Rorion Gracie was a Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner from California, whose grandfather had first been taught by the judo master Mitsuyo Maeda. In 1993, Rorion, with his student Art Davie and entertainment promoter Bob Meyrowitz, created the Ultimate Fighting Championship, an elimination tournament to determine which form of marshal arts was superior. Rorion and his three brothers, especially Royce Gracie, dominated the competition for the next two years.
The sport evolved into a mixture of martial arts techniques, called mixed martial arts, and was very popular until it was pulled from television, largely through the efforts of Arizona Sen. John McCain, who called it “human cockfighting.” Basically, two competitors, usually men dressed in shorts and light gloves, enter a ring or confinement cage and try to knock out, choke out or otherwise force their opponent to submit.
The UFC was eventually purchased by casino moguls, who disallowed things like biting and eye gouging, and raised the profile of the sport. Eventually, cable TV programs and a Spike TV series made MMA much more popular than boxing, especially among the young, white males who constitute almost all of its fans. It is, by design, a brutal, hyper-masculine sport. If you search for MMA on YouTube, you can learn more than most of you will ever want to know about it.
The theatrical savagery of the matches, and fears that they might incite violence among young, possibly inebriated, men made the Naperville City Council skeptical, and they recently refused to allow city property to be used as overflow parking for an MMA match hosted by American Predator Fighting Championship. The event was eventually moved elsewhere.
City staff are preparing ordinances should the council decide to limit alcohol at MMA events, establish licensing procedures for them, limit where they may take place, or ban MMA fighting from Naperville altogether. The City Council began their initial discussions last night — several hours after the deadline for this column.
Personally, I am appalled by the fact that these ridiculous MMA matches are so popular, primarily because of what it seems to say about young men today. In fact, I have a great deal of sympathy for the position of Councilman Paul Hinterlong, who doesn’t think MMA fighting belongs in Naperville.
But governments shouldn’t have opinions or sensibilities. The whole idea of this country is that people have a right to do whatever makes them happy unless there is factual evidence that it is harmful to them, harmful to the persons or rights of others, or in some way interferes with the necessary functioning of society. The fact that MMA is crude and stupid simply isn’t enough.
MMA fighting doesn’t appear to be contributing to the degeneration of American society any more than Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus. Although it is violent, studies have shown that it does not incite violence in its fans, cause them to be aggressive, or cause them to engage in risk taking.
MMA fans say they are attracted by the techniques of the fighters and the unpredictability of the sport rather than the violence and injuries. In fact, MMA fighters are generally hurt less seriously than boxers, although traumatic head injuries are a major concern in both sports.
I have to conclude that, as much as I dislike the sport, it appears to be more theater than barbarism. The fighters seem to be professional athletes who are sanctioned and regulated by athletic commissions. Because of multiple weight classes and other provisions, injuries are less serious than those suffered in football and boxing. And like the game Grand Theft Auto, the sport appears to be a harmless, if pointless, way for young men to let off steam.