Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) for Dummies, Part One

Robert FucileCorrespondent IFebruary 23, 2009

With the explosion of the UFC’s popularity over the past few years, more casual fans are being exposed to the sport, whether it's at a social gathering on fight night or catching The Ultimate Fighter on TV. 


The uptake with female fans has been significant, and with many UFC stars crossing over into mainstream segments of the entertainment industry, like Chuck Liddell’s guest appearance on Entourage and Tito Ortiz’s stint on The Apprentice, the UFC’s tentacles are reaching more potential fans. 


By dipping into the reality TV landscape and top-rated cable shows, as well as Randy Couture and Forrest Griffin gracing the silver screen with upcoming movies, the UFC’s new pool of potential fans is vast. 


An issue for many of these new fans is getting up to speed on what MMA is, and more importantly, what it is not. 


A common question is: what isn’t allowed inside that chain link fence? Or in the ring if it’s an Affliction bout or Pride Fighting Championships re-run. 


A parallel to this inquisitiveness can be drawn to the NFL. 


As American Football's popularity increased significantly over the last 20 years, particularly with the female audience as well as folks from across the pond, similar questions emerged from the new fan base. What’s going on out there?


With regard to MMA, what might come across as sheer brutality is actually a somewhat blank canvas, illustrated by different fighting disciplines and governed by rules that have transformed MMA into a safer sport than boxing and pro-wrestling (has an MMA fighter ever needed spinal fusion surgery?)


Let’s review the very basics. 


Fights typically unfold in two ways. Either the fighters are standing or are on the ground. Some of the fight disciplines utilized in each aspect are:


Stand-up: Styles typically utilized include boxing or kickboxing, as well as "dirty boxing," manifested by punching, kicking, elbowing, and kneeing. 


Dirty boxing is just like it sounds, and UFC Hall-of-Famer Randy Couture is one of the best practitioners.


For example, picture a fighter pinning his opponent up against the cage, or Octagon, and grabbing said opponent behind the head to pepper him with punches. 

There is also the clinch in the stand-up game. The goal is to gain control of your opponent, often done by grabbing behind the head with both hands and landing strikes, leading to a takedown. 


One of the best clinch fighters is middleweight champion Anderson Silva. In his title victory over Rich Franklin, he used the clinch to land devastating knees to Franklin’s abdomen, causing Rich to drop his guard, which left his face wide open. 


Subsequent knees to the jaw and nose dropped the ex-champ and plastered his nose across his right cheek. 


Other fighting styles utilized in the clinch are Muay Thai, Greco-Roman wrestling (see Dan Henderson,) Sambo (see Fedor Emelianenko,) and Judo.

Ground game: Fight styles typically employed are wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (founded by the Gracie Family,) Judo and Sambo. 


The goal here is submission holds, both securing and defending them, as well as ground-based striking from the position of mount or side control while the fighter taking the punishment is flat on his back. 


In some instances, a fighter will gain control of his opponents' back (think of the horsie rides your father gave you back in the day) and will secure a choke. Chokes are legal and are fan-favorites. 

A common question for fans new to MMA is, are there rules?  The answer is yes, there are many, and I’ll go through some obvious rules here. 


During the UFC’s infancy there were few rules. As the UFC attempted to mainstream itself and gain sanctioning by state athletic commissions, new rules had to be integrated. 


Fighters have to wear four-ounce gloves after fighting bare-knuckled back in the day.  Kicks and knees to a downed opponent are prohibited, although a standing fighter can kick the legs of a downed opponent who was up-kicking at him. 


Strikes to the back of the head, neck, and back are banned. Groin kicks, hair pulling, fish-hooks, eye gouges, or any other finger-to-orifice have also been outlawed. 


Weight classes have been instituted at 155, 170, 185, 205, and heavyweight (up to 265 pounds.)


Fights are limited to three five-minute rounds for non-title fights, and five five-minute rounds for title fights. 


Fighters can win by knocking their opponent out, having the fight stopped by an official due to unresponsiveness by an opponent (TKO,) submission, or winning via the judges’ scorecards after time has expired. 


Many fighters will have no-contact periods after a fight, mandated by the state athletic commission based on injuries suffered in a fight.


Consider this the 50,000 foot view of MMA. 


Knowing this much should enhance the next fight you watch.  From there, you’ll be talking about the finer parts of the game.


Who got knocked out by who, what fighters got hosed by a quick stoppage, dream match-ups, who is overrated (or underrated,) and why guys like Tito Ortiz should talk less.  Enjoy!