Immediately in the fight between welterweights Jacob South and Simon Ione, Ione threw a bloodying punch to South’s head that simultaneously caused Ione’s shoulder to come out of its socket and left South on the ground. Despite the injury, Ione was able to get in several more punches before the referee stopped the fight nine seconds into the first round. The fight went to Ione, who won with a technical knockout.
None of the 11 fights in the McKay center on Sept. 29 ended with a true knockout, but it was still a thrilling night. Some of the fights, particularly the title bouts, bordered on the theatrical — half the enormous crowd booing and the other half chanting a fighter’s name while knees and elbows to the head splattered blood across the mat.
Mixed martial arts is creating a growing subculture in Utah. Throwdown Elite, the largest MMA organization in Utah, put on the Throwdown Showdown “The Return” that Friday, and the McKay center filled with thousands of fans.
MMA has evolved over the last 30 years into a bona fide sport. Matches are strictly refereed, and overseen by inspectors from the Pete Suazo Utah Athletic Commission, the guys who regulate all professional unarmed combat sports in Utah. Throwdown Elite can be compared to baseball’s minor leagues; the guys who win a few local titles can then possibly move up to fight in the major leagues: the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
The fighters themselves are more
sportsmanlike than the general pubic might expect. After winning the Lightweight Title in the night’s main event, Rad Martinez humbly said, “I appreciate him giving me five rounds of hell,” about his opponent, Steven Sharp. Fighters may go at each other with perceived brutality in the ring, but after the final bell, both fighters are usually congenial and grateful.
Attending a fight night is thrilling in a way that not only established MMA fans can appreciate. The adrenaline produced while watching these fights is the same that a scary movie or a roller coaster can provide.
Be aware that at a live event there are no announcers explaining the action, so a basic knowledge of MMA technique is required to understand and better enjoy the event.
MMA is quickly overshadowing boxing and karate in the fighting world because it is closer to real hand-to-hand combat. Fighters must know the techniques of multiple styles; they must excel in both standing and ground combat.
They wear gloves, but nothing like bulbous boxing gloves; their purpose is to protect fighters from breaking bones in their hands while allowing them to grapple, not to pad punches. And paralleling the escalation in other sports, today’s top MMA fighters would likely defeat the best boxers or karate masters of thirty years ago in a real fight.
MMA is not an all-out brawl, however. Each organization has its rules. At Throwdown Elite they include no striking to the groin, spine, or top of the head. Referees watch every fight, stepping in when the action stalemates, and ending the match if either fighter is incapable of defending himself. The fighters are highly conditioned, as a high degree of endurance is required to get through even one round.
There is still pressure on the fighters to entertain, which sometimes interferes with the desire simply to win the fight. Many MMA fights end on the ground with a choke or submission, but that’s not what the general public pays to see. Knockouts are exciting, and they’re what years of boxing have taught us to recognize as victory.
That night’s Lightweight Title bout is a great example of these opposing compulsions in the sport. After four rounds filled with wrestling and relatively devoid of any significant damage to either fighter, Rad Martinez, the better wrestler, gave in to the pressure from the crowd and tried to keep the fight standing up. It didn’t end up costing him a win, but it wasn’t a wise strategy. He sacrificed his superior position to entertain.
More fans of MMA (and some of the fighters) need to better understand that MMA matches often go to the ground. The sport isn’t fully appreciated without a grasp of the techniques and strategy of grappling and submissions.
Throwdown Elite is not yet large enough to provide their fighters with full-time employment. The fighters usually have to keep their day jobs while training, which means they’re less willing to get hurt, and not as conditioned as full-time professional fighters. It also means that fighters are not always well matched, which makes it rare for a local fight to go past the second round.
The fan base itself is also misunderstood. These aren’t necessarily the same people that religiously watch choreographed professional wrestling on basic cable; the majority of MMA fans appreciate the practical techniques of unrehearsed fighting. They’re not simply brutal or bloodthirsty. They just love a good fight.