A decade ago, mixed martial arts was so new that it lacked one name. It was called submission fighting, ultimate fighting, cage fighting, mixed martial arts, and Vale Tudo. The most common names were Pancrase (for open-hand bouts) and No Holds Barred (for closed-fist bouts). Sen. John Mc-Cain infamously called it “human cockfighting.”
Today, mixed martial arts has government regulation, mainstream popularity, a multi-billion dollar league, and one name. Yet, I often hear people yearning for the old days—for the bleeding Eden when the sport was so young that anyone who loved it could make a difference.
As a kid, I used to run toward the hospital when I heard multiple ambulances. The early years of the sport were compelling like that. At Tim Sylvia’s first fight, he barged over to me and asked, not too unkindly, if I was his opponent? “Hell no,” I said. His actual opponent ended up with foam coming out of his mouth. As the police and paramedics came through the gym door, I removed my ref shirt and melted into the crowd. At a Honolulu nightclub called Gussy L’Amour’s, I saw a drunk guy put down a cigarette, climb into a ring, and fight. That became Super Brawl and sold out the 9,000-seat Blaisdell arena.
No one bothered to register MixedMartialArts.com, so I did. No one wrote a book on MMA, so I self-published one with the guess that the market was the 19 guys at my gym. The book sold thousands of copies. The sport was a spectacle, but you could make a difference. Here’s the thing: it’s happening again.
There is another developing fight sport—with wildly different rules and regulations—that is receiving scant interest from the mainstream media, or even from the fight media. That sport is amateur MMA.
Some commissions regulate it, some don’t but require sanctioning, and some ignore it. The rules run the gamut from elbows to the face to no face striking at all. Amateur MMA has no recognized champions,no nationally prominent promotions, no magazines, no gear (the equipment was designed for and is called “training gear”), no instructional DVDs, and not even a popular website.
Although you can’t compare them in terms of money (it is amateur after all), I am the official records keeper for Mixed Martial Arts, and in 2010, there were twice as many amateur contests as pro fights. Amateur MMA is twice as big as pro MMA, and no one has noticed.
If you are a casual fan, you will rarely see a boring amateur layn-pray fight, so buy a ticket to the next event and make some noise. If you are a passionate fan, you can make a difference and help lift up amateur MMA where it belongs. The opportunities are out there: books, websites, upstart promotions. Go make a difference.