Nasty, brutish and short, ultimate fighting's all about 'blood and guts.'
So why are parents signing up their kids?
ALEXANDRA SHIMO | march 3rd 2008 |
Ten-year-old Ross Millette is watching a video of two men fighting in an eight-sided wire cage. One has mounted the other and is holding him down while punching his mouth and head. The man on the ground is pinned up against the mesh. His jaw and brow are bloody, and he's taking multiple blows to his brain, but even lying down, he's still throwing left and right hooks at his adversary. Ross watches the fight closely. "My dad explains things. Like this guy is trying to punch this other guy right in the face." The reason Ross is learning about the finer points of this fight is that he's in training to emulate the ultimate fighters on the screen.
Cage fighting used to be considered a brutal, violent and illegal sport enjoyed by only a bloodthirsty few, but today it's hard to miss. Turn on the television, and ultimate fighting is no longer on the fringe; instead, it is prime-time viewing. It remains illegal in Ontario, Vancouver and in the B.C. Lower Mainland, yet it is shown on the three major Canadian sports channels, on U.S. channels such as Spike TV, and on pay-per-view. That popularity has spurred parents to sign up their children, say coaches such as Mark Stables, who runs a Toronto club.
Ultimate fighting goes by different names — cage fighting, mixed martial arts. Some ultimate clubs teach the sport, or the core elements of the game, but don't clearly advertise what they do. Vito Brancaccio trains kids in mixed martial arts in Mississauga, Ont., but the sign on his club says, "All-Canadian Martial Arts Academy." Because of the ban, he says, "it's easier to get insurance when you say you are just teaching kids karate." (In Ontario, promoters of cage fights get around the law by having them take place on native reserves, most recently at the Six Nations of the Grand River, southeast of Brantford, Ont., last month.)
Despite the legal issues, the sport has grown increasingly popular, says Stables, who teaches children the grappling program — Brazilian jiu-jitsu — and the other moves — kicking, punching, chokes, arm locks — all of which are combined together to make up ultimate fighting. At Stables's club, kids can start when they are eight. Some clubs take younger kids. At the Tristar Gym in Montreal, which trains the former UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre, children can begin at five. Joslin's Mixed Martial Arts and Cardio Kick-boxing in Hamilton, Ont., where Ross trains, starts teaching children some of the basic techniques at three.
Ultimate fighting began in 1993 with a question: who would win if you put two fighters from any two martial arts disciplines in a cage, threw out most of the safety rules, and told them to keep fighting until one man gives up? The early cage fights aimed to come up with the answer by pairing up fighters from different disciplines. Karate black belts took on Brazilian jiu-jitsu champions. Kick-boxers were paired with wrestlers.
The fights were often nasty, brutish and short. Later, the various martial arts were combined together to get the "anything goes" style of fighting you can see on television. While the lack of rules has always been one of the attractions of the sport, ultimate fighting has introduced limitations as the sport has progressed. Today, hair pulling, eye gouging and clawing your opponent are illegal. So are groin shots and head-butts, although in the heat of the moment, these still happen.
With the concern over injury, the British Medical Association has called for a blanket ban on the sport. On Sept. 5, 2007, the association released a report warning against a major cage fight tournament that was to be held in London later in the week. "Ultimate fighting can be extremely brutal and has been described as human cockfighting. It can cause traumatic brain injury, joint injuries and fractures," wrote Dr. Vivienne Nathanson, head of science and ethics for the association.
"This kind of competition hardly constitutes a sport — the days of gladiator fights are over and we should not be looking to resurrect them. As doctors we cannot stand by while violent fighting tournaments are allowed to take place. Large amounts of money can be earned by participants, promoters and others linked to ultimate fighting, but no amount of money can compensate for permanent brain damage and premature death. As a civilized society we should be campaigning to outlaw these activities."