An article depicting the Ultimate Fighting Championship as a “bloody disgrace” recently made headlines for all the wrong reasons.
After attending what seemed like his first MMA event, Australian journalist Phil Rothfield published a whole 24 sentences in an article for The Daily Telegraph, where he labeled the sport as “barbaric savagery that should be banned" in Australia:
On Saturday night on Fuel TV I witnessed the brutality and bloodshed of the UFC - apparently, and worryingly, the world's fastest growing sport. This was nothing but barbaric savagery that should be banned in this country.
It’s completely understandable how a newcomer might have felt a bit overwhelmed by what transpired at UFC Fight Night 33.
For 15 minutes, Ryan Bader gave 41-year-old Anthony Perosh one of the most lopsided beatings of the year. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua knocked James Te-Huna into another stratosphere, and Mark Hunt and Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva put forth one of the bloodiest and grittiest heavyweight bouts in MMA history.
But after each fight, the fighters helped one another up, hugged it out and congratulated one another on a job well done. Where is the savagery in that? Quite the contrary, moments like these are what makes MMA, not “UFC,” a sport.
In the article, Mr. Rothfield goes on to snub the level of skill it takes to compete at a professional level:
The beauty of all sport is the toughness and determination of its competitors. The pain they put themselves through to become the best. The injury risks they face in rugby league and all the footy codes. At least their sport involves a large degree of skill - and it's not just a contest to violently bash another person into submission.
Few sports, if any, exhibit the same amount of mental toughness that is found in MMA. Imagine being told you had to learn and excel at four or five other sports just to compete at a high level in one particular sport.
What other form of competition puts that same level of demand on its athletes?
MMA incorporates every combat art, and fighters are forced to soak up as much information as possible to remain relevant. Particular arts like wrestling, boxing, judo and Taekwondo are Olympic sports on their own. In MMA, they only represent complementary pieces to a perpetual puzzle.
As a separate entity, does boxing not require a large degree of skill? Does wrestling not require a large degree of skill? Does judo not require a large degree of skill? Does Taekwondo not require a large degree of skill?
This doesn’t even include Muay Thai and jiu-jitsu, which are two of MMA’s most important skill sets.
Cynics tend to bloviate over MMA being a blood sport while glossing over its most inspiring aspects. On a daily basis, fighters are subjected to harsh training regimens, which often include elongated and strict diets.
But more than anything, the sniper-like mentality it takes to be an MMA fighter is what truly sets the sport apart and attracts fans.
Enduring weeks upon weeks of torture in the gym is one thing, but actually mustering up the courage to step into the cage and put it all on the line is something else entirely. There is no one to help or place blame on. As a fighter, the onus falls completely on your shoulders alone. There is no form of competition more raw or pure than MMA.
Sadly, some individuals are turned off by the blood and don’t take the time to educate themselves on the nuances of the sport.
In his condemning piece, Rothfield questions the blood testing and compares MMA to street fighting. He even called the sport a “disgrace” for including female participants:
The fact women were allowed to fight on the card was an even bigger disgrace. … Almost defenceless men being held down on the ground and punched senseless. What does it say about our society? Why do we allow our kids to watch and cheer for something we teach them not to do? And why are the competitors allowed to do all this inside a cage when it's illegal on the streets? People have been sent to jail for less than what happened inside a cage on Saturday night. … Why aren't fighters getting protection from blood diseases?
Did Stewie Griffin create another time machine and warp us back to the 1800s?
Women are strong and independent human beings capable of making their own decisions. Why shouldn’t they be given the same opportunities as men to step into the cage and showcase their skills under the bright lights of the UFC?
It’s even more offensive to cast aside the warrior spirit of these young ladies simply because we don’t want to see them get a little banged up. No man should be able to deem what sports are acceptable and unacceptable for women to participate in.
It would only take one peek inside an MMA gym to see how hard these women work to be the very best in the world. In a popular YouTube highlight video, Cynthia Vance does an astounding job of conveying the hard work and dedication women have endured on their road to acceptance.
For centuries, men and women have had their faces mangled and bloodied in boxing. They have been dumped on their heads in wrestling and judo. It is only when these sports are blended together that people suddenly want to wise up to the “barbaric savagery” of it all.
Unfortunately, it’s human nature to dislike what we don’t understand.
Fighters aren’t “defenseless” on their backs. In fact, it is considered an offensive position in MMA, especially by athletes with a great jiu-jitsu base. Doctors and referees are always on hand to check on fighters and stop bouts whenever deemed necessary.
An argument can be made that MMA is actually safer than boxing. Winning doesn’t have to be accomplished by punching someone in the face, and fights come to an abrupt end when a fighter isn’t able to intelligently defend himself.
In boxing, fighters are given multiple opportunities to stand back up after having their brains scrambled, along with years upon years of sustained head trauma.
Outsiders generally love to harp on the negative influence a sport like MMA has on children when the vast majority of them have never even stepped into an MMA gym. While professional MMA generally starts at age 18, kids are given an outlet for honing their skills in the gym while simultaneously picking up important life lessons of respect and honor.
To paint an entire sport as savage undermines so many incredible individuals who have contributed to its existence.
Late UFC heavyweight Shane Del Rosario told Fight Magazine: "I have this rare opportunity a lot of people don’t have—to fight in front of thousands in the UFC and really make a name for myself and use that as momentum to help others."
The late, great Evan Tanner says in his documentary Once I Was a Champion:
I’m not a fighter, I’m not in this for personal glory. … I have this idea that I need to be able to make my voice heard, and I can do that through the fighting. … One person can change the world. … Believe that you can change the world. It is something that is within each of us. Believe in the power of one.
Do these sound like savage individuals to you? Why would any sane, decent person compete in a “savage” sport?
These quotes from Tanner and Del Rosario, two fighters who passed well before their time, are indicative of the kind of people competing in MMA. Fighters come from all walks of life. These aren’t street thugs cashing in on an opportunity to be famous.
Former UFC heavyweight Christian Wellisch graduated from law school and now runs a law firm. UFC women’s bantamweight star Rosi Sexton graduated from Cambridge with a first-class math degree and a Ph.D. Rich Franklin, a UFC legend, was a math teacher in Ohio before taking up fighting. Former UFC interim champ Shane Carwin has a degree in mechanical engineering.
The list goes on and on.
As for blood testing, a simple Google search will show that state athletic commissions are set up to make sure that rules are in place, and fighters are tested for drugs and diseases before every bout. Drug testing in particular is done before and after fights.
The UFC will only be a “bloody disgrace” to those who refuse to be educated. Sadly, the same old farts shaking a finger at the fastest growing sport in the world aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. The MMA community simply asks that they do their research. MMA is the new kid on the block in name only, but truly, it is a collection of sports that have already existed for centuries.
Unless we are prepared to denounce all combat sports, MMA is no more of a disgrace than every sport it stems from.