Ultimate Fighting Championship fans no doubt tuned in for the recent UFC 147, in which U.S. fighter Rich Franklin bested Brazil’s Wanderlei Silva in his home country after five rounds and an unanimous decision from the judges.
Mixed martial arts, widely referred to as MMA, has become a big-time sport in recent years, both for at-home fans and for participating enthusiasts from the amateur level all the way up to the pros.
To an outside observer, it’s easy to look at the sport and see little rhyme or reason to the chaotic symphony of punches and kicks being thrown, but there is actually a rigid set of regulations governing each match-up.
Whether MMA is something you’re interested in as a viewer or as a fighter, we’re here to educate any of you in-the-dark Adrenalists on how the sport works and what you need to get started.
What is MMA?
The sport of MMA is founded in a simple question: which martial arts style is best for personal defense?
Early MMA fights from the mid and late 90s look a lot different from the ones happening today because, over time, regulations and rules have been introduced to both make fights safer and to sell MMA as a pro sports business alongside the likes of boxing and football.
MMA’s roots are in 1920s Brazil. It began as a full contact, unarmed combat sport known asVale Tudo, which literally means “everything allowed” in Brazilian Portuguese.
The sport was indeed no-holds-barred in its earliest form, though time and tragedy led to further refinement of what was allowed and what was not.
MMA first came to the United States in an official sense in 1993, when the Brazilian Gracie family — the founders of Brazilian Jui-Jitsu — established Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
Nowadays, UFC is a very big deal. You can find it everywhere: pay cable, Internet, DVD/Blu-ray, even gaming consoles like the Xbox 360, offering a uniquely interactive perspective on the hand-to-hand action.
How does MMA fighting work?
The Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts were first introduced in 2000, though it wasn’t until 2009 that the guidelines were officially adopted and sanctioned by the Association of Boxing Commissions.
A typical MMA fight as it currently stands unfolds over the course of three five-minute rounds, with a one-minute rest period between each one. Title match can go on for as long as five rounds.
Each round is scored by a group of three judges, with each one assigning the two fighters a score between 7 and 10 for the five-minute faceoff. Typically, the round’s winner scores 10 points for the victory and the loser scores 9 or less. In the case of a tie round, both competitors receive 10 points.
If all rounds are completed without a knockout, the winner is decided after the cumulative scores for each round are tallied up, with the higher number scoring the victory.
Fouls can also influence that final number, with competitors who perform an off-limits action — anything from grabbing onto the ring’s fence to striking an opponent in the throat — losing points.
Much like boxing, fighters are grouped into different weight divisions. There are eight weight classes in the UFC: Flyweight (< 125 lbs), Bantamweight (< 135 lbs), Featherweight (< 145 lbs), Lightweight (< 155 lbs), Welterweight (< 170 lbs), Middleweight, (< 185 lbs), Light Heavyweight (< 205 lbs) and Heavyweight (< 265 lbs). The Franklin vs. Silva fight fell into the Catchweight class, a match-up in which the usual weight class categories have been waived.
How do you gear up for MMA?
All pro MMA competitors are required to wear regulation shorts and shoes or any other sort of foot padding is forbidden, as are shirts and long pants.
Fighters must also wear specially designed regulation gloves that leave the fingers free, for performing grabs. A mouthguard and cup are also required under the official rules.
The monetary cost of getting into MMA is low compared to most other sports. The price for a regulation pair of gloves from MMAWarehouse.com, one of the Internet’s most well-recognized suppliers of fighting gear, tops out at no more than $80. The regulation shorts are similarly non-price-restrictive, topping out at no more than $100.
You’ll need the protective gear as well, and you’ll probably want to pick up training pads of various types, but you can get all that you need and then some for under $500.
How to get started as an MMA fighter?
Of course, the physical barrier to MMA entry is quite high, and it is by far what keeps most from making the leap from fan to competitor. MMA fighters on both the pro levels and the amateur levels possess a wide range of knowledge in an assortment of close-quarters unarmed combat styles.
During a typical match you could see any number of combat styles used, including boxing, wrestling, Tae Kwon Doe, Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Training to reach the competitive level in even one of these fighting styles takes long hours of practice along with ample helpings of endurance and discipline. One does not suddenly choose to try MMA. It’s a long-term pursuit.
If MMA is something you’re really interested in and you are willing to shoulder the necessary work that it will take, start out with basic fitness programs just to keep yourself in shape. Eventually make some room for unarmed combat training in at least one fighting style.
Also be sure to educate yourself on the rules of the sport and keep track of web resources such as MMARecruiter.com so you can start becoming involved with the amateur fighting community.
With the right amount of training and discipline, you’ll eventually reach a point where you’ll feel comfortable actually stepping into a ring and taking on another human opponent in a match-up.