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An MMA Fan's Response To That TV3 Debate

Balls Team
By Balls Team
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After watching TV3's debate on the legitimacy of MMA, Brian Dolan was moved to write a critique of what he thought was a debate which offered a poor representation of the sport.

As an avid MMA fan and a proud Irishman, I was dismayed at the tactics employed by Tom McGurk and Eoghan Corry on TV3 last night, in what could only loosely be defined as a ‘debate’ with top level MMA coach and internationally successful martial artist John Kavanagh. I accept that in Ireland we are slow to change and recognise progress, but the misinformation, shock tactics and inappropriate browbeating of a sporting professional that went on was nothing short of a passive aggressive ambush. Armed with little education of MMA and a few one sided photos, they set about smearing a sport which is as old as sport itself, and I felt it necessary to clarify a few things, as it seems plain to me the gap is simply a generational one, derived from lack of understanding, coupled with irrational fear.

The ready acceptance of Barry McGuigan, Steve Collins and Katie Taylor as national icons illustrates the warm welcome of boxing competitors into the national consciousness with little or no fuss. Indeed Ms.Taylor is hailed as a modern icon across the board, while the mention of any of the names above stirring up national pride amongst those of a certain age group. The ideal of the ‘fighting Irish’ has long been part of our identity – sadly, this reverence has not been extended to MMA by the older generation for a variety of supposed ‘reasons’.

Safety was initially mooted as a concern last night – Mr.McGurk launching into a series of graphic photos portraying the admittedly awful looking injuries from various cherry picked MMA fights – mostly heavy bruising to the face. No allowance was made for the fact that this could be done for any sport where collision is a necessity, particularly in Mr.McGurk’s beloved rugby. One need only Google Image search ‘rugby facial injuries’ to view a similar gallery of uncomfortable images. So too for examples of concussion and head injury.

The point was also made that no one steps in to stop MMA athletes from competing as they age – this is false. Fighters are licensed – unlike rugby they must undergo a formal submission procedure and they are medically checked before and after events.


Incidentally, returning to the boxing comparison – the UFC, an organisation which Eoghan Corry stated represents the bulk of the sport in the public mind, has not had a single death or major spinal injuries in 20 years of competition. This is because of the proximity and involvement of the referees, who are never more than an arm’s length from the action. Often they will literally dive in and separate competitors if there is no intelligent defence offered by a stricken fighter. Boxing creates 10 deaths a year on average (“Boxing — Acute Complications and Late Sequalae,” Hans Forstl, M.D), the UFC is yet to experience a single one, and as the years progress its safety regulations are only becoming more stringent.

Also, crucially, there is no standing count in MMA as exists in boxing. Concussives are not given the time nor opportunity to carry on, thus damaging themselves further. The traditional 14 ounce boxing gloves also do far more spread damage over an extended time limit. The time limit itself is also a consideration – the average scheduled total fight duration in MMA is 15 minutes – which is far shorter than boxing bouts.


The presenter seemed to revel in the term ‘cage fighting’, failing to understand it is simply a safety measure to ensure no one is hurt by falling out of ring – the cage is rubber covered wire and in no way dangerous. Mr. Kavanagh tried to explain this, but was cut off.


The primary driver in Mr.Corry’s debate seemed to be that MMA is transitory and not in for the long haul. He fails to realise its steady growth over two decades, and the recent explosion of the last ten years. MMA is often dubbed ‘the fastest growing sport in the world’, with a global audience which is said to be 65 million people and year on year increases in subscriptions to its on demand Fight Pass service, as well as a corollary jump in ticket sales. He need only take a look at Kavanagh’s own SBG MMA gym chain for an indicator of how incorrect he is about the demand for MMA in this country – with the crop of young kids currently enrolled in any variety of disciplines earmarking the sport for a potentially huge future on home shores.

The older fan base has shown itself to be as passionate as supporters of any sport and are being currently being praised on a global level for their enthusiasm and sense of fun.


Take Chad Mendes, who recently lost to McGregor and who took a moment to praise the Irish fans, and lament the lack of similar American support.
Take a moment yourself to YouTube ‘Irish MMA fans’ and you will be treated to a raucous sight of a safe and upbeat crowd enjoying themselves with non violent and open love of MMA – something this country had lost in my opinion in regard to other sports. Corporate takeover and lack of grass roots investment have killed the once joyous Irish soccer fan base and rugby seems to cater only for a certain section of society.

I would like to take a moment to praise the technical skill of MMA. If one were to tune into rugby for a moment, it would simply seem as if giant men were chasing an oval ball around, occasionally crashing into each other at volatile pace. There would be no appreciation of the balance, dexterity and measured power it takes to play the game, nor would the tactical prowess be readily apparent. The same applies to MMA. A simple glance will yield only lean men and woman trying to punch each other. The truth is far more complex and varied – the subtlety of grappling, the submission techniques of Ju Jitsu, the precision of kicks and punches as well as the mental and physical ability to see a way to victory and take your chance makes it a sport like no other. Indeed many competitors are former Olympians and World Champions in their respective disciplines – before migrating to MMA to test themselves on the ultimate stage. To dismiss these athletes as mere ‘cage fighters’ is about as callous a dismissal as to say Lionel Messi kicks a ball about.

What the vanguard of the Irish sporting media such as Paul Kimmage, Tony O’Donoghue and Tom McGurk seem to want to shoo away is that MMA has captured the imagination of the younger generation, who are emerging from the shadow of austerity and want to dream of something bigger and brighter.


This is possibly, as Mr.Corry maintained, as a replacement for boxing (which with its stale rules, $300 million paydays, multiple organisations, doping, top level fighters avoiding each other for years and the total disconnection from the common fan has become a dead enterprise) but is more likely due to the professionalism, the ambition and swagger of McGregor and his ilk. They are not like our politicians and public figures, a stodgy and unrelatable bunch to the youth of today. They do not linger on austerity, or doom and gloom. They are rising fast with their future in their own hands. They the best in the world, not simply participating in a sport watched by millions on a world stage – all the while a tri-colour draped around their shoulders. At the very least, the host and his guest could have extended a simple congratulations to McGregor and Kavanagh for bringing home a world title – the first for any Irish or British in the UFC. Three years ago, one was an on the dole and the other ran a small Dublin gym. One is now a renowned champion, and the other is a global byword for MMA success in Europe.

A pat on the back maybe? Or must we always attack what we don’t understand?

You can follow Brian on Twitter here.

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