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Mixed Martial Arts:

Mixed Martial Arts:

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 Journal of Asian Martial Arts
Volume 12 Number 3 - 2003
4140
Mixed Martial Arts
Daniele Bolelli
M
IXED
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ARTIAL
A
RTS
:
AT
ECHNICAL
A
 NALYSIS OF THE
U
LTIMATE
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IGHTING
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ORMATIVE
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D
ANIELE
B
OLELLI
, M.A.
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I
 NTRODUCTION
In the modern history of martial arts, the 1990’s will be remembered asthe decade of the revolution. The revolution we are referring to is the adventon the martial arts scene of a new brand of combat sport that captured muchpopular attention and altered the training methods, philosophies, and out-looks of thousands of martial artists around the globe. Many names have beenused to baptize this new combat sport—Valetudo, Ultimate Fighting, NoHolds Barred Fighting, Shootfighting, etc.—but the most appropriate is per-haps Mixed Martial Arts, since these competitions were designed to test thestrengths and weaknesses of different styles under a set of very permissive rulesthat did not favor any particular art.Videogames and movies had played with the idea of tournaments opento all styles of martial arts for a while. In Brazil, Valetudo competitions hadbeen taking place for a good part of the twentieth century. In ancient Greece,Pankration, an ancestor of Mixed Martial Arts that allowed kickboxing,throws, groundfighting and submissions (i.e. chokes and leverages), used to bea main event of the Olympic Games (Poliakoff, 1987; Vale, 2001). But inrecent history, in the Western world, this form of competition was a completenovelty. Until the 1990’s, in fact, the different styles of martial arts organizedtournaments with such restrictive rules that made the confrontation of differ-ent arts on an even ground virtually impossible. This state of things, however,was about to change when in 1993 the first Ultimate Fighting Championship(UFC) was held in the US. Soon thereafter, the number of organizations pro-moting similar tournaments grew exponentially—Shooto, Rings, Pride, WorldExtreme Fighting, Extreme Fighting, Pancrase (actually the Japanese Pancrasepredated UFC by a couple of months), King of the Cage, Absolute FightingChampionship, etc. The days of Pankration were indeed back (Bolelli 2003).
 All photos courtesy of theUltimate Fighting Championships.
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The time limitations changed con-siderably depending on the event. Atfirst, 30 minute-matches were imple-mented. Later, depending on the impor-tance of the match, anywhere between10 and 18 minutes were allowed. It wasnot until UFC XXI that a formal systemwas developed: preliminary matches werescheduled for two five-minute rounds,matches that were part of the main eventwere scheduled for three five-minuterounds, and title matches were scheduledfor five five-minute rounds. If the matchreached its full length, three judgeswould award the victory in a system rem-iniscent of Western boxing.After having introduced the rules regarding time limitations, let us nowturn to the actual statistics regarding the length of the matches. As a warningto the reader, let me state that I ignored the official timing of the matches pro-vided by the UFC since they often stopped the clock a few seconds after thematch truly ended. For this reason, there may be a slight difference betweenthe information I provide and the official statistics.The shortest match in UFC history lasted a mere eight seconds andended with Don Frye knocking out Thomas Ramirez, a man who outweighedhim by 200 pounds, at UFC VIII. The longest match was the 35-minute bat-tle between Ken Shamrock and Royce Gracie at UFC V (this bout ended in adraw since judging had not been established at this time).Out of the 176 matches considered, the average match length is fiveminutes and 45 seconds. What is interesting to note here is that the matchlength nearly doubles in later events. If we exclude from the pool three spe-cial matches that lasted about 30 minutes each, the average for the first 91fights (from events I through XI) was only four minutes and 35 seconds. Thisaverage would increase to five minutes and 46 seconds in the 34 matches thattook place between UFC XII and XV, would increase further to eight minutesand 57 seconds in the 35 matches that took place between UFC XVI and XX,and would eventually level off at just under seven minutes in the 13 matchesfrom UFC XXI and XXII.The reason for this rather substantial change is that the later matchespitted against each other martial artists of similar weight and skill. The earli-er ones, on the other hand, were often mismatches featuring fighters of differ-ent sizes and very different abilities. The result of this was that in the first edi-tions of the UFC fights rarely lasted more than a minute or two, whereas inthe later events, when the competitors were more evenly matched, the lengthof the contest would increase considerably. While the first tournaments oftenlooked like crazy brawls with the competitors trying to overwhelm each otherin the shortest possible amount of time, in the later matches the fighters wouldpace themselves better and rely on more sophisticated techniques.
43
 Journal of Asian Martial Arts
Volume 12 Number 3 - 2003
The implications of this revolution are so many—on a moral and philo-sophical as well as a technical level—that entire volumes could be written onthe topic. For the sake of brevity, this essay will focus exclusively on oneaspect: the technical evolution of Mixed Martial Arts during its formativeyears. To be more precise, I will analyze a sample of 176 matches that tookplace between November 12, 1993 and September 24, 1999 under the UFCumbrella.
1
This sample covers UFC events I through XXII. The categoriesinclude the size and age of the fighters, the length of the matches, and thetechniques used to win the matches. By providing detailed statistics, this essaywill create a concrete basis for any further discussion of this popular, albeitmisunderstood, topic.
