Off the Hook - By Joe Reilly

An Introduction to Mixed Martial Arts

Hello everyone. I’m Joe Reilly and this is my brand new MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) column ‘Off The Hook’. The idea of this new column is to report and discuss the latest news and rumours in the MMA world. The secondary aspect of this column however, is to help educate new fans of the sport and help them understand it more.

Off The Hook #1: Evolution of the greatest sport in the world

Hello everyone. I’m Joe Reilly and this is my brand new MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) column ‘Off The Hook’. The idea of this new column is to report and discuss the latest news and rumours in the MMA world. The secondary aspect of this column however, is to help educate new fans of the sport and help them understand it more.

This column will be only one part of the brand new MMA section of the site, which is predominantly pro wrestling orientated and therefore most of you (the readers) are probably less familiar with MMA than you are with pro wrestling. Due to this, in the very first edition of ‘Off The Hook’ I will explain what MMA is and how it has evolved to be the most exciting sport in the world. After I finish outlining the evolution of MMA, I will briefly touch on the latest news items in MMA.

What is MMA?

Finally, the moment you’ve all been waiting for and that is “Just what the hell is MMA?” Well MMA is the abbreviation for Mixed Martial Arts, which is a sport that combines the most effective Martial Arts in the world including Boxing, Kickboxing, Karate, Wrestling and Jiu Jitsu. The best Mixed Martial Artists in the world try to learn all these styles or as many as possible to be a complete or Ultimate Fighter.

The two main factors in any MMA bout today is Striking and Grappling. Striking is the blows inflicted by the hands, feet, knees and elbows and is mostly used standing up, but can be used on the ground at times. Grappling consists of takedowns, clinching and submission. While most Grappling in an average bout takes place on the ground, fighters can grapple on their feet by using takedowns to bring the fight to the ground, entering a clinch or by attempting a submission on their feet such as a Guillotine choke.

Today, MMA is a sanctioned Sport that is still trying to gain mainstream acceptance. There are many smaller MMA organisations in the world, but the two top dogs in the sport are the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) and PRIDE FC (PRIDE Fighting Championships). The main ways to win are by Knock out, technical knock out (an accumulation of blows), submission (when the opponents gives up orally or by tapping out) or by judge’s decision (whichever fighter finishes with most points). UFC is now under several sports sanctioning bodies such as the Nevada State Athletic Commission and a ten point must system is in effect with the opponent gaining nine points or less.

What’s the difference between the UFC and PRIDE?

Well, there’s one main fundamental difference between the two of these organisations apart from the fact that they are run by two different companies, is that all UFC bouts are contested inside an Octagon shaped cage, while all PRIDE bouts are contested inside the squared circle. The rules are similar, but the main rule difference between both organisations is that in PRIDE a fighter can stomp a downed opponent, but in the UFC a fighter cannot. Also, Zuffa (UFC owners) are based in Las Vegas, Nevada, while Dreamstage (PRIDE owners) are based in Japan.

What was MMA?

Well, unknown by many casual fans and strangers to this sport, MMA is not what it used to be. First of all, the sport has really only acquired the name MMA over the last decade. Although, it is believed that Bruce Lee first used the term while creating his own style of fighting in Jeet Kune Do. Bruce Lee emphasised that fighters needed to break away from what we call traditional martial arts and this is how he came up with the innovation that is Jeet Kune Do, which was a modified form of Kung Fu that included Grappling and Striking. The man was years ahead of his time, and it took the rest of the martial arts community another 20 years to realise that this concept was the way forward.

Fighting has evolved more in the last decade than it has ever in past centuries with the emergence of MMA on a global level. Before 1993 (the year the UFC began), MMA was usually referred to as NHB (No Holds Barred) and Vale Tudo. NHB was a very fitting name for the sport before the UFC or PRIDE came along because that is pretty much what it was, it wasn’t widely recognised as a sport, as it contained little to no sanctions to ensure the safety of the fighters.

During the pre UFC era, the sport was also mainly known as Vale Tudo, which means, “anything goes” in Portuguese, as the sport was mainly first contested in Brazil. However, back at the start of the last century, Vale Tudo was about ‘Style vs. Style’ type of bout with neutral rules to suit both styles. The reason it first came about was because various disciplines within the martial arts community constantly argued over which style was dominant, was it Karate, was it Judo etc.

It wasn’t until the beginning of the MMA era that most fighters realised that they should crossover in styles to become the Ultimate Fighter, so the Jiu Jitsu man began training Kickboxing too, and the Wrestler started learning how to box etc. However back in the beginning though, most martial artists were so confident in their own discipline that they refused to acknowledge their weaknesses and so you’d have pure wrestlers going up against pure kickboxers, pure Karate guys against pure Jiu Jitsu guys etc.

