Friday 21 October 2016

Sinead Ryan: This so-called sport is little more than brutal and glorified assault

Published 13/04/2016 | 07:40

Luke Rockhold unloads on fellow American Chris Weidman during a recent UFC event
Luke Rockhold unloads on fellow American Chris Weidman during a recent UFC event

The untimely death of Joao Carvalho was, some might argue, inevitable.

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Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is not boxing or wrestling or rugby, all of which have come in for criticism over the years for being dangerous sports, leaving those who play them with the very real possibility of concussion, brain injury or worse.

MMA is in an entirely different league. It is little more than authorised, and glorified, assault. In no other sport – even ones linked to serious injury like motor or horse racing – is the object to take out your opponent, to crush him until he can no longer breathe.

If it wasn’t Carvalho, and it hadn’t happened in Dublin, it would have been someone else, somewhere else. This is not the first death linked to this so-called sport.

As it turned out, the Portuguese fighter’s bout with Charlie Ward, a stablemate of Conor McGregor, left the 28-year-old fighting for his life, a battle he lost in Beaumont Hospital on Monday night.

Even McGregor said after the fight that it “could have been stopped a little earlier”.

Former Irish Olympic boxer Mick Dowling was unsurprised when he heard the tragic news yesterday.

“I’m shocked, but at the same time I’m not terribly surprised. I have to say I was always holding my breath as to when this would happen in MMA,” he said.

We all want to encourage our kids when it comes to sport. We ferry them to matches at weekends as soon as they’re old enough to run.

We stand shivering on the sidelines cheering them on, praising loudly when they win, over-compensating when they lose.

For most parents these sports are played on a field or a court, or perhaps in water or on a track. Such sports are considered healthy and good for our children, ticking the parental boxes of “getting them involved” and “keeping them active”.

MMA, in the opinion of many people, is not sport. It looks to the uninitiated (and I am one) like a brawl, a street fight, vicious and uncontrolled. I’m sure it’s not these things, but I would be absolutely terrified if my kids got involved.

My son was one of those who stayed up most of the night with his friends watching a recent Conor McGregor fight. While we Irish will take sporting praise where we can get it, the adoration heaped on McGregor serves to obfuscate the very real danger MMA brings.

It is not recognised by the Irish Sports Council. Can anybody open an MMA training facility?

Officially recognising MMA would of course require sanctioning it, funding it and welcoming it into the mainstream. Many would argue that this would also confer proper regulatory and health and safety aspects.

Sports Minister Paschal Donohoe appears happy to straddle both sides of the fence, praising Conor McGregor while decrying the practice of MMA itself. 

“What McGregor has done is an extraordinary achievement for him,” the minister recently said.

“I understand why others enjoy it and I do believe it’s a particularly extreme sport that I think is likely to become a bit more mainstream in the coming years.

“It’s not something I can easily look at myself. There’s too much aggression in it for my own liking, and I particularly struggle when I see a man or woman down on the canvas being hit repeatedly.”

The very definition of a politically correct statement, wouldn’t you say?

But the minister’s right about the aggression. Even the terminology used in MAA – Total Extreme Fighting, Ultimate Fighting Championship – glorifies smashing someone’s head in.

Meanwhile, choking, thumping, kicking, punching and pinning down upon your opponent are all permitted moves.

To put it another way, it’s nothing more than brutal, vicious, sanctioned assault in front of a baying mob.


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