By Brad Spencer
My column Here's one sport I'm not rooting for, a piece about my dislike for ultimate fighting (UFC) and/or mixed martial arts, published in the Jan. 25 edition of Wednesday Journal, garnered quite a few email responses and comments — most were irate and juvenile.
One emailer went so far as to refer to me as “Chachi,” and my place of business as a “po-dunk newspaper.” When I first received an email from somebody with an address of firstname.lastname@example.org, I was suspect of its contents. Was I in for more vitriol, and would it be immature and disappointing? No, it would not.
Bill Kelly is a columnist for Bonesnapper.com, a website for mixed martial arts aficionados — to my chagrin, it’s not Bones Napper but Bone Snapper, which makes much more sense. We had a lively discussion over email about mixed martial arts and UFC, and Kelly was kind enough to answer some questions about a growing but dangerous sport I find utterly repulsive.
Here are responses to some questions I hurled at Kelly like a wild haymaker … and he didn’t flinch. And I didn’t have any bones snapped.
Me: How long and how many rounds do these matches go?
Kelly: Non-title matches consist of three five-minute rounds, while title fights are five five-minute rounds. The UFC has recently introduced five round non-title matches as well, which typically determine the #1 contender for a title.
Me: Can you tell me a little about the choke hold? It is true that fighters can choke their opponent out until he passes out?
Kelly: There are various choke holds and it's fairly obvious what a choke holds' intent is. Fighters use choke holds to make their opponents submit or lose consciousness. When a fighter finds himself in a choke hold, he has three options: 1. defend the choke 2. tap out or submit or 3. lose consciousness. Some fighters will also refuse to tap and would rather lose consciousness. If a referee can not tell that a fighter has lost consciousness, many times a fighter will let the referee know that his opponent is out cold so not to inflict unnecessary damage. Referees are well trained to understand when a fighter has lost consciousness.
Me: How long can a fighter sit on a guy's chest and administer blows to the head of his opponent?
Kelly: A fighter can inflict punishment to a fighter on the ground for as long as the referee sees fit or until the opponent taps out. If the blows are being blocked or not doing significant damage, a referee will let you fight on. Referees emphasize fighter safety and if a fighter is landing undefended blows, the referee will call a halt to the bout. It is the fighter's responsibility to intelligently defend ones self and the referee's responsibility to decide whether you are intelligently defending yourself.
Me: If a fighter's objective isn't to seriously injure his opponent, then, what is his objective? If it's to win, how does a fighter go about winning a match if not by pin?
Kelly: Fighters don't go into a fight looking to injure their opponents. Yes, their intent is to inflict damage to their opponent, but never to severely injure. A fighter is declared a winner in three ways: 1. knockout 2. submission or 3. judges' decision. If you don't knockout or submit your opponent within the bout's allotted time limit, three cageside/ringside judges will administer a decision based on various criteria.
Me: The gladiator days are long gone; it's the stuff of movies now. Over the years we've evolved tremendously in boxing, having pugilists wear padded gloves, restricting rounds, etc. In UFC, where fighters only wear thin gloves, haven't we taken a step backward?
Kelly: I don't think so. MMA fighters wear totally different gloves where fingers are exposed due to the need for grappling. The gloves that MMA fighters wear are 4 ounces and help to protect fighters' hands. A typical boxing glove ranges from 8-12 ounces.
Me: I understand that not everyone can play in the NBA or play in the NFL or become an Olympic wrestler, but the chances that a UFC fighter makes it to a televised match have to be minimal as well, considering the risk of serious injury involved along the way.
Kelly: The UFC was established in 1993 and was properly regulated in 2000 due to the New Jersey State Athletic Commission and in that time period, there has not been a competitor that has suffered a serious injury like paralysis or death inside the UFC. Concussions and broken or sprained limbs is more common, but I don't consider those serious injuries. The athletic commissions do a great job sanctioning and licensing fighters so that they are not overmatched and consequently seriously hurt. As far as making it to a televised match in the UFC and other major promotions, you have to pay your dues. Young prospects have the option to audition for "The Ultimate Fighter" reality show which had been broadcast on Spike TV and will now be broadcast on the FX Network in March. Typically, fighters who do well on "The Ultimate Fighter" gain immediate notoriety. However, if you are a talented fighter and have the right management, you will make it to the UFC quickly. Phil Davis, who is in the main event Saturday, made it to the UFC in only his fifth professional fight. Cain Velasquez, the former UFC heavyweight champion, made his UFC debut in just his third pro fight. Jon Jones, who may go down as the greatest MMA fighter of all time, made his UFC debut in his seventh pro fight.
Me: What constitutes being a mixed martial artist? You have to be skilled in some form of martial arts first of all, correct?
Kelly: There are various skills you can specialize in order to consider yourself a martial artist; whether it is wrestling, judo, Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ), Muay Thai, kickboxing, boxing or karate. Some fighters are versed in multiple martial arts, while others are one-dimensional.
Me: The NFL is making great strides in preventing concussions and other serious injuries — no helmet-to-helmet hits, no leading with the helmet, kick-offs are from a closer distance, etc. The fighting in the NHL has even quelled. What precautions does UFC take to prevent injuries?
Kelly: The UFC and state athletic commissions work together to maintain a safe sport. Referees must be trained properly before they can work an event and post-fight, the athletic commissions will levy medical suspensions based on the amount of damage suffered in the bout. For example, UFC 141 took place in Las Vegas, Nevada on December 30th and twelve of the twenty competitors have been handled medical suspensions. Some were suspended with no contact until January 30th, while others received longer suspensions and specific instructions to visit various doctors.
Me: There is war, murder and mayhem on the local news channels every evening, so much so, I switch off the TV so my 4 and 2-year-old daughters don't see it. But when I turn it back on to watch a non-violent game that involves skill, finesse and exhaustive and intense energy (mostly basketball, baseball and football), I see promos with bloodied up guys beating on one another like buffoons, and, as you suggest, doing it because they need to make a living during trying times. It's not for everyone, you're right, but neither is tennis. The difference is promos for Wimbledon don't scare the hell out of your child.
Kelly: I'm just as dismayed as you are with the violence on the news and I don't blame you for shielding your daughters from it. Like I stated before, MMA isn't for everyone, but I would just like for the detractors to understand what the sport is about before they criticize it. I've seen the promos for the UFC on FOX and to me, they are very tame but I'm a fan of the sport. I think I've answered your questions thoroughly and to the best of my ability. If I may suggest, I would like for you to watch the fights on Saturday, whether it's live or on DVR and let me know your thoughts.