The Things That Men Do

Two nights ago I watched a (fantastic) boxing match between a lean Black American man named Bernard Hopkins and a white Italian (I think he was Italian; or Welsh; I dunno) named Calazghe. The latter ultimately won in a split decision, but these warriors duked it out at full intensity till the very last bell.

I bring this up because I was shocked to discover that Hopkins is 43 years old! The man was as athletic, muscular and active as any 25 year old –maybe more so! He is probably a genetic extreme, but nonetheless his is a valuable example of how good training can push youthful vigor into middle age.

So I immediately downloaded an old classic —Diggstown— just to watch a (fictional) 48 year old manhandle 10 younger, stronger men in the boxing ring. Yes, now that I’m into my 5th decade, I need as many positive images of 40s masculinity as I can find!

On a similar note, several people this week randomly commented to me on the brutality of “ultimate fighting” or “mixed martial arts”. They were quite taken aback when I argued for the safety of the sport.

As regular readers know, I have a bias. I’ve trained in a dozen exotic martial arts since the age of 19, and even spent a sojourn in a Thai boxing camp many years ago. I’ve lost count of the number of karate tournaments in which I’ve competed, and have dabbled in judo, jiujitsu, kung fu, kalaripiyaat, aikido, pakua and a few others I’ve not registered in my decaying memory. I tried my hand at classic American boxing very briefly, and found it to be very physically challenging.

As a caveat, I add that I was never actually any GOOD at any of these. I just showed up regularly to get my ass kicked. I eventually retired from competitive karate in my early 30s, and stopped training entirely a couple of years later. Last year, I took up boxing training and jiujitsu again, but my old body kept getting injured, so that didn’t last past a few months.

Now, I have limited experience in boxing, a little more experience in competitive full contact Thai kickboxing (Mhuay Thai), a fair amount of experience in grappling, and a hell of a lot of experience in non-contact karate, or “point fighting”. (“Non-contact” typically means full contact to the body and very light contact to the head.) I have never tried anything as demanding as so-called “mixed martial arts”, and could never last more than a couple of seconds with an experienced practitioner of that sport.

Based on this experience, I conclude the following: that mixed martial arts (MMA), or “ultimate fighting”, is less dangerous than currently accepted forms of combat sport, such as boxing or kickboxing. It’s possibly less dangerous in the long run than point fighting, depending on where you draw your danger line.

The beauty of full contact fighting (in a controlled, refereed environment) is that both practitioners feel the pain equally. While wearing boxing gloves, you can pummel your opponent –and be pummeled by him– over 15 rounds and feel a large amount of pain, but rarely enough to cause you to stop the match. A career of this low level, consistent trauma often ends in brain damage.

An MMA match, on the other hand, typically lasts 1-3 rounds, The number of blows landed to the head are much fewer than in a boxing match. And the pain to the puncher is much greater, due to the minimal hand protection; thus the puncher has an increasing disincentive to punch hard. It tends to be more bloody due to the abrasiveness of flesh-on-flesh contact, but blood does not necessarily indicate deeper trauma.

In addition, many (possibly most) MMA matches are won on grappling or jiujitsu skills, which have to do typically with joint locks. They hurt like hell, but the recipient decides how much pain and damage he is willing to endure by “tapping out” when he’s had enough; and these techniques have no effect on the brain.

In short, it is my belief that MMA offers less long term brain trauma than does boxing or kickboxing. And I’ve come to the conclusion that “point fighting” is just silly.

Now, don’t get me started with hockey. Fighting in hockey (or basketball or baseball, etc) is the stupidest thing I’ve seen in professional sports. In a boxing match, or an MMA match, the participants have trained for the combat and only the combat. Their gear is designed for combat (no sharp corners, etc). The referee is specifically focused on elements of combat and combat safety. The rules are set in place to support combat while maintaining safety. And, most importantly, despite what the media shows us, the combatants enter the ring with mutual respect and their emotions mastered.

In a hockey fight, none of the above controls are present. Combatants are balancing on skates on ice. Their gear is replete with bits that can cut, scrape or get into someone’s eye –hell, they start out carrying sticks! The referees are there first and foremost to police a hockey match; managing a fight is their secondary or tertiary priority, and often they can’t do that well. There are no rules in place to manage the safety of the fight while it is in progress. And, most importantly to me, the combatants are typically fuming with rage, which denies them the ability to rationally protect themselves or their opponents.

Hockey fights’ saving grace is that hockey players are often so well bundled up that it’s difficult for them to get hurt. But to me, a hockey fight is a disgusting display of thuggery that celebrates the worst qualities of the stereotype of the Y-chromosome. Whereas, an MMA match is a shining example of the heights of martial artistic skills to which a practitioner can aspire.

That’s my two cents. You didn’t pay anything for them, so stop complaining. I leave you with the only photo I have from my karate days. Dig the sexy Steven Seagal ponytail: