Those of us with an interest in the martial arts have been following the rise of the UFCmixed martial arts (MMA) with great interest. We started watching MMA contests about six years ago. UFC has been the primary driver of the sport in the US for the past two decades, and while MMA fights have been around for a while, it has never broken into the mainstream. Until last Saturday’s Heavyweight Championship fight between Cain Velasquez and Junion Dos Santos that is. The fight was just the first of many as Fox Sports and UFC’s parent company Zuffa recently agreed to a seven-year, ten fights/year deal. If you have not heard of MMA or the UFC, you will before too long.
MMA is a full contact fighting sport that allows the participants to employ striking and grappling techniques while standing or on the ground. The “mix” in MMA is because fighters combine the most effective techniques from wrestling, boxing, kickboxing, Muay Thai, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, karate, judo, and anything else which works. When the sport first started, it was basically “two men enter, one man leaves.” Over the years, rules have evolved as there was a clear need to strike a balance between “anything goes” and the health of the fighters.
MMA has exploded in popularity mainly because of the efforts of one man, Dana White. Recognizing the potential appeal of MMA as a spectator sport, White and two partners purchased the struggling UFC franchise in 2000 for $2 million and transformed it to a hugely successful enterprise. The sport has seen exponential growth in its fan base these past few years and is about to go supernova. Why? Just take a look at what happened on Saturday night.
The heavyweight fight between Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos had every thing any fight promoter could want. Both fighters had interesting back stories. Both fighters had impressive history leading up to the fight. Both fighters have yet to peak in their career. The match would be epic and for sixty-four seconds, it was all that.
In those sixty-four seconds, the world was introduced to everything that makes MMA a true fighting sport. Both fighters exploded with the speed and fury that is the signature of MMA. As Sensei Gleason has often drilled into our heads…”If you attack, you will create an opening. If your opponent is better, they will exploit that opening and defeat you. This is the futility of aggression.” Those who looked for it saw how true that was on Saturday night.
The fight started off typically enough. For the first 50 seconds, the fighters (Cain Velasquez – black trunks, Junior Dos Santos – white trunks) tested each other out with some range-finding kicks and punches. Around 50 seconds into the fight, Velasquez (black trunks) threw a strong left at Dos Santos (white trunks). The punch just missed the right side of Dos Santos’ head.
However, a fraction of a second after Velasquez had committed to his left punch, Dos Santos launched his right hook. Because Velasquez was fully committed to his attack, the left side of his head was open for a brief moment. That was enough time for Dos Santos’ punch to find it mark. It landed squarely on the ear, stunning and dropping the 6′ 1″ 240 lb 9-0 current MMA World Heavyweight Champion.
Seeing Velasquez clearly in trouble, Dos Santos went in for the finish. Unlike boxing, there is no standing-8 count after a knockdown in MMA. Being stunned, Velasquez could not get into a protective guard on the ground. Three massive punches and four seconds later, the fight was called by referee Big John McCarthy. It was all over after 1:04 had elapsed in the first round.
The fight reminded us of the stories of duels between two skilled samuri. They don’t battle all over the field with countless attacks, parry, and counter-strikes. Rather, each strikes with one swift commited stroke. The winner was the one still standing. This fight was a lot like that. Both fighters were fresh and went all in. The outcome could have gone either way. For that split second, Dos Santos was superior and came away victorious. Just as it should be.
Some viewers may be miffed by this flash of a fight, but if they had wanted to watch men pummeling each other for a few hours, football is on every Sunday in the Fall. However, if they wanted to watch skilled martial artists putting their training to the test without actually killing each other, this MMA fight was about as perfect as it could have been.