R
ULES
What set the Ultimate Fighting Championship (and its imitators) apartfrom other kinds of martial arts competitions were its rules, so it is imperativeto consider what was so unique about these rules. At first, the rules wereextremely simple: there were hardly any. Two fighters from any discipline(including Western styles of wrestling, boxing, and Brazilian Jiujitsu, as well asmany traditional Asian martial arts) would meet in an octagon surrounded bya steel cage and could use virtually any kind of martial art techniques to defeatthe opponent. The only explicit prohibitions were against biting, eye gouging,and fish hooking. This was in drastic opposition to most martial arts tourna-ments, which allowed only a very limited range of techniques and, therefore,gave a tremendous advantage to the practitioners of those arts that focusedalmost exclusively on such techniques.The UFC’s very liberal rules generated much media controversy aboutthe “savagery” of this kind of contest, with many people comparing it to glad-iatorial shows and asking for its prohibition (Shamrock, 1997). The result wasthat it became very difficult for the UFC to obtain a license to hold its eventsin certain states and to get pay-per-view contracts. So, in an effort to clean-upits image and ensure increasingly more safety to its fighters, the UFC adoptedslightly more stringent rules. Strikes with the head, leverages against any smalljoint, use of pressure points, hair pulling, strikes to the groin, elbow strikesagainst the back of the neck, kicking a downed opponent, and holding on tothe cage were some of the techniques banned in later events.Since the sport is still evolving, more rules are being added virtuallyevery year. However, the basics of the sport have not changed. Mixed MartialArts still allow striking with the hands, forearms, legs, knees, and elbows bothwhile standing and on the ground; the execution of any kind of throwing tech-nique; as well as chokes and leverages against almost all joints.
M
ATCH
L
ENGTH
During the early UFC tournaments, matches had no time limitations:every match would continue until one fighter was either knocked out or sub-mitted. Later, the UFC set time limits because in a few occasions they wereforced to refund cable viewers because fights often went beyond the pay-per-view time block.
42
Mixed Martial Arts
Daniele Bolelli
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The first type of division tocategorize the matches is betweenmatches that ended because of onetechnique (whether a strike or sub-mission) and matches that did not.This second category includematches that ended in a draw, in ano-contest verdict, because of thejudges’ decisions, or with one fight-er giving up because of exhaustionor because he felt he could not getout of an unfavorable position. Outof the 176 matches considered, 36(21.6%) belong to this category (28decisions and draws, 1 no contest, 7because of one fighter giving up).The remaining matches havebeen divided into the following cat-egories: matches that ended withsuccessful techniques executed onthe ground versus matches thatended with successful techniquesexecuted standing up, and strikingversus submissions (joint locks andchokes that force the opponent toquit). The vast majority of winningtechniques occurred on the ground(106, or 60.2%) compared to stand-ing up (34, or 19.3%).Submissions were used to end67 matches (38.1%) whereas strikeswere used in 72 matches (41%).Only one throw successfully ended amatch (the throw has been includedwith the standing techniques).To further break down thetechniques, we can now analyzethem separately under the followingcategories:
ground submissions,
ground strikes,
standing submissions,
standing strikes,
throws.
45
 Journal of Asian Martial Arts
Volume 12 Number 3 - 2003
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The range in the size of ultimate fighters was truly staggering. We gofrom the 158 pounds of the smallest competitor (Lowell Anderson in UFCXXII) to the 616 of the heaviest (Sumo wrestler Emmanuel Yarbrough inUFC III).The tallest fighter stood 6’8” (still Emmanuel Yarbrough in UFC III),while the shortest stood only 5’4” (Joe Son in UFC IV and Marcello Melloin UFC XX). The average height for all the fighters sampled is almost exactly6’-1/2”. The height of competitors seems to have gone slightly down from thenearly 6’1” average of UFC I through XV to the barely 5’11” average of UFCXVI through XXII.The same can be said about the competitors’ weight. The total averageis 236.5 pounds. Whereas earlier competitors often exceeded this number(the average for UFC I through XI was 238.5 pounds, and for UFC XIIthrough XV was slightly above 227). In the later events, the average is muchcloser to the 200 mark (under 208 for UFC XVI through XX and slightly over212 for UFC XXI and XXII).The reason for this sizable reduction in the competitors’ height andweight is to be found in the later introduction of weight divisions that gavea chance to smaller fighters to participate in what otherwise would have beena big man’s sport. In fact, reflecting the old idea that size does not mattermuch in martial arts, until UFC XII there were no weight divisions. Anyoneentering the tournament could be paired against anyone else regardless of height and weight. Although some smaller fighters managed to fare extreme-ly well (Royce Gracie, the winner of UFC I, II, and IV, weighed less than 180pounds), the bigger competitors certainly had a major strength advantage.This advantage became an increasingly important factor as the competitors’skill levels became more uniform. At first, in fact, a smaller, but extremelyskilled fighter could hope to defeat a bigger, less skilled opponent. But aseveryone began to train similarly and spend equal amounts of time preparingfor the fights (in other words, turning the sport from an amateur to a profes-sional endeavor), size and strength became progressively more important.This is why weight divisions were eventually put in place.At UFC XII, two weight divisions were set up: heavyweight (above 200pounds) and middleweight (under 200 pounds). After UFC XVI, the light-weight category (under 170 pounds) was added. After UFC XXII (which isbeyond the scope of this essay), even more weight categories were estab-lished, which allows increasingly smaller fighters to enter the octagon.Contrary to height and weight, one category which has not changedmuch throughout UFC history is the age of the participants. The oldestUltimate Fighter ever was Ron Van Clief, who entered UFC IV when he was51 years old. The youngest were Vitor Belfort and David Roberts who enteredtheir first UFC at 19 years of age. The total average age is slightly above 29years old. This value is one of the few that has remained fairly constant inUFC history, with the vast majority of participants being in their late 20’s andearly 30’s.
44
Mixed Martial Arts
Daniele Bolelli
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