MMA brings fans, controversy as popularity grows - FOX Carolina 21

MMA brings fans, controversy as popularity grows

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FOX Carolina's Derek Dellinger is shown some MMA moves, taken down by a local trainer and fighter. (File/FOX Carolina) FOX Carolina's Derek Dellinger is shown some MMA moves, taken down by a local trainer and fighter. (File/FOX Carolina)

It's bloody and it's violent. But if you ask anyone that watches it, they love it. Ultimate Fighting Championships and mixed martial arts are gaining great popularity.

Ratings for high profile matches are through the roof, and the FOX network has even signed on to carry these matches.

"Some people look at it as human cockfighting, MMA (mixed martial arts). I look at it, it's an art," says Billy Fletcher, owner and instructor with Alliance Martial Arts. He adds, "We have our standup and wrestling, which is really what the base of what MMA is - it's really jiu jitsu, striking, muay tai, boxing and then wrestling as well."

It's all those things, and up until three years ago this month, it was banned in South Carolina.  

In its early days, it was easy to see why. Then, there were no rules for Ultimate Fighting or MMA - just two men in a cage. The sport was banned in almost every state.  But times changed - the sport got bought up, promoted and got its first full-fledged star, Royce Gracie.  Gracie was a Brazilian fighter who set the standard, and the rules, for the sport.

Raphael Dos Santos is another Brazilian fighter, following in Gracie's footsteps, and says, "The right way is to be safe, is to be comfortable, to put the guys in the bad spot. You're going to make sure you move your body as the guy is moving towards you."
Part of the reason events like the UFC and MMA were approved in South Carolina in the first place was so it could all happen in a safe environment. Three years ago, legislators said they didn't want those events to happen in remote areas without access to medical care.

But Fletcher argues that MMA is safer than most other contact sports. "You look at boxing, for instance - and not taking anything away from that - but in boxing you can get knocked down multiple times in a bout. There's a lot of trauma, you can get a '10' count and you get back up and go at it again. That can happen sometimes in MMA, but a lot of times if you get knocked down in MMA, the fight's going to end pretty quick," he says.

There are still naysayers to MMA, like the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence.  They say mixed martial arts and the UFC promote violence against women and homosexuals, citing conduct and comments of many of the fighters as a reason for keeping it illegal.  The organization said that unrestrained violence should have no place in society.

There are rules now to MMA - no biting, gouging, head butts or finger bending - but there's nothing for fighter conduct. The people who participate in MMA are quick to say their conduct is pure showmanship.

"It can be brutal, that's for sure, but so can football, obviously any other fighting sport," Fletcher says.

In the ring, they say there's only one goal - to make the person submit, no matter how big or small.

Fletcher believes once people see how MMA and UFC have evolved, they won't be so quick to judge. "It's not considered a fringe sport as much anymore, it's considered more mainstream," he says, adding, "I think as people, you know, are able to watch it, and especially if you have good commentation on the fights and so forth, as the audience becomes more educated, the sport will continue to grow."

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