Who helped the evolution progress from traditional Vale Tudo to modern MMA?

Well, the truth is that a number of different people aloud this to happen, but on a global level, the most famous practitioners that helped the sport to evolve were the Gracie family from Brazil. Helio Gracie and his brothers took traditional Jiu Jitsu which was Japanese in origin and developed their own style from it named GJJ (Gracie Jiu Jitsu), which later became known around the world as BJJ (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu), as many of the Gracie’s students and sons went all over the world to teach it in other countries.

The Gracie’s reinvented Jiu Jitsu to become arguably the most efficient form of Submission Wrestling as Royce Gracie (One of Helio’s sons) demonstrated in early UFC’s. After years of success in Vale Tudo competitions mostly in Brazil, Rorion Gracie (One of Helio’s sons) came to the USA and started the very first UFC tournament, which featured Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock. At this stage the sport was still mostly style vs. style and appeared to be more of a spectacle than a sport.

However, now that Vale Tudo had been properly introduced on an international stage, the sport became quickly under the magnifying glass, as Royce Gracie dominated the earlier UFC tournaments displaying excellent Jiu Jitsu, which was mainly known to Brazilian’s at the time and was considered a very secretive style in the early UFC’s as most other fighters had never seen it before. Eventually, all the top fighters began learning it and the Gracie’s were finally meeting their match. Soon many fighters were emerging with world-class amateur wrestling skills accompanied by a sound Jiu Jitsu and Kickboxing game.

How has UFC evolved since 1993?

Although the fighters were beginning to hone their skills, the fighter’s styles weren’t the only thing that needed to change, the rules needed to as well. Now under the public eye, UFC had to tone their product down, no longer would their be one night tournaments were the champion would have to beat three guys in a night, no longer could the bouts go on for 30 minutes without stopping and no longer could shots to the groin and other dirty fighting skills be used by the fighter to his advantage.

UFC was warned by several states in the USA that it would have to introduce proper sanctions to ensure the safety of the fighters before they would even think of allowing it to take place in their state. Since 1993, all MMA promotions including UFC have been constantly introducing new sanctions to make the sport fairer and safer. It wasn’t until 2001 though when Zuffa bought the UFC that most of the fairer and modern sanctions were introduced such as proper weight classes and rounds etc.

Where is MMA now?

Today, MMA is a professionally run sport where most of the fighters fight for a living and it is their full time job. However, MMA is currently stuck between Underground notoriety and Mainstream notoriety. Companies such as UFC and PRIDE are doing everything they can to make the final leap into Mainstream viewing.

UFC is the biggest MMA Company in North America, while PRIDE is the biggest MMA Company in Asia. Now, the most recent development in MMA, is that PRIDE are finally looking to take on the US and have their first show there in Las Vegas in January 2004. This has led to PRIDE declaring war on the UFC for the battle to determine the number 1 MMA organisation on the planet.

Both Companies insist that they are better than the other, and to kick things off PRIDE even invited any UFC Light Heavyweight fighter to fight in their PRIDE Middleweight tournament. That’s right I said Middleweight, this may have you scratching your heads, a Light Heavyweight fighter in a Middleweight tournament? Well, the thing is a PRIDE Middleweight is more or less the equivalent to a UFC Light Heavyweight except both PRIDE weight divisions are deeper with PRIDE’s Heavyweight division being open ended.

The main reason for this because UFC has five weight classes while PRIDE only has two. UFC has the following:

  • Lightweight Division (145 lbs -155 lbs)

  • Welterweight Division (155 lbs – 170 lbs)

  • Middleweight Division (170 lbs – 185 lbs)

  • Light Heavyweight Division (185 lbs – 205 lbs)

  • Heavyweight Division (205 lbs – 265 lbs)

While PRIDE just has the following weight divisions:

  • Middleweight Division (170 lbs – 205 lbs)

  • Heavyweight Division (205 lbs and up)

So, let’s get back on to PRIDE’s invitation. UFC decided to accept the invitation and Mr. Dana White (UFC President) decided to send Chuck Liddell, one of UFC’s top Light Heavyweights to fight in the PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix of 2003. The tournament originally consisted of eight Middleweights and is a knock out tournament and therefore whoever loses is knocked out of the tournament until one man is the winner. The original four middleweight bouts that were scheduled to appear on the August 10th PRIDE: Total Elimination 2003 event of this year in the opening round of the tournament were as follows:

Note: Fighters have their favoured style underneath their name!

