As most readers here know, MMA is not simply about bloodlust and brutality. Unfortunately, since EliteXC made its way onto primetime television, the sport has been cast that way in some media circles (Boulay & Taylor, 6/26/08).
Additionally, critics of the sport have suggested that "blood is spilled in almost every match and victory is claimed by beating your rival into submission" (Brown, 4/22/08), utilizing dramatic imagery in order to embellish what actually happens between two MMA competitors.
No doubt, there are grudge matches in MMA, just as there are in other sports. But one thing the critics fail to realize, is that like in other sports, MMA competitors are commonly friends before, during, and after their competitions.
This past Friday, Josh "The Punk" Thompson bested Gilbert "El Nino" Melendez in a tough five-round match. Melendez, well known for his vicious, aggressive fighting style, was unable to find an answer for Thompson in this contest. But there was no vicious trash talking in the aftermath.
To the contrary, Melendez simply stated, "I've got no answers and no excuses. He was simply the better man tonight" (Stupp, 6/28/08).
To the harsh MMA critic or the mainstream sports fan just getting tuned in with MMA, such comments might seem unfeasible or insincere. However, those who train in the combat sports know that sanctioned competition—even in fighting form—can strengthen friendships and build new ones.
This is a theme that has emerged in many interviews I have conducted with mixed martial artists over the years. Chris Bowles competes for HDNet Fights. Said Bowles of his daily training routine, "...my best friends are in (the gym). I work, I come here, and then I come home to my family. That's pretty much what I do. I get to beat on my friends every day" (Bowles laughs).
Bowles' coach and HDNet Fights President, Guy Mezger, responded, saying, "It's an unusual friendship. You know most people that give you black eyes or cut lips or broken bones are your enemies, but they tend to be your best friends in this place. So it's a bit unusual."
It is also fairly common when two males fight on the street, that immediately afterwards, they will embrace in friendship and forge a mutual respect. Owner and coach at No Limits Gym, Colin Oyama said, "I think some of my best friends in Hawaii are guys (I) got into a fist fight with" (laughs).
However, in the sanctioned and structured world of MMA, there is a greater level of reverence because each combatant knows the extensive physical and mental preparation that precedes the fight.
In other words, MMA matches are not merely comprised of two drunken, unconditioned brutes who fight impulsively in the heat of the moment (though MMA competitors have been stereotyped as such in the past).
As MMA veteran Tony "The Freak" Fryklund said to me, "(MMA) is for humility. It is for respect of others. And it's understanding that you're sacrificing so much for what you put in, and it's almost counter-productive to do the martial arts and not work hard cause it's disrespectful to the (martial art) itself."
When accounting for the sentiments of long-term MMA fighters like Fryklund and Mezger, one can better understand how competitive MMA can foster friendships without residual feelings of animosity. In fact, Chris Onzuka, co-owner of the O2 Martial Arts Academy said the following to me, noting that those who he competes with and against become problem solvers:
"My closest friends, all my closest friends train jiu-jitsu...So I come here and it's like my therapy. My boys are my soundboard. I tell them my problems. They tell me some solutions or just listen to me or whatever to handle the situation."
The MMA haters would have everyone think MMA's burgeoning popularity is an indicator of society's immorality. The fact of the matter is, MMA is a growing sport that while having problems, is multifaceted, with much to offer society, and not just in a negative sense.
David Mayeda, PhD, is author of Fighting for Acceptance: Mixed Martial Artists and Violence in American Society, the first book to analyze the sport of mixed martial arts from a political standpoint, based on interviews with "Rampage" Jackson, Guy Mezger, Randy Couture, "MayheM" Miller, Dan Henderson, Tony Fryklund, Antonio McKee, Chris Leben, Chris, Mike Onzuka, and many other MMA athletes.