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Wednesday 20 August 2014

A Beginners Guide to the UFC in Dublin

Fergus Ryan

Published 27/06/2014 | 14:02

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KICK: Conor McGregor in the ring

The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to Dublin on July 19 for the first time in 5 years. There are probably quite a few sports fans who aren’t entirely sure what happens at a UFC event. So here’s a quick rundown on what all the fuss is about.

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For starters, its not UFC, its MMA

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is the name of the sport that fighters contracted to the UFC participate in. Some other names such as Ultimate Fighting or Cage Fighting have been used (mostly by critics) but the actual name is of the sport is MMA.

There are many active MMA promotions in Ireland such as Clan Wars and BattleZone Fighting Championship. Europe’s largest MMA promotion, Cage Warriors is run by Corkman Graham Boylan, which has a number of Irish fighters on its roster.

Maybe it’s because the UFC is the largest MMA organisation in the world or maybe because the name Mixed Martial Arts wasn’t applied to the sport until the late 1990’s (after the UFC was created) but for some the name of the sport has been blurred between UFC and MMA. But, to be clear, on the 19th of July you’ll be watching a Mixed Martial Arts event run by the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Who are the UFC?

The rise in popularity of MMA from vilified freak show to the fast growing sport in the world has everything to do with the rise in popularity of the UFC. Since bordering on extinction back in 2005, the UFC has undergone an incredible transformation to become a global phenomenon.

Today, the UFC is the largest MMA organisation in the world by a considerable margin. Every aspiring fighter competing on a local MMA promotion (like BattleZone FC) hopes to get spotted by a bigger organisation (like Cage Warriors) with the view to getting noticed and signed up to the UFC.

The UFC produces more than 40 live events annually that consistently sell out regardless of the city or venue. UFC TV programming is broadcast in over 145 countries (including Ireland) to almost 1 billion TV households worldwide in 28 different languages. For MMA fighters it’s the equivalent of playing in football’s Champions League or rugby’s Heineken Cup.

The UFC has approximately 500 fighters signed to its organisation across 9 weight divisions, male and female. The UFC bouts occur inside the Octagon. The Octagon is surrounded by a metal chain-link fence approximately 6ft high. Though the caged area may appear a little crude it’s the safest method of keeping the fighters in the Octagon. The floor of the Octagon is a matted area with a diameter of 32 ft.

Ordinary bouts are 3, 5 minute rounds with title fight being 5, 5 minute rounds.

So MMA is a new thing, then is it?

The sport of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) has a number of different sources, some dating as far back to as the ancient Olympics. The sport of Pankration, a blend of wrestling and boxing, was in the ancient Olympics but banned when the modern Olympics Games began in 1896. Undeterred by the Olympic snub a number of organisations sprang up during the 20th century that offered those brave enough an arena to try hand-to-hand combat in an attempt to find out who has the most effective martial art.

In Brazil from as early as the 1920’s Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) fighters from the famed Gracie family challenged anyone from a competing martial art to a Vale Tudo (Portuguese for ‘anything goes’) match. These fights were often broadcast on TV and always in front of a packed arena. In Japan, the Shooto organisation is believed to have been the first modern MMA organisation founded in 1983.

The UFC was founded in 1993 by the Gracie family, mentioned above. Having struggled to build their BJJ school membership numbers in US, their idea was to use the UFC event is a one-off infomercial to advertise Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Royce Gracie was selected to represent the Gracie family art of BJJ against experts from other martial arts such as boxing, wrestling, kick boxing, karate and sumo. Royce submitted each of his opponents using techniques they weren’t too familiar with. The power of BJJ was unleashed on the world and the UFC was born.

So what is MMA really?

MMA is exactly as the name suggests, its mix of the traditional martial arts into one elite fighting system. In the early UFC years fighters that were really skilled in one martial art enjoyed periods of dominance. For example, Royce Gracie won 3 of the first 4 UFC tournaments using BJJ techniques that wrestlers or kick boxers were unfamiliar with and didn’t know how to defend.

But as the sport evolved, fighters started to cross train in multiple disciplines. The old practise of relying on one martial art was a set up for failure and probably some pain. For most MMA fighters today the required minimum would be to have a good working knowledge of wrestling (grappling), boxing (striking with hands), Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (submission holds via joint locks and chokes) and muay Thai (striking with hands and feet) in order to be competitive.

How do you win in MMA?

There are quite a number of ways for the fight to finish. Ultimately, both fighters are looking to finish their opponent. This can be done by knockout or by submission.

A submission is where one fighter due to a choke hold or joint lock (hyper-extension of the knee, elbow, shoulder, ankle etc.) will ‘tap out’, which is repeatedly tapping his hand on either his opponent or the mat to indicate he submits. It is also possible to verbally submit by telling the referee.

Also, the referee may stop the fight if one or other opponent is not intelligently defending himself. There are no standing 8 counts like boxing, so if one fighter is exerting clear dominance to the point where safety becomes an issue, the referee may deem the contest over and intervene.

If neither fighter is submitted or KO’d, 3 judges render a decision using a system similar to boxing - 10 points to the winner of each round, 9 to the loser.

Is MMA safe?

It would have been easier to gloss over this question, but it needs to be addressed. Critics of the sport like to peddle the myth that MMA is a barbaric, dangerous sport where fighters are often seriously hurt or worse.

Bottom line, any serious injury or death in sport is tragic. Rather than printing a league table of sports with serious injuries to see which has a better or worse track record than MMA, I’ll offer the Fermi Paradox.

The Nobel Prize winning physicist, Enrico Fermi was having lunch at Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1950 with a number of colleagues. Through the course of their lunchtime discussion they agreed the probability of extra-terrestrial life was quite high. As his colleagues offered their probability estimates, Fermi then asked the question, ‘So, where is everybody?’ The greatest minds of the day had convinced themselves that aliens were out there, yet nobody had seen any.

There are MMA events every weekend, all around the world. If the sport was indeed as dangerous as the critics would suggest, surely there should be a body count to reflect it. MMA is a contact sport, people will get hurt, just like in every other contact sport. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to watch it.

Why is the UFC coming to Ireland?

The UFC’s third ever event in Europe took place June, 2007 at The Odyssey in Belfast. Two years later UFC 93 in January, 2009 at The O2 in Dublin was the fastest selling UFC event outside of the US. The return of the UFC to Dublin in July resulted in the fastest selling event anywhere.

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ll no doubt have heard Conor McGregor has taken the UFC by storm since he debuted last year. Conor often said in interviews he would drag the UFC back to Ireland.

At the same time, the UFC pinpointed 6 cities in Europe they figured were ideal target markets for the sport of MMA and the UFC brand. Dublin made the cut for 2014. The success of July 19th will dictate how long we have to wait till the UFC return again.

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