Mixed martial arts slakes viewers’ bloodlust

by Ruthie Kelly

Amateur fighters grapple in a boxing ring at Contingency Operating Base Adder's first Friday Night Fight, on January 8, 2010. Mixed martial arts fights involving U.S. soldiers, Special Forces and private contractors are gaining popularity on U.S. bases across Iraq. (Maj. Myles B. Caggins III/U.S. Army/MCT) MCT Campus

By Ruthie Kelly, Editor in Chief

On Saturday, Cain Velasquez defeated Brock Lesnar at UFC 121 to become the “Heavyweight Champion of the World” in a fight that had been much-anticipated by fans of the sport. For those not in the know, mixed martial arts has been growing in popularity since the 1990s, spawning all the expected signs of a booming niche market: professional organizations, products and sponsorships, video games, a reality TV series and fan websites. The culmination of this full-contact, arguably violent sport progressively becoming more mainstream can be seen in gyms and training programs available for those who want to see if they have what it takes to bloody their own knuckles. For those unfamiliar with MMA, here are some key highlights.


Mixed martial arts involves pitting masters of different techniques against each other — muay thai vs. jiujitsu, karate vs. judo, wrestling vs. boxing. Originally, the object was to discover which technique was superior, but more than a decade later, these competitions have altered the definition of mixedmartial arts to mean a single fighter who is familiar with a variety of techniques and disciplines. Usually, fighters aim for a combination of “stand up” and “ground game,” because an opponent can choose to try to go for the knockout with punches, or wrestle a fighter to the ground and go for a submission, or a tap out. The most successful fighters practice offensive and defensive techniques in both.

The first competition was held in 1993 in Denver in what would eventually become the Ultimate Fighting Championship. The UFC is one of the premier MMA organizations today. This Saturday marked its 121st competition. As in the first UFC matchup, fighters face off in an eight-sided ring called “the octagon.” Broadcast on Spike, UFC also organizes the reality TV series “The Ultimate Fighter,” in which newcomers compete on teams and against each other for a UFC contract.


UFC is arguably the most well-known organization in the sport, but others include Strikeforce, World Extreme Cagefighting, Bellator and Dream. Fighters typically contract with a specific organization, which arranges specific fighter matchups. While inter-organizational fights do happen, they are rare. This has led to some questions as to whether competitions can definitively decide world champions. Fans often speculate about fights between the top fighters in different organizations, even though such fights are unlikely to happen.


MMA fights are not broadcast on everyday cable; fans must order fights via pay-per-view or watch via online streaming, which can cost $50 or more depending on the organization and provider. PPV numbers fluctuate significantly from fight to fight, sometimes pulling in fewer than 300,000 PPV orders, other times more than 1 million. This lucrative sport also involves sponsorships and advertising comparable to the Super Bowl, with the target male audience advertisers seek. Ads can be seen on the bottom and sides of the octagon or fighting ring, as well as on the gear worn by individual fighters. Sponsors range from Harley-Davidson to Burger King to TapouT, a counter-culture clothing line. In a time of declining advertising dollars and TV viewership, MMA stands out as a singular television subject with strong appeal for both audiences and advertisers.

Local impact

MMA’s rise in popularity has resulted in more local gyms and training opportunities for fans who want to break into the sport or just have a more directed workout. Most fighters and former fighters also run their own gyms. Many fighters, even rivals, train together. Locally, popular gyms include The Arena, an MMA gym on Sports Arena Boulevard, and White Dragon Martial Arts which has locations throughout San Diego, including University Ave. and Balboa Ave. Classes can improve self-defense techniques, as well as overall health and fitness.

For more information about the UFC and MMA, visit ufc.com and mmafighting.com.