(Brazil) Wanderlei Silva vs. Kazushi Sakuraba (Japan)
Muay Thai Kickboxing      Submission Wrestling

(Japan) Kiyoshi Tamura vs. Hidehiko Yoshida (Japan)
Submission Wrestling      Judo

(USA) Quinton Jackson vs. Ricardo Arona (Brazil)
Wrestling      Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

(USA) Chuck Liddell vs. Alistair Overeem (Netherlands)
Kickboxing      Kickboxing

However, an injury of one of the competitors before the tournament meant the card had to be altered slightly. Ricardo Arona of Brazilian Top Team pulled out of his fight with Team Punishment’s Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson due to a hairline fracture of the ankle. To add to the drama so close to the event, Arona’s team mate at Brazilian Top Team, former UFC Middleweight Champion Murilo Bustamante took his place in the PRIDE Grand Prix against Jackson on a five day notice. Although Jackson would have had grounds to complain on this decision by PRIDE, he didn’t and accepted the adjustment.

Here are the results of that show:

PRIDE FC: Total Elimination 2003

Heavyweight bouts

  • Fedor Emelienko (c) defeated Gary Goodridge by TKO in Round 1 (Non Title bout)

  • Antonio Rodrigo ‘Minotauro’ Nogueira defeated Ricco ‘Suave’ Rodriguez by Unanimous Decision

  • Mirko ‘Cro Cop’ Filipovic defeated Igor Vovchanchyn by KO in Round 1

Middleweight Tournament bouts – First Round

  • Chuck Liddell defeated Alistair Overeem by KO in Round 1

  • Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson defeated Murilo Bustamante by Split Decision

  • Hidehiko Yoshida defeated Kiyoshi Tamura by Submission in Round 1

  • Wanderlei Silva defeated Kazushi Sakuraba by KO in Round 1

This means that Liddell, Jackson, Yoshida and Silva are through to Semi Finals of the tournament that will take place at PRIDE: Final Conflict in November. Both the Semi Final and Final matches will be contested on this show. However, no official announcement has been made as of yet regarding which fighters will fight each other, but it’s highly rumoured that Silva will fight Yoshida, while Jackson will fight Liddell. The Semi Final brackets will be chosen by PRIDE by careful selection rather than a random draw much like the original opening round brackets were chosen.

Many feel that PRIDE has chosen this method of hand picking the bouts because a UFC competitor is in the tournament. The general consensus going around the MMA community is that PRIDE will be extremely embarrassed if none of their PRIDE competitors are able to beat Chuck Liddell like one of them has failed to do so far. Officially, in the UFC/PRIDE FC war it is scored at 1 – 1 because UFC competitor Chuck Liddell won his fight against PRIDE competitor Alistair Overeem, while PRIDE competitor Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira defeated UFC competitor Ricco Rodriguez by a controversial decision that many felt should have been the opposite decision.

It should be noted that UFC President Dana White is very confident that Chuck Liddell will win the tournament and take the PRIDE Championship home to the UFC. Dana White recently told Ryan Bennett’s ‘Sound Off’ radio show that he was confident in Liddell’s ability to win the Grand Prix.

Dana White said with enthusiasm: “You should see this guy train, he’s very prepared and very focused”

Dana White also confidently said: “As a matter of fact, I’m currently moving stuff around in my office to arrange a space to put the trophy after Chuck wins the tournament”.

Dana White also said that he has fears of Liddell becoming a victim of a controversial decision, but has the confidence that Liddell can finish whoever he matches up with in the tournament. Dana White has a lot banking on Liddell winning this tournament as he has a $250,000 bet with PRIDE management that Liddell will win the whole tournament. Dana White also commented briefly on the situation in Europe with European UFC fans being unable to order UFC events on PPV.

When asked about the possibility of UFC being broadcasted in Europe in the near future, he said that it has mainly been the dirty work of certain local politicians in the UK that was preventing future UFC events being held in England. He also said that the political factor involved was hindering its chances of being shown on PPV by Sky. So there you have it, that’s the major news reported in this week’s column.

I hope you enjoyed this edition of ‘Off The Hook’ and I hope that you are all more familiar with the sport and how it works and how it has evolved. With that said, I must bid you good bye for this week, but don’t forget to check back next week’s issue where I’ll also be taking an inside look at how the ground game works in MMA for all you newcomers to the sport. Also, feel free to contact me by email if you have any comments or critiques on this column!

Until next week, Support MMA!!


Joe Reilly