I have a mission for you, the Bleacher Report readers: Ask some of your friends or family members to describe mixed martial arts, and count how many of them use the word "brutal". Of the ones who do, how many of them are regular viewers of the sport? Have they ever sat down and watched an entire event, or are they just sharing a description that they've heard?
Even in 2012, there are several fighters out there who may take things a little too far in terms of what gets said in the media. In a recent interview, Thiago Silva made the following statement:
"When I step in the Octagon, I go to kill or die, and I will do the same on April 14th, and I will be ten times more aggressive because this fight is very important for me."
"I want to fight Lesnar. I hate who he is as a person. I want to break his neck in the ring. I want him to be the first person that dies due to Octagon-related injuries. That's what's going through my mind."
It's rare to find fighters who operate under such an extreme mentality. Mixed martial artists, especially those competing under the ZUFFA banner, are world class athletes who work hard to make a living for their families. Their goal is not to go out there and cause permanent damage to their opponent. They will never receive a bonus check for being too violent.
The UFC takes fighter safety very seriously, and is quick to discipline fighters who display unacceptable behavior. For example, when Rousimar Palhares refused to release a dangerous heel hook submission on Tomasz Drwal back at UFC 111, he was suspended from the organization for 90 days and forfeited his $65,000 Submission of the Night bonus. Palhares did go on record to say that he continued to crank the submission because he did not feel Drwal tap out.
Likewise, the NSAC fined Renato "Babalu" Sobral $25,000 after refusing to release a choke on preliminary fighter David Heath. Sobral was subsequently fired by the UFC for his unprofessional actions.
On the flip side of the coin, you will find UFC Heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos. In an interview with ESPN, the champ credited his success to a sportsmanlike mentality.
"I think it's very important to keep your emotions in control. The goal inside the cage is to win the fight, so you have to keep your focus on that. That’s what I try to do. I just want to win the fight. I don't want to hurt my opponent and I don’t want to hurt myself, I just want to win."
You'll find several other fighters who share this belief. Demian Maia has been outspoken about his jiu-jitsu being a tool in which he can defeat his opponent quickly and without causing any damage.
People tend to forget that the A in MMA stands for "arts", and that's exactly what MMA is. If boxing is the sweet science, how do we view the amazing transitions created by judo and jiu-jitsu practitioners? Using flawless technique, a sweep is one of the most beautiful things you'll see inside the Octagon.
Look at the attached .gif image and witness Demian Maia use a lateral drop to bring an NCAA Division I All-American wrestler to the ground. Watch his effortless transition into mount, where he works quickly to secure a triangle choke on the larger and stronger Chael Sonnen. Maia's beautiful technique can also be seen in his bait and switch of Ed Herman, and the jiu-jitsu clinic put on between he and Jason MacDonald at UFC 87.
Dana White commonly touts that there have never been any serious injuries inside the Octagon, and the reason behind that is the unified rules of MMA. Strikes to the back of the head and spine are strictly prohibited. Unlike boxing, a fighter isn't encouraged to stand back up on wobbly legs and get knocked out all over again after an 8 count. When the referee pulls a fighter off, the action is finished.
There will always be headhunters in combat sports. The sort of fighters that look for big knockouts, but in the big leagues, because of the well-trained officials, along with a series of rules designed to prevent fighters from absorbing any unnecessary damage, the brutality of the sport can only be seen in the rarest of occasions.