I used to be baffled by the lure of MMA. I thought it was gruesome, homoerotic (come on, you've all thought that), and I just plain thought it was dumb. But, I also thought that without actually watching it. But my husband is a big fan, and constantly puts on any UFC event that is on TV. At first, I groaned and complained every time he switched it on and, and flat-out refused to watch it. But each time I would watch a little more, and complain a little less. I still pretended like I hated it, just so he thought I was really giving him something by letting him watch it, but even that fell by the wayside the more I watched. After a few months, I was the one turning on UFC Unleashed, turning on Spike Wednesday nights at 10 to watch a new episode of The Ultimate Fighter, and I was even the one who suggested that we go to a bar a few miles from our house and pay $10 each to watch UFC 97.
Last week I interviewed Sgt. Nate Banks, a combatives trainer at Fort Stewart, who is getting out of the Army to join Greg Jackson's Mixed Martial Arts, one of the best MMA schools in the world.
If you are a fan of the UFC, you undoubtedly have heard of Greg Jackson, who has developed 10 world champions, and many of the athletes that train at his gym - Rashad Evans, Georges St. Pierre, Nate Marquardt, Keith Jardine - aren't little-known fighters.
But while Sgt. Baker may be in the minority of those training at such a prestigious academy (Jackson trains only about 32 professional fighters), he is part of an ever-growing population of Soldiers studying MMA.
MMA is a full-contact combat sport that allows a wide variety of fighting techniques from a mixture of martial arts traditions and non-traditions to be used in competitions. The rules allow the use of striking and grappling techniques, both while standing and on the ground. In MMA, and most famously the UFC, fighters often utilize parts of boxing, wrestling, Brazilian jiujitsu and muay thai kickboxing, among other disciplines.
Just 5 years ago, the UFC was an underground sport, often looked at by outsiders as gruesome, barbaric and sadistic, and even called "human cock fighting" by Sen. John McCain, among others. But today, after dropping the "no holds barred" label and adopting stricter rules, the UFC is now a billion-dollar enterprise that has up to 12 fights a year telecast on Pay-Per-View, each up to 1.5 million viewers paying $44.95 a piece.
The popularity of MMA isn't just in the civilian world; the Army began training its Soldiers in hand-to-hand combat, much like mixed martial arts, in 1995, when the 2nd Ranger Battalion began training in Modern Army Combatives, and the instruction has since spread at the grass roots throughout the Army.
Many Soldiers are currently training in Army combatives, and probably many of them are those 1.5 million (mostly male) viewers who pay to watch UFC fights each month or who tune in to watch The Ultimate Fighter on Spike. Most of the UFC viewers are males age 18-35, but I know for a fact that there are many underground female fans, because I wasn't the only one at the bar that night. I honestly think that anyone gives it a chance, you could get sucked in just like I did... but I still don't like boxing.