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28th February 2023

MMA: Why you should watch the fastest growing sport

MMA is the combat sport that has surged in popularity, entrancing fight fans all around the world. From the intricacy of the brutal blows, to the sheer drama of each round, MMA is a sight to see.
MMA: Why you should watch the fastest growing sport
Photo: Bruno Bueno @ Pexels

From gladiatorial colosseums to Madison Square Garden, combat continues to evolve and entice us. In the modern day, it is MMA that offers the highest level of competition in regard to combat sports. Dedicated athletes from across the globe spend almost every waking hour sharpening all the tools in their arsenal in order to cement their names in the history books, and when they are locked in the cage with their opponent, we, the audience, witness a display of violent art.

During We love MMA: Mixed Martial Arts at Friedrich-Ebert-Halle, Ludwigshafen, Rheinland-Pfalz. Photo: Sven Mandel @ Wikimedia Commons

Various martial arts are showcased in such a fashion that every stylistic matchup brings with it a degree of entertainment that no other combat sport can compete with.  The fights start with both fighters on their feet, and once the cage door is locked and the referee gives the all-clear, they can throw fists, elbows, knees and kicks. At any point during the fight, the paradigm can shift as the fighters can go for takedowns and grapple on the ground. This can lead to strikes being thrown, known as ground and pound, or submissions, where one fighter can get the other in a choke or a joint lock.

Almost everything is allowed except for eye pokes, kicks on a downed opponent, and strikes to the groin and back of the head. If by the end of the fight, neither fighter has been finished, the winner is determined by the points scored by the judges.

These professional athletes are essentially performing a dance, in which they both need to anticipate every possible movement from their opponent and know how to respond accordingly. That being said, as the great Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth,” meaning a technical battle can easily turn into a brutal scrap bathed in blood.

The biggest and most accessible MMA organisation is the UFC as they broadcast their events via BT Sport. They showcase fight nights on most Saturdays and once a month there is a fight card, in which there is normally a title fight as the main event. By hosting events around the globe, the UFC has become a well-recognised promotion company. In terms of local organisations, Cage Warriors is the largest and hosts events around the UK. They provide a great platform for British fighters to launch their careers and potentially garner the attention of the UFC. The most famous case is the notorious Conor McGregor.

Conor McGregor during UFC 189 World Tour. Photo: Andrius Petrucenia @ Flickr

In the UFC, the best always fight the best. There are no easy fights, especially for the athletes in the top five of their divisions, and as the sport continues to grow, more talent is constantly being brought to the table. This means that unbeaten win streaks are very rare, providing those who achieve such feats with a reputation to be marvelled at. To have the mental and physical fortitude to fight professionally let alone be able to dominate a division of fighters who all want the same thing as you, makes you a rare breed of human.

In the UFC, there are eight different weight classes for male athletes and three for female. Whilst you may expect the heavier weight classes to have more entertaining fights like in boxing, that is not the case in MMA. The fighters wear four-ounce gloves, meaning knockout blows are always something to anticipate. Something else to be in awe of is when fighters in lighter divisions compete in their unhuman speed. At times, you may even question if a producer at BT Sport has accidentally hit the fast-forward button.

There are many special fighters who are always worth keeping an eye on, either because of their phenomenal talents consistently being exhibited in exciting fashion or their entertaining personalities outside of the cage. You have the likes of Jon Jones, who had an incredible run as the light heavyweight champion, returning this year to fight at heavyweight and potentially settling the debate on who the GOAT of MMA is. Then there are prospects like Khamzat Chimaev, a fighter so dangerous and dominant, that he is a threat to multiple divisions.

Consistency and dedication couldn’t be more prominent than in fighters like Amanda Nunes and Valentina Shevchenko, the queens of the bantamweight and flyweight divisions respectively. Nunes also holds the featherweight title, though it is currently an inactive division. Whilst these two are always worth watching, the women’s strawweight division is even more fascinating at the moment, as the holder of the title has been changing as of late. Currently, it is held by Zhang Weili, who is deadly on her feet and fights at a lightning pace.

Amanda Nunes during UFC 266 Weigh-ins. Photo: MMAnytt @ Wikimedia Commons

In 2022, the landscape shifted significantly as the reigns of many long-term champions came to shocking ends. Israel Adesanya was the middleweight champion with five title defences until he came across an old rival, Alex Pereira, who had beaten him twice in kickboxing before hunting him down to the UFC. In his sixth title defence, Adesanya was on his way to winning by decision against Pereira but following an intense motivational talk from his coach, Pereira returned reinvigorated in the final round and stopped Adesanya via technical knockout, beating him yet again.

It was recently announced that they will have their rematch for the title this April and fans are eagerly waiting to see if Adesanya can finally exact his revenge. There were many goosebump-inducing moments in 2022, but one that stood out from the rest was the head kick heard around the world. Picture this: You are Kamaru Usman, undefeated in the UFC, the undisputed welterweight champion and lapping the division, you are the number one pound-for-pound fighter and a few steps away from potentially becoming the greatest welterweight of all time; then you fight Leon Edwards. He takes you down in the first round, but then in the second, third and fourth, you dominate. Victory is in sight. It’s guaranteed. Leon looks tired and sloppy, he’s your punching bag. There is one minute left of the final round, Leon doesn’t seem a threat. He looks like he’s about to throw a right hand, and then you see black. Leon Edwards becomes the second-ever British UFC champion thanks to a perfectly timed kick to the head.

There is no better time than now to start watching MMA. This year is bound to be packed with unmissable events and moments to be remembered forever.

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