversity and heartache — almost certainly to a much greater degree than triumph. Success is built on a mountain of Ls, and in order to suffer through those losses and keep trudging onward, there must be an aquifer of personal pride somewhere beneath the bedrock of whatever other motivation propels fighters forward. Though nebulous and amorphous, pride is an essential piece of the fight game. There was no shortage of it at UFC 216 on Saturday in Las Vegas, especially at the top of the card…”

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By In Mixed Martial Arts

Kelvin Gastelum’s View from the Fence

“Last week marked the 20th anniversary of the death of Christopher Wallace, aka Biggie, aka The Notorious B.I.G., aka one of the most era-defining artists of hip-hop ever. His style continues to be emulated and imitated, and his lyrics are among the most commonly referenced by other MCs to date.

Among the more frequent homages to his work is citing one of his biggest hits “Mo Money Mo Problems,” a track about the proportional relationship between having a lot of money and having a lot of problems. At the time it was recorded, platinum-selling Biggie — along with labelmate Ma$e and hitmaker extraordinaire Puff Daddy, who were also on the track — knew the ills of fame and money all too well. Celebrity makes it hard to live a normal life, compromising everyday luxuries like being able to walk freely in public. Wealth breeds mistrust. It can turn longtime friends and relatives into sycophantic barnacles who cling to their famous acquaintances and wait to catch the financial scraps that fall from the table. Affluence is its own brand of chaos.

To most of us, though, the idea that being rich is problematic is a bit silly. For those of us who have had to grind through multiple jobs at the same time, who have had to sweat through conversations with landlords for an extra week to pay the rent, who can hardly remember the last time we were able to go on vacation, we would gladly trade our problems for being too rich to go to the mall without personal security.

Indeed, some problems are better than others. For Kelvin Gastelum, a 25-year-old on a three-fight winning streak that includes two consecutive TKOs, his problems are pretty ideal for the MMA world. Yet they are still problems nonetheless…”

 

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By In Mixed Martial Arts

A Fighter Forged from Conflict

“You’ve probably never been to Waianae, Hawaii. Though it is only 30 miles west of Waikiki, they are worlds apart. With a population of around 13,000, there are more tourists on the island on any given day than people who actually live in Waianae. A little more than 8,000 of its residents are of Native Hawaiian ancestry — which is not the same as simply being from Hawaii — making Waianae one of the most Hawaiian places on the island. The ethnic composition of the area is a small but important part of its reputation.

At the heart of the ahupuaʻa, or land division, since Waianae can hardly be called a city, is the high school. Waianae High School has held the dubious distinction of having the highest dropout rate in the state for over a decade. Around 30 percent of the students drop out, and nearly all of them are male; graduating classes are around 85 percent female. Of the students who stay enrolled, 70 percent of them qualify for free or reduced lunch assistance. Nearly 30 percent of the population lives under the poverty line, a reality exacerbated by rampant drug abuse, particularly crystal meth. Waianae is home to the oldest and largest encampments of homeless people in the state.

There are a lot of tough, rugged places in Hawaii, but none like Waianae. To represent the hot, dry side of Oahu is a well-understood shorthand in the islands for “don’t [expletive] with me.” To know Waianae is to understand newly crowned interim Ultimate Fighting Championship featherweight titleholder Max Holloway…”

 

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