“Since the dawn of civilisation, man has always loved watching man fight,” began professional fighter and tabloid favourite Alex Reid as he explained the appeal of mixed martial arts to me. “The ancient Greeks had Pankration – a mix of wrestling and boxing – and that was their most popular Olympic sport.”
Yes, it appears that MMA – or cage fighting as it’s popularly known – is something that’s existed in one form or another since our ancestors cottoned on to the primal thrill that comes from watching two men knock seven bells out of each other.
And, like the pleasures of sex and eating, the adrenaline rush of violence is something we never tire of. In fact, with MMA being touted as the world’s fastest growing sport, it seems as though fighting might well be undergoing something of a renaissance these days.
Digital channel SyFy certainly seem to think so, as they’ve recently entered into a deal with the British Association of Mixed Martial Arts (BAMMA) to host free, live coverage of BAMMA’s fights – coverage that began with BAMMA 5, the promotion’s fifth supercard, which took place at the Manchester Evening News Arena in February.
For the uninitiated, MMA is a sport that sees fighters from any discipline or background coming together to do battle, ostensibly to crown a champion of champions – a man whose fighting style outdoes all comers. You could compare it to the end of Way of the Dragon where Bruce Lee, a master of Jeet Kune Do, tangles with karate expert Chuck Norris and *retro spoiler alert* eventually overwhelms Chuck’s karate to win the fight.
Of course, boxing and wrestling have been on TV for years but wrestling, owing to its predetermined outcomes, is widely scorned as something of a phoney pseudo-sport and boxing, while popular, is comparatively straitjacketed by its narrow focus on punching. MMA offers something more real and raw than any other combat-based sport.
Though this isn’t to say that MMA events have anything in common with the pub car-park-based, quasi-legal world of bare-knuckle fighting. Indeed, BAMMA have pulled out all the stops to make MMA palatable to viewers exposed to years of the WWE or high-profile boxing matches, filling their events on SyFy with pomp and spectacle. Fights are introduced and given context via VT; cheerleaders accompany the fighters to the ring; commentators relay the fight’s happenings to viewers at home; and the arenas in which bouts take place are lit up like rock concerts.
The most striking thing about MMA, however, is just how unpredictable fights can be – a fact brought home to me at BAMMA 5, where the heavily trailed headline bout lasted mere seconds before a knockout punch brought paramedics rushing down to the ring. This isn’t a theatrical event where you can expect to just sit back and be entertained: this is a real fight in which no punches are pulled (if you’ll pardon the pun), where real athletes are more focused on defeating each other than entertaining the crowd.
And this Saturday BAMMA will present their sixth main-event card at London’s Wembley Arena. Headlined by Tom “Kong” Watson against Murilo “Ninja” Rua in a fight for the promotion’s middleweight title, BAMMA 6 will mark the second of the organisation’s SyFy broadcasts and will doubtless be another cartilage-snapping showcase of high-octane combat.
If you thought Edward Norton and Brad Pitt were on to something with their Fight Club, if you’ve ever seen a wrestling match and pondered what would happen if the competitors actually landed their punches, if you’ve ever wondered which school of martial arts trumps all the rest – then SyFy might have just found and served up the sport for you…