Mixing it up with a mixed martial arts guru

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By Brad Spencer

Sports Editor

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 illbill@bonesnapper.com, 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.

Email: bspencer@oakpark.com Twitter: OakParkSports

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Veteran Martial Artist  

Posted: January 27th, 2012 3:33 AM

I would recommend that you reserve judgement on the sport, and the skill that's involve, the perceived aggression... for after going to one of the top level BJJ/MMA schools in Chicago, and actually feeling and experiencing what top level mental/physically skill/techniques and strategy is. Only then will you be in the position to have an educated opinion about the sport.

Veteran Martial Artist  

Posted: January 27th, 2012 3:24 AM

What you see at the end of an MMA, BJJ, Judo... training session where everybody has sparred, wrestled, punched and kicked each other... is not a group of blood thirsty aggressive thugs ready to go out jump somebody, but a group of people that are in good spirits, feel more at peace and have strengthened their bond with each other over physically, mentally and emotionally changes. It is also a better outlet of teens with low-self esteem, who need to gain confidence and learn discipline.

Veteran Martial Artist  

Posted: January 27th, 2012 3:18 AM

I would venture to say that practicing MMA is not only safe (under proper guidance, just like any other sport), but is also a physically and emotionally healthy activity for people to do. It will not only whip an unfit person into tip top shape, but will provide a safe and positive context for them to vent stored stress and anger.

Veteran Martial Artist  

Posted: January 27th, 2012 3:10 AM

I'd bet the number to people that suffer long term brain injuries are way higher in Boxing compared to MMA. Im willing to bet that serious body injuries are higher in American football/Rugby, compared to MMA. I'm willing to bet that more traditional martial artists have failed to defend themselves on the street in comparison to MMA, because of the lack of reality in their training, and because they are typically under the illusion that they can do more than they can (they don't "know" themselves

Veteran Martial Artist  

Posted: January 27th, 2012 3:04 AM

Don't let the hype, aggressive/bloody advertising of the UFC fool you... Many Pro MMA fighters are highly skillful people, many who have been world class sportsmen in Judo, BJJ, San Shou... before the even competed professionally in MMA. To call them anything less than highly skilled would be an insult.

Veteran Martial Artist  

Posted: January 27th, 2012 3:00 AM

It takes a good number of years to be proficient at punching and kicking. Most Pro MMA fighter today have purple, brown and black belts in BJJ. It typically takes 8-10 years to get a brown of black belt in BJJ, and you don't just get given it, you earn it through a deep understanding of principles and techniques, and being able to skillfully apply them under many fully resisting opponents.

Veteran Martial Artist  

Posted: January 27th, 2012 2:54 AM

knowing how your opponent is moving, his intention. Setting up traps, 2 or 3 moves ahead of time, like a game of chess... basing the principles of your techniques on leverage, the use of non-opposing force, relaxation, momentum, dropping the body weight, using the opponents force against them while maximizing yours with less effort... these are all very, very skillful and sofisticated things, and they all have to happen at the same time and the right time.

Veteran Martial Artist  

Posted: January 27th, 2012 2:48 AM

As for the perceived lack of skill in MMA, it's arguably multiple times harder to become good at MMA then it is at boxing, kick boxing... any sport where you work on one area of skill sets. You not only have to be good at punching and kicking, but also wrestling/Judo/Sambo and ground grappling/BJJ. You have to be able to seamlessly switch between those different areas, and apply various tactics and strategies at an instance. Kowning how to more your body, coordination, continue...

Veteran Martial Artist  

Posted: January 27th, 2012 2:39 AM

Another note of the perceived aggressiveness of MMA... the was a very troubled high school in a blighter area of Chicago where kids joining gangs, fights, drug etc... were huge problems. A teacher, who also studied MMA, started an MMA activity after school. Every kid that joined the class, who were troubled or in gangs, turned their lives around and didn't get into another fight on the playground or outside of school. It's interesting that this "aggressive" sport could turn them into good kids.

Veteran Martial Artist  

Posted: January 27th, 2012 2:35 AM

One of the reasons I've found the MMA folks to be non-aggressive people is because they know exactly what they can do, and they know what they can't, while many traditional martial artists I've met are more ego driven because they've never had to pressure test their knowledge, thus a lot of the aggressive attitude by these guys comes about as a substitute for their fear in their own ability.

Veteran Martial Artist  

Posted: January 27th, 2012 2:30 AM

Now, as for the UFC, and the advertised bloodiness... that's all hype and advertising. If you're judging the UFC, and the way they run their business, that one thing, but don't judge MMA based on the way one business runs their show. You wouldn't judge the entire sport of boxing based on Don King, would you? Out of all the martial artists, traditional and sport, I've found the MMA folks to be the least aggressive personalities, most well balanced people on the whole.

Veteran Martial Artist  

Posted: January 27th, 2012 2:25 AM

which then covers the body, making it look like some kind of ape man blood bath, when in actual fact, the damage is minimal. The blows received by an MMA fighter is no more damaging than what boxers receive, because it's the overall impact of the blow that causes the damage, not the difference in both competition gloves. Being able to grapple on the floor means that you can do a lot to get around striking, defend against striking, and submit an opponent with no, or minimal injury.

Veteran Martial Artist  

Posted: January 27th, 2012 2:20 AM

The wide options of techniques allowed actually make MMA a safer sport because it allows grappling while standing and on the ground. A lot of fights are actually won with one or both fighters receiving few (and sometimes no) shot, but by a submission (armlock, chock to tap out...) which is a lot less damaging then continuous blows to the head. The bloodiness that happen as a result to a cut on the face is typically superficial, because a small cut above the eye can pour a river of blood...

Veteran Martial Artist  

Posted: January 27th, 2012 2:15 AM

Continued. Those big gloves in boxing are not meant for protecting the head, but the fighters knuckles. MMA gloves are small and fingerless to allow fighters to grab and wrestle. The continuous head trauma that happens to many boxers over time is due to the limited rule set in boxing of only allowing head and body shot. People who have actually studied martial arts know the immense damage continuous head shots over the year can do to a person, verse the punishment taken in MMA.

Veteran Martial Artist  

Posted: January 27th, 2012 2:10 AM

Brad, you are entitled to your opinion about MMA, but saying that it's more dangerous than Boxing, or that it involve little skill, is misinformed, and it's based on superficial reasons like the sensationalization of the UFA, the bloody bodies on the screen. I've trained a large variety of sports, traditional martial arts, boxing, MMA, for a couple decades, so here is my experience with safety and trauma. In boxing, you receive continuous blows to the head and body over the length of the fight.

Bill Kelly from Hazlet, NJ  

Posted: January 25th, 2012 11:23 PM

I'd like to thank Brad for giving me the chance to educate him on the sport of mixed martial arts. If anyone would like to discuss anything with me you can reach me at: illbill@bonesnapper.com or @PhonyBillKelly on Twitter.

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