Saturday, 6 April 2013

Maiden MMA Experience

Attended my first ever MMA fighting event at the One Fighting Championship 8 held at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on Friday. I think it'll be an experience I'll never forget, and the fact that I spent almost the entire day the next day watching MMA videos is testament to that.

There is something absolutely gripping about seeing two men take it out in physical combat. Aside from the practical requirement for rules and safety precautions (not quite the "first rule of Fight Club" sort of stuff haha), such battles are deeply rooted in our mammalian psyche. The same exciting, conflicting tension between the fear of vicarious pain and the anticipation of seeing a new victor emerge engulfs both those who have never seen a fight and those who have watched these fights for the 100th time alike. These combat scenarios are timeless - men (and some women) have been duking it out since time immemorial and there is always honour, either from earning it or defending it, from defeating your opponent while an audience devours the scene with hungry eyes. These fights are psychologically gripping also because deep in every man the question is asked, "when I'm head to head with another man for a fight and I'm stripped of my socially constructed but physically very useless accolades, can I hold my own?" In our society today, we (rightfully and thankfully) do not need to physically assert ourselves to the extent that men had to in the ancestral past, but when the time comes that might decides who's right, do we have what it takes?

There was an exciting line-up of fighters from all over the world and all sorts of different fighting styles, and it is in the differences that interesting observations can be made. These are cursory observations that are only anecdotally substantiated, but for instance I've noticed that Asian fighters are a lot more patient than Western fighters. For good reason, perhaps, because on the one hand, Asian fighters tend to have less mass and thus, on average, cannot go head on with a Western fighter on strength alone. On the other hand, there is a weakness to be exploited when up against aggressive Western fighters, who may leave themselves exposed while on the attack. There are exceptions, of course - Brock Larson was extremely patient in his fight against Melvin Manhoef (although one's from the US while the other is Dutch), and the Filipino Kevin Belingon is a hard-hitting little striker.

I found style match-ups to be extremely crucial. The most exciting fights involved a compatible match between either striking specialists (going for the knockouts) or grappling/take down specialists (going for floor work). Matches with different styles are interesting too, which usually involves the fighters trying to manoeuver their opponent into unfavourable positions. Such fights may become quite tactical.

Then, there are the heavyweight "mismatches". OK, there wasn't exactly a heavyweight category during this round of fights (or maybe One FC doesn't have them), but in the middle weight category between the grappling specialist Brock Larson and the striking specialist Melvin Manhoef, the fight went on for loooong stretches where nobody threw a punch or did anything (much to the displeasure of the fans, and the referee "booked" both fighters!). It was supposed to be an explosive fight between two very overpowered fighters, and yet nobody made a move. When somebody finally did, all hell broke loose for very brief periods.

This makes sense from a power balance perspective. When we think of war between two entities, the more powerful the arms, the less likely the individuals will make a move because it would be too decided and costly. Exciting head-on battles with lots of charging and fighting occurs when armies wield swords, but once you arm soldiers with powerful guns, everyone sits in trenches, not daring to make a move. Likewise for the Cold War - when the threat of total destruction is too costly, a tense peace prevails. Status hierarchies among individuals work the same way too - powerful men at the top seldom fight head to head; instead they trade politically correct back-and-forths that usually amount to nothing other than reminding the other party that they're still here, while low status men at the bottom are the ones who really slug it out.

Here's the colossal match-up between Melvin Manhoef and Brock Larson that for long stretches only served to bore, until the epic triggering of kicks and strikes from Manhoef led to a comical roundabout chase at 3:47.

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