The game once known as Vale Tudo has come a long way to become the game of mixed martial arts today.
The evolution and organization of today's MMA has been a long and forward-moving journey. And the finished product, as of right now, is a well-oiled machine with a wealth of potential for further progress.
While the well-oiled machine continues to prove its worth and potential to be without a ceiling, sometimes it is easy to overlook the simple fact that evolution is an ongoing process.
While the sky may be the limit for MMA, the evolutionary efforts to make the sport better and more advanced should never be laid to rest. For a sport so very young, no stone should be left unturned, no option disregarded when considering ways to improve not only the sport but its perception in the public eye.
Considering the constant change and fluidity that the sport has endured thus far and has yet to see come to an end, questions are posed as to what ways can the sport further improve.
One of the largest obstacles the sport still faces is widespread acceptance across the United States. While the majority of states condone, or at least allow MMA, there are still some out there that will not.
The question that is often asked is, why?
Why do these states still hesitate to allow MMA to be contested within their borders?
While the answers are many, and include everything from politics to ignorance (some might argue those are one in the same), the most glaring issue is acceptance of perceived brutality.
Most intelligent individuals who take issue with MMA immediately point to brutality as the main detractor that keeps them from not only appreciating the sport, but condoning it in the first place. That perceived brutality is more than enough to turn off the more "sophisticated" individual.
They take the negative perception and run with it, and it becomes their mantra when discussing the topic. Well, in all honesty, who can blame them? You and I may not take exception to a men fighting with blood smeared all over the contestants' bodies, but many others might take exception.
It doesn't happen every time, but when it does, it stains the mind. There are lots of fights, and few end in a bloody mess, but the ones that do stand out.
With that in mind, how can the perceived brutality be limited so as to allow the finest points of the sport to shine through?
It's hard to explain a kimura, or rubber guard, to someone when a fighter is leaking like bad faucet from his forehead.
Some of the bloodiest, most gruesome cuts this sport has ever seen were results of one attack. One attack is the culprit for the majority of the nastiest gouges fight fans can remember. That attack is the elbow strike.
The elbow strike is one of the most lethal blows the sport has ever seen. And MMA has done well to alleviate some of the other more deadly strikes throughout its evolution. Soccer kicks, head stomps, head butts—the list goes on. Why has the elbow survived these assessments of what is acceptable or too dangerous to allow?
Most recently Jon "Bones" Jones has been the elbow connoisseur of the UFC, but many have employed it very effectively.
Names like Anderson Silva, Georges St. Pierre, B.J. Penn, Kenny Florian—and who could forget David Loiseau's lethal elbows?
These athletes use what tools are available for them to win, and they should.
But think back, if you will, to some of the absolutely devastating cuts the sport has seen from elbow strikes. Most recently Miguel Torres had his wig split wide open by a Joseph Benavidez elbow. Brandon Vera had the entire side of his head go numb from a "Bones" Jones elbow that instantly stopped their fight.
The bottom line is they are lethal, and have a very strong tendency to cut an opponent. While this tool is quite useful to a fighter in a cage, it is not conducive to allowing strong competition while also moving further away from the barbaric roots that formed this great sport.
As a advocate, or even an adversary, of the sport, ask yourself one question: would MMA be better off without the elbow strike?
As a fan, could you still enjoy the sport. As an adversary, would it make you more open to accepting MMA?
As for the fighters, and their adherence to certain levels of technique, remember that they operate within the rules they are given.
So would a phenom like Jones, or a veteran like GSP be lesser mixed martial artists than they are today without elbows?
The answer is no. They would adapt as they always have, as is the true nature of this sport which they exemplify.
Consider for a moment, if you will.
When the sport implemented the use of gloves it was primarily to induce more striking-based matches. But the gloves were there not only to protect the hands but limit the likelihood for cuts.
So again, if the gloves were implemented to limit cuts, why is the elbow still allowed?
The elbow is more likely to severely cut an opponent than a knuckle is.
Sure, the hands cut around the eyes, but when is the last time MMA saw a gash like the one it saw in the opening rounds of the Ultimate Fighter Heavyweights, from a fist?
Bottom line is, fists cut for sure, but elbows severely open people up, and deeply.
MMA is about practical application of various martial arts, and elbows hold a long history in the world of Muay Thai. But practical application of martial arts includes a very broad spectrum of techniques that are quite deadly, and have no place in the MMA realm.
Why did they do away with eye gouging, small joint manipulation, and fish hooking?
They hamper the competition that thrives in the display of MMA.
With that in mind, would it be so bad if MMA as a whole were to re-evaluate the elbow strike all together?
Is it so off-the-wall to consider the fact that while the elbow may add an element of excitement and technique to the sport, that it quite literally could be one of the main elements of detriment to the sport?
Injuries are plaguing the sport as it is.
MMA is very rough and tumble, not for the faint of heart or the weak of mind. Only the strongest will can forge a mixed martial artist. And they will compete under any circumstances, they are fighters, it is in their nature.
That being said, perhaps MMA should consider protecting its most valuable asset, the fighter, and remove the elbow from the equation.
It might not only limit further unnecessary injuries, but open the door ever so slightly for a more refined eye to learn to appreciate it a little bit more once they see the ability of the sport to evolve for the better.
The bottom line is the elbow is dangerous, as are many techniques in the game. But few of those dangerous techniques have the common outcome that the elbow has. Submissions don't commonly break bones, but elbows often cut. Few of those dangerous techniques are so dangerous that one can predict a cut as they are being executed.
One thing is certain—every time a fighter starts raining down elbows on an opponent it is only a matter of time before the cut comes.
If that is so very obvious, and protecting the fighter is paramount, then the time has come for the sport to truly re-assess the elbow strike for the greater good of both the athlete and the forward progress of mixed martial